How to Separate God from Religion
- Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Editor's Note: This article summarizes the practical applications of Andrew Farley's recent book, God Without Religion: Can It Really Be This Simple? (Baker Books, 2011).
If you’re a Christian, you aren’t meant to be pursuing religion. You already have the most valuable gift possible: a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. But even in church, it’s easy to get pulled into religious pressure to perform and somehow try to earn what you already have.
The only way you can be free to enjoy the kind of relationship God wants you to have with him is to separate that relationship from religious demands. Here’s how:
Stop trying to mix the old with the new. The old covenant that God made with human beings called them to do their best to live up to His perfect law and notice how impossible it was do so, which made them aware of the reality of their sin and their need for a savior. Now that God has sent that savior – Jesus – those who are connected to God through Jesus are free to relate to God under the new covenant, which focuses on Jesus’ perfect sacrifice that connects sinful people with a righteous God, rather than on people’s futile attempts to earn a relationship with God through their own efforts. So if you’re still trying to earn your salvation through good behavior or worrying about losing your salvation through bad behavior, stop doing so and accept the fact that you already have an unbreakable connection to God through your relationship with Jesus.
Check your motivation. Why are you motivated to do what God wants you to do? If it’s because you’re afraid of God punishing you if you don’t, your motivation is wrong. Since God has already punished Jesus on the cross for every sin that every person in all of history has or will commit, He has completed his punishment for sin perfectly. God doesn’t want you to worry about punishment; instead, He wants you to choose to do what’s right as a way of expressing your love for Him. After all, God’s own motivation for guiding you to what’s right isn’t to kill your happiness, but to help you experience what’s healthy and beneficial for you.
Realize where you are in relation to God. You don’t have to work hard to follow religious rules to get close or stay close to God. When you began a relationship with Jesus, God fused His Holy Spirit into your human spirit, so you’re already as close to God as you possibly can be – and you’ll remain close to God for eternity, thanks to Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for your sins. You’re not a sinner in the hands of angry God; you’re a saint in the arms of a loving God. While you still struggle with sin while you’re learning how to think, communicate, and act in ways that reflect your holiness in Christ, nothing can change the fact that Jesus has already made you close to God in your spiritual nature.
Take a fresh look at temptation. Stop identifying yourself as a sinner who lacks the power to resist the temptation to sin. Instead, rely on the power of the Holy Spirit living within your soul to help you overcome temptation in any situation. View yourself from God’s perspective: as a saint who can always choose to do what’s right after asking the Holy Spirit to help you do so.
Don’t waste time and energy on self-improvement projects. You don’t have to try to perfect yourself through your own religious effort. Instead, God is calling you to live a life that reflects the way He has already perfected you spiritually. So ask God to empower you change your life to reflect the holiness that He has made a part of your nature by crediting Jesus’ righteousness to you. Keep in mind that you’re God’s workmanship, and you can’t improve upon a masterpiece.
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