Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Great Grace: Religion or Relationship?

33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 NKJV

 We've begun a study of God's great Grace. In the recent weeks, we have been flowing in a stream focusing centrally on the works, the efforts, and the varied performance-driven mindsets plaguing the Church, the Body of Christ. We've briefly touched on demand-driven legalism, Lordship Salvation, and Old Covenant rooted faith teaching.

 Today, I sense the impression to follow this stream even further. The objective is to further expose these performance-driven thinking patterns in the Church. Thus allowing believers to more easily recognize if they are in religion or relationship.

 Religious-rooted preachers and believers are performance-driven, checklist minded, and relate to God from a blended mixture of Old and New Covenant principles. The reason some reject this call to examine their teachings or beliefs or actions to see if they are rooted in a performance based faith is because they can't recognize that they have adopted and minister and function from a legalistic mindset. They feel because they don't demand that ladies, not wear makeup or they don't forbid jewelry and they don't have an enforced "dress code" they cannot be legalistic. 

 They look at the words of Paul and Peter and James and only see them as regulations and rules. They follow them as a checklist that needs to be observed to the letter so God will favor them more and more. They use all their efforts and strength to comply with and conform to these regulations so God will be more pleased with them. 

Jesus plus nothing? 

 Now it is easier to understand why the concept of Jesus plus nothing is almost sacrilege to these trapped in legalistic performance. To them, this sounds like rebellion, slothfulness, irreverence. It drums up images of affirming sinful pursuits and an overall disregard for the instructions of the New Covenant. This is the performance-driven outlook. We've identified it. Now how can we rescue people from it? Sure, we can be angry and bitter for how they've altered the message. The problem is that doesn't resolve anything or assist anyone. 

Ritual or Relationship?

 Due to their religious outlook, those under legalism aren't relating to God from a relationship.  The actions they partake in are in reality more ritual than relationship. When we see the words of Paul and Peter not as instructions and exhortations but as regulations we begin to form checklists in our minds. We inevitably engage in rituals to come before our Father. We create rules about how to approach God. We have guidelines about praise and worship. We even go so far as to speak for our Father and reveal there are hurdles to leap over and hoops to jump through in order for Him to be pleased and accepting of our praise. 

 What do I mean by performance based faith? What do I mean by rituals? I went online and just typed in the word performance to see how it is defined. What I saw pop up so clearly defined legalistic, checklist minded, ritualistic relating to God. The definition was "the action or process of carrying out or accomplishing an action, task, or function." 

 Think of that. A process of carrying out or accomplishing a task or function is what performance is. Now, look at your walk with God. Is it based or rooted upon your abilities to carry out or accomplish an action or task? Let that sink in. Allow that to penetrate your thinking. 

 Is the healing of your body contingent upon you carrying out a task? Is God supplying your needs dependant upon you accomplishing an action? Is His favor upon you based on how many tasks you carry out? If this is so then that begs the question just how many tasks or actions must we complete? How often are we to be engaging in accomplishing a task? How do we know when we have done enough to merit or achieve this favor?

 Under the Old, men had to complete tasks or actions to approach God. In the New, God abides within us. Why the need for ritual then? What do I mean by ritual? Ritual is when we are relating to God with steps and formulas and actions to get God's attention. Rituals and checklists go hand in hand. Did I make the right confession? Did I do this step first? Did I miss a step?

I know what the religious mind is thinking. Hey, the Word does give a checklist under the New of how to please God. Does it? Hebrews 11:6 and Romans 8 are the references. Hebrews declared it was impossible to please God without faith. Romans states we can't please God if we are in the flesh. People love to take these out of context and setting. Paul said we aren't in the flesh if we are in Christ. Certainly, if we are in the flesh, a mindset apart from God, a mindset that disagrees with righteousness by faith but embraces righteousness by works we can't please God because we can't ever do enough or perform just right to please God. Hebrews is only saying God is only pleased when we agree with God when we believe Him. When we believe what He has said. 

 See how easy it is to take such encouraging words and then see them as regulations? It then turns us into performing just right to be accepted. It sets us up to engage in rituals to find ourselves more pleasing to our Father.  

 Instead of seeing the Word as mere regulations see the heart of Paul and Peter and James. Even the commands to walk in love and walk away from the way the World does things aren't designed as rules. Often times, the Word is reminding us of our identity in Christ. They are giving us instructions to further advance into maturity and fruitful living. Pursuing sinful passions are fruitless and not fun. What's fun about adultery? Yea, spouse leaves you and children's innocence is shattered and their trust is weakened, sounds like a great way to live, huh? Of course not! 

 When we are in a performance rooted faith we see the Word as regulation. We will create checklists to observe to the letter and formulate rituals to carry out religiously. If that is you, let that go. Come back to God as a simple child and daddy relationship. In a healthy relationship, how many chores or tasks do you need to complete to receive your Earthly father's love and acceptance? What rituals then do you need to perform or checklists do you need to keep in order to get God's attention and receive of His great love?

 Come to the Grace side of the Christian life. We rest in His loving promises and what He has already accomplished in the Finished Work. We don't have to complete enough tasks to enter into His presence. We don't have to fulfill a checklist for God to receive our praise and worship. We don't have to engage in some ritual in order to receive from our good Father's Gracious hands. 

 He has us engraved in the palm of His hands. We are ever on His mind. We are the apple of His eye. We can't achieve or merit or perform enough to receive what has freely been given in the Finished Work. To be totally free from this performance thinking, ask yourself when I am praying or when I am offering my praise, am I coming to God, petitioning Him based on how well I have behaved, performed, or completed a checklist or specific requirement? Or am I coming to my Father based on Jesus' perfect performance and obedience? Come to the Father, petition God, offer up praise to Him based on Jesus and not your efforts or works and you will always find fulfillment and blessing and exceeding goodness and Grace!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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