A Religious Relationship

Some people say, “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”
  I am curious why one thinks that these
two ideas are mutually exclusive.   A
religion is a relationship, a connection between God and man expressed
in certain defined doctrines and practices. 
One would be hard pressed to find anyone within Christianity who would
actually say that the empty performance of religious ritual is a good
thing.  Our worship ought to be a matter
of the heart, or in other words a matter of sincerely held belief, and not just
vain formalism.
If this is what people mean when they oppose religion to
relationship, they’re right, though I fear that they often mean something else.  Often, by “relationship”, people seem to
emphasize entirely just one side of that relationship, their own, so that by a
“relationship” they really mean an experience, a feeling, a particular
emotional ecstasy.  Too often it seems
that it is the very idea that God has regulated our relationship with Him that
people find offensive.  Is it the case
that we want to be in control of the way that relationship functions, of how
and when we experience that relationship? 
It is a relationship, but because God is who He is and we
are who we are, that relationship must be defined and regulated very carefully,
and we are not the ones who do the defining and regulating.  So it is a “religious relationship,” a
relationship with God which is governed by order and sound doctrine.
Cain’s problem was not that he didn’t want a relationship
with God.  He wanted one, but he wanted
to be in control of it.  He wanted to
offer God the sacrifice that he chose to offer, rather than the one God had
taught him to offer.  He wanted to change
the terms of the relationship.  God
responded by rejecting that sacrifice and calling on Cain to repent.  Over and over we can see the same pattern being
repeated.  Every kind of sin there is
basically boils down to this impulse. 
Even atheists, whether they are willing to admit it or not, are demanding
to have a relationship with God on their terms, because they insist on the
right to enjoy God’s good creation without submitting to Him.  This is right at the very essence of the sin
of idolatry.  The practice of idol
worship was at its heart a desire to fix and control one’s relationship to the
god, governing my relationship to the god by the things that I myself have
God is sovereign over us and can never be anything but
sovereign.  We can never be in charge of
our relationship with God.  So whether or
not we will have a relationship with God is not the question.  As His creatures, we will always be in
relationship with Him.  The question is,
whether we will submit to His rules for that relationship, or whether we will
insist on writing our own.  This
principle will be reflected in everything we do, and it will be seen in our
worship above all else.  Is our worship
driven by God’s own revealed truth?  Or
is it driven by our feelings, opinions, and priorities?  Do we desire to generate certain kinds of
emotional experiences and call that worship, or do we desire to submit
ourselves to the God that made us? 
We are called to a religious relationship with God, and that
relationship will be an extremely blessed one. 
God has all the treasures in the world, and desires to give them to His
people.  He will always do so in a way
that is true to His own nature, that reflects His sovereignty and rule.  In grace, He sovereignly reveals the truth to
His people, opens our eyes to the true nature of our religious relationship
with Him, so that we can be conformed to the truth of His sovereignty and
receive all of His gracious gifts.

This is all revealed in Christ.  His life
was one of perfect obedience in submission to the will of His Father.  His death showed that fellowship with God can
only be had in conformity to His law; since God’s law demanded death for our
sin, that price had to be paid, and it was. 
His call to us is to believe on Him, to be covered by the blood He shed
for us, and thus enter into a right and gracious relationship with God which
honors both His sovereign justice and His gracious love.  This is the heart of what people find so
offensive in the cross.  It expresses
perfectly the truth that our relationship with God can only ever be had on His
terms, not on ours, that God will sooner undergo the horrors of death Himself
than give up His sovereign right to rule.

It only reveals the desperate condition of sinful man all
the more that so many continue to reject this perfect offer of fellowship and
continue to insist on writing the rules of our relationship with God ourselves.  It would be like the Gauls trying to dictate
to Caesar the terms of their surrender after Caesar had utterly crushed
them.  God holds all the cards here, yet
He has approached us in grace and mercy. 
It is only reasonable then that we give up any attempt to try to dictate
to God what our relationship with Him will look like, and humbly and simply
look to Him to instruct us in the religious relationship, the sovereignly
ordered worship and life to which He has called us.

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