Rules vs. Relationships
"He [Jesus] looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored."1
This was Jesus' response when he healed the man with the withered hand on the Jewish Sabbath, after which the religious leaders began to plot how they might kill him.
Jesus was angry with these Pharisees because they loved their rigid, legalistic rules more than they loved people. They had religion, but they didn't have God!
What is even more absurd is that these same religious leaders who murdered Jesus insisted that he be taken off the cross before sundown (the beginning of their religious Sabbath day) because it wasn't "lawful" for him to be hanging dead on the cross on their Sabbath. To leave him there would have broken one of their religious laws and they would have felt ceremoniously unclean! It was acceptable to crucify and kill Jesus but not acceptable for the innocent victim to remain hanging on the cross once dead. Amazing!
As strange as it may seem, religion may send more people to hell than anything else! That is, religion that depends on one's own "good works" or adhering to "legalistic religious rules or ritual" to get them into God's heaven. God's Word makes it very clear, "By grace are we saved through faith—and not of ourselves—it is the gift of God. Not of works lest anyone should boast."2 That is, we can never earn our way into God's heaven. We are saved only because of God's unfailing love and mercy and by our trusting in Jesus Christ and his dying on the cross in our place to save us from our sins.
Sure, Christianity is a religion; but in one sense religion, generally speaking, is man's search for God, but Christianity in its truest sense is God's search for man. It's about Jesus Christ, the son of God, coming to earth in the form of a man to make reconciliation with God possible for us through his death on the cross in our place. Christianity has nothing to do with living by a set of man-made legalistic rules—such living will never get anybody into God's heaven. Christianity is about making it possible for us to have a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ and then having right and healthy relationships with people.
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to understand more fully and appreciate more intensely the true meaning of what you have done for me to make possible the forgiveness of all my sins, and the hope of spending eternity with you in heaven because of what Jesus did for me when he died on the cross in my place to pay the price for all of my sins. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."
Note: To ensure that you have a right relationship with God, be sure to read the article, "How to Be Sure You're a Real Christian—without having to be religious" at: www.actsweb.org/christian.
1. Mark 3:5 (NIV).
2. Ephesians 2:8-9.