October 20, 2013

Rules or relationship?

When asked if they will go to heaven when they die, most people say, “I’ve lived a good life” or a variation of that. This is the wisdom of the age.

It was the same wisdom of the age in the New Testament. The Hebrew nation existed in a covenant with God that asked them for obedience to His laws. However, their religion fell into empty religion, keeping the “rules” but falling into apathy and blind to their idolatry and lack of social justice. While most of that is sad reading, the prophets also spoke of a new covenant to come, one of relationship, not rules. God would change their hearts and as a result, their lives.

Paul called this a mystery. It was hinted at in the Old Testament and came to fruition when Jesus Christ was born, lived, died and was raised to life. He invited people into a faith relationship with Himself, for He was their God, come in human flesh and ready to forgive their sin and give them new life. Sadly, they didn’t understand.

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:6–8)

One of their problems was that they kept their lives and their religion in separate compartments. They went to the temple to pray. They fasted. They kept multitudinous rules. This was challenging, but it was easier than being kind and unselfish — if that happened to clash with their desires and plans. This is why they became so angry at Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. Their religious leaders (their icons) passed by when they saw a needy man wounded and bleeding in the ditch. They represented the emptiness that characterized their religion, all show and no compassion. It was not supposed to be like that.

Jesus showed them what a relationship with God should look like and told them that religion and ritual without heart was meaningless. A few understood, at least in part, but even the disciples scattered when Jesus was arrested. He asked for more than they could deliver. They didn’t realize that this is why He came to die. We cannot do the will of God. In ourselves, we are helpless and sinful to the core.

Because this is true, those religious people who prayed and kept the rules and went to the temple every day also planned Calvary and eventually worked it into a fact of history.

I cannot look down my nose at them. I’ve idolized people and things above God. I have neglected or ignored the poor and downtrodden. I’ve sang in church when my heart was elsewhere, going through the motions without being present or in harmony with God. My heart, apart from Christ, is also sinful to the core.

Today’s devotional asks blunt questions. For instance, what are my prayers doing in me? Are they drawing me closer to God? Or are they cheap substitute for godly living? Does my knowledge of my heavenly Father and my awareness of the human community move me to live God’s way? Is my conscience more acute to things around me so I cannot simply pass by on the other side, happy in my own comforts? Am I too much like those who didn’t understand and who crucified Christ?

The failure of mankind shows itself in every arena of life. Without the relationship, I have nothing to draw on, only my pitiful and sinful self.

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