The recent generation has gone to great lengths to say that Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. They have sought to make it clear that God is not looking to be approached by formalism and cold traditions. He is not pleased by rituals and the attempts of man to prove that he is good. That is true and rightly they have carried the banner of this truth.
As we exist in a culture that now promotes a “relationship” with God, we must be equally careful and clear about what that means. If we do not carefully understand the kind of experience He invites us to share with them, then we could be making a similar mistake to the previous generation.
When most people think of a “relationship”, they think of two people sharing their lives, their joys, their heartaches, and their experiences. There is an understood give-and-take. There is communication. There is laughter. There are tears. Each person seeks to meet the needs of the other. There is sacrifice and service for one another out of love.
These are all part of relationships as we understand them here on earth. They come with the parent-child, husband-wife, employer-employee, and friend-friend relationships. There is sharing of life back and forth. There are shared responsibilities. There are rewards for good behavior. There is common meeting of needs.
This however is not how God relates to us.
God is the source of life. He is giver of all things. He does not need anything. He does not need our love, worship, sacrifice, or performance to make Him happy. He does not need anything from man to be God. He does not need our perfection or love before He chooses to love us.
Love, grace, mercy, truth, and so much more emanate from within Him. They flow from Him in endless supply regardless of whether we deserve them or if we response to Him. This lavishing source from within Him is what enabled Him to love us while we were still sinners, still enemies, still uninterested, still self-obsessed. This is how we was able to send His Son to the cross to pay for our sins. He can do that because life flows from Him. He is not looking for something in return.
This is how He relates to us. He lavishes us with His goodness while we are still sinners. He makes us forgiven and righteous. He removes the need for anything to have to be done to gain His favor and love. He finds great delight and pleasure in loving this way.
How are we supposed to respond to this?
There is only one logical and reasonable response to this kind of lavishing love. To try to do something to deserve it would be insulting. To reject it would be to scoff at the holy gift of God. To attempt to pay back would be mockery. What is the only legitimate response to the overwhelming?
That response is faith. It is the humble response that accepts as true what has been done. It is the personal realization and application of God’s heart and actions toward you. It is the acceptance that I am loved, forgiven, and made righteous because of Christ’s death. It is the awareness that this is undeserved, unbelievable, and stunning. This belief changes me. It sees what seems unnatural, unrealistic, and unseen. I have been made right with God!
This type of experience – faith as a response to overwhelming graced – is completely different than what we understand as a “relationship”. This one is lopsided and overwhelming. This one is unlike any other earthly experience we have ever had. This however is the experience of relating to God. He lavishes, we humbly receive. He shows grace, we respond by faith. He forgives, we forgive others. He loves, we worship in wonder.
Is Christianity a relationship? Yes, but it’s unlike any other you’ve every known!