Editor's Note: This article summarizes the practical applications of Andrew Farley's recent bookGod 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.

Take a fresh look at tithing. Rather than giving a 10 percent tithe to your church out of religious compulsion because the Old Testament sets that amount as a standard, give the amount that truly expresses your love for God and helps you grow to become the generous person He wants you to become.

Take a fresh look at predestination. Don’t get caught up in religious snobbery about which people may or may not be part of the “elect” whom God has chosen to be saved. God can see into the future and already knows every single human being who will freely choose salvation, as well as every person who will tragically reject His offer. Simply celebrate that it’s possible for anyone to be saved through a relationship with Jesus.

Take a fresh look at Baptism. It isn’t the external act of getting baptized in water that saves you; it’s the internal work of the Holy Spirit in your soul. So while Baptism is a great way to celebrate your salvation, you don’t need to worry that you won’t make it into heaven if you haven’t been baptized in a religious ceremony.

Take a fresh look at Communion. While confessing your sins to God and other people is a healthy habit, you don’t need to qualify to take Communion by confessing your sins, because you’re already qualified thanks to Jesus’ one-time atoning sacrifice for your sins. Celebrate God’s gift of forgiveness when you take Communion rather than hesitating to take Communion because you feel unworthy. Consider the context of Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians about not taking Communion in an unworthy manner to realize that he was referring to believers who were indulging in the sins of gluttony and drunkenness when taking Communion in the early church. Let your gratitude for God’s gift to you motivate you to regularly confess and repent of sin so you can keep growing into the person He wants you to become. But don’t worry that you have to be qualified for Communion in any way other than simply having a relationship with Jesus.

Take a fresh look at eternal life. Your salvation isn’t just a ticket to heaven; it’s also the freedom to live fully right now, empowered by the Holy Spirit living within your soul. You can be absolutely certain that you have eternal life if you’re in a saving relationship with Jesus, and you don’t have to worry about losing that eternal life (even when religion tries to tell you that you can). When you sin after salvation, you’ll experience the natural negative consequences of your wrong behavior, but Jesus won’t leave you. Even when you are faithless, God remains faithful.

Adapted from God Without Religion: Can It Really Be This Simple?, copyright 2011 by Andrew Farley. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.bakerbooks.com
Andrew Farley (PhD, University of Illinois) is lead pastor of Ecclesia, a growing evangelical church located on the high plains of west Texas. He was formerly a professor at University of Notre Dame and is now a tenured professor at Texas Tech University. Andrew is the bestselling author of The Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear in Church and coauthor with Nobel Prize-winning geoscientist Katharine Hayhoe of A Climate for Change. His writings are quietly reaching untold numbers with the life-changing message of "Jesus plus nothing." You can visit his website at: www.andrewfarley.org.

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles (http://angels.about.com/). Contact Whitney at: angels.guide@about.com to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience.  

Publication date: June 21, 2011