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Religion vs. Relationship

By: Arnie Cole, Pamela Ovwigho, and Michael Ross

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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Poor Job. The “blameless” man of God merely wanted a listening ear and a few honest clues to help him understand why his life had become such a mess.

Instead, he got more hellfire preaching and more bad counsel—this time from Eliphaz: “If you were truly wise, would you sound so much like a windbag, belching hot air? Would you talk nonsense in the middle of a serious argument, babbling baloney? Look at you! You trivialize religion, turn spiritual conversation into empty gossip. It’s your sin that taught you to talk this way. You chose an education in fraud. Your own words have exposed your guilt. It’s nothing I’ve said—you’ve incriminated yourself!” (Job 15:1–6 MSG).

But Job didn’t need Eliphaz’s bad brand of religion. He, like every one of us, needed an intimate relationship with the one, true God of the universe. Yet men like Eliphaz, on the other hand, want to nail down the Lord and get the rules straight so they can feel secure, so they take the proverbs as absolutes.1 The righteous prosper and the wicked suffer—that, he believed, is God’s justice. So if you’re suffering, as Job was, then you must be wicked. Right?

Wrong. Job has shown us that bad things happen to good people, too. God loves us no matter what, not because of perfect behavior.

What’s more, the Lord created us to bond relationally with Himself.

As author Doug Banister points out, “All of us are on a lifelong quest to know [God] more intimately. We must learn how to bond with Him if we are to become the people He has called us to be. The cost of failing to bond with God can be staggering: addiction, low self-confidence, depression, religiosity, burnout, and relational problems.”

The God of the Bible is a relational God. The three members of the Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit—exist in relationship together. Jesus described their relationship as intensely intimate. Jesus said to the Father, “You are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21). God did not create just one human being, but two. When Adam was the only person in the universe, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Why isn’t it? Was relationship with God not enough for him? Evidently not. Adam needed to be in relationship with God and in relationship with other people. This is why Jesus summed up all the teaching of Scripture in two simple commands: love God and love your neighbor. The R word, “relationship,” is what the Good News is all about. . .restoring the relationship for which our Father originally created us.

“Relationship, or bonding, then, is at the foundation of God’s nature,” writes Christian psychologist Henry Cloud. “Since we are created in His likeness, relationship is our most fundamental need, the very foundation of who we are. Without relationship, without attachment to God and others, we can’t be our true selves. We can’t be truly human”

Considering the importance of a thriving relationship that develops over time, and understanding that religious rituals and practices can’t save us—as Job’s friends obviously believed—I (Arnie) have been wrestling with some difficult questions about what makes someone a sincere Christian.

What about the times when I doubt. . .or the seasons when I don’t feel close to God? What about the struggles I often battle?

Is Jesus saying that it’s all about a perfect score? If I don’t always do the dos and avoid the don’ts, is it possible that I could miss eternity, too?

Is God that cruel?

Absolutely not! Change does not bring about salvation. Instead, salvation produces change in our lives. And God is incredibly patient as He works it all out step-by-step.

Yet here’s something that troubles me: too often when new believers exhibit no change in their lifestyles or when they revert to former lifestyles, we often refer to them as “unsanctified, carnal Christians.” However, based on my research—not theology—the term carnal Christian appears to be useless with regard to discipleship and genuine faith.

Here’s what Jesus said: “Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. . . . Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16–17, 20).

The test of true life in Christ is growth and maturation, not verbal profession. To me, this is one of the greatest lessons we are being taught in the book of Job.

Faith Tools

Relationship makes all the difference. More specifically, relationship with the one, true God of the Bible—not your notion of who God is. . .but the real God of the Bible who loves unconditionally, who is able to heal the soul, who forgives completely. . .and who has found a way to move us from death to life.

• Consider this about the Scriptures: “There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” (2 Timothy 3:16–17 MSG).

PRAY: “Lord, guard me from wrong theology. Help me to live in truth and to know You intimately.” Ask Jesus to nudge you back to Him whenever you stumble.

Notes for Growth

A Key Point I Learned Today:

How I Want to Grow:

My Prayer List:

© 2015 by Back to the Bible

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