It’s Religion AND Relationship

It’s not religion, it’s a relationship.

This has become one of the most popular of what I call “fortune-cookie theology” statements about following Jesus.

It’s cute.

It’s catchy.

But as I’ve grown in my walk with Jesus (slowly but surely) and my understanding of the story of Scripture, the more I see that statement as partly false, incomplete.

And that false story has led to so many errors in how I’ve viewed the church, spiritual disciplines, or even my own identity.

Let’s walk through a couple falsehoods together and then let’s use the story of Scripture to correct them.

Who We Are 

The relationship focused view of Christianity would certainly emphasize our sonship and sainthood. Praise God for that. But that is incomplete.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 2:4-5

We are a holy priesthood. And Peter is not the first to describe us as such.

As I look at the book of Genesis more and more, the more I see that it was God’s design for Adam was to function in a priestly role as well. He was to mediate God’s grace to the world. When you pay attention, you see that the garden is described like the tabernacle of God (Genesis 1:31-2:3 and Exodus 39:32-40:33), and that the roles and responsibilities of Adam and Eve includes the same language as the roles and responsibilities of the priests (Genesis 2:15 and Numbers 3:8). Remember the book of Genesis was not written with any intention of teaching how God created the world, it was written to teach who God is and who we are.

Come on y’all. I will never get tired of sharing how the Bible is one massive story.

Look at that passage above again. We are a community of living stones that God is using to build a house. The older I get the more I doubt that I really have a personal relationship with Jesus in the manner that most think. Yes I can commune with God privately with His Spirit residing in me. I can speak with Him just as Moses, Jacob, and countless others did. But the Scriptures are full of we language. The passage above is a perfect case in point.

We’ve allowed our culture’s utter obsession with individualism to lead us to think that our relationships with Jesus are private. They’re not. My walk with Him is 100% the business of those in my church.

Back to the story.

Adam and Eve failed at their duties. So God chose a line of priests. They failed again and again. They failed to be perfect mediators. So then, God sent His Son. 

What Jesus Did 

Many like to focus on Jesus as the example of someone who was not concerned about religion, as someone who came to abolish it. Fascinatingly enough, He says the complete opposite regarding the Old Testament Scriptures.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. – Matthew 5:17

Jesus does not abolish the religious nature of the Christian faith. He fulfills it. What befuddles me about the whole “Jesus just wants you to love others” niche of Christianity is this entire Sermon on the Mount section of Jesus’ teachings. As you read the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is making the law so much harder, not the other way around.

What used to be about external actions, Jesus makes about internal motivations.

What used to be the command of not murdering becomes a command of not holding in hatred in your heart.

What used to be the command of not committing adultery becomes a command of not holding any lust in one’s heart.

Jesus didn’t do away with religion. He fulfilled it. He deepened it.

Now, here’s where it gets confusing. Here’s where I reiterate that the phrase “it’s not religion, it’s a relationship” is partly true.

Because of the work of Jesus, we have been set free from the burden of the law (what most equate with the term ‘religion’). We no longer have to adhere to kosher dietary restrictions and strict Sabbath observances. The Law has been satisfied in Christ. Read the book of Hebrews. It’s all about how Jesus satisfied the demands of religion.

But let us not forget that Jesus was a Jew, even considered a Pharisee by many religious scholars. That means that Jesus grew up adhering to habits and actions that formed Him.

And that’s where we’re headed next.

What We Do

People despise legalism. Myself included. Just read my last blog.

But the anti-legalism mentality can fly to far the other direction where we never ingrain any formative habits in our lives. This mentality leads to renegade and rouge Christians who don’t submit to a local church (something the Bible gives literally zero room for, see above).

This mentality has led to a tremendous Biblical literacy problem in our churches. People don’t know Scripture. They don’t read it because they don’t want to become legalists. This mentality has led to prayerlessness, and to honestly thousands upon thousands of dollars being wasted by churches on study resources that often aren’t opened between weeks of Sunday School.

And I’m here to tell you that if you are a follower of Jesus, then you are a member of a religion.

Complete with holy days on the calendar, habits and practices that you should be adhering to and using to form yourself into the image of Jesus, and holy Scriptures.

Do you shower?

I do.

Almost every single day.

Do I love to shower?

Do I get just absolutely pumped when the time comes to shower?

No.

It’s a habit.

A boring, rote, ordinary habit.

But it’s a habit that produces a result.

I get to sleep in bed next to my wife.

I’m clean.

Brothers and sisters, Christianity has seemingly boring, rote, ordinary practices that you are called to adhere to. Reading the Old Testament (although, if you read closely, it’s super amazing. I’m about to start a series through 1-2 Kings with my students). Praying. Attending a church that isn’t exactly the way you want it to be (although if we applied the same covenant vow from marriage to our commitment to our churches [like Ephesians 5 does], we’d remember that it’s not about us) after a long weekend. Memorizing Scripture.

Following Jesus is religion AND relationship.

I tell my students all the time that is incredibly foolish to have no habits revolving around Jesus in our lives and yet expect to grow. I tell my students that to come to church twice a month when they feel like it and expecting to be more like Jesus is foolish.

Brothers and sisters, it’s time we stop listening to an entertainment-driven culture and instead remember that there are so much ordinary habits in our faith.

It’s about religion AND relationship.

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In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Making The Bed

Throughout Christian history, the people of God have been formed, built up in, and strengthened by creeds and confessions of the faith. These were recited in families, church fellowships, and communities as a way to be catechized (taught) in the historic Christian faith.

We are also catechized by our world. Our culture is telling us all of the time how we are to behave, what we are to live for. There are daily habits that we all feel drawn towards and pulled into that are the result of subconscious daily formation via the world we live in. The biggest right now is easily the most obvious (I feel like a broken record saying this). We are taught to put everything on social media, to fight the silence by staring at our phones, and to put up a front whether that is our intention or not.

The most eye-opening event when it came to this was when I first got back from Phoenix. My fiancée Jamie and I went to dinner with one of my closest childhood friends and his wife. He asked me how my year in Phoenix was and when I opened up about the difficulties that I had at the church he was genuinely surprised saying that ‘everything you’ve put on Facebook made it seem like a great experience’. This wasn’t done intentionally by me at all, in fact via this blog I made a lot of my struggles at the church public. Yet my friends back home saw a picturesque experience where it was quite the opposite in many ways.

My generation does a poor job of handling this obsession with social media. However, the former generation doesn’t seem to fair too much better. I remember being at a men’s Bible study in Phoenix where every person around the table was on their phone at some point during the forty minute experience (except for me and my roommate Matt). The call of their individual business or family responsibilities was in that moment greater than the call of God’s Word. This is not a millennial problem. This is an everyone problem. We have all been formed, discipled, and catechized into thinking that to put our phones up for even a short period of time is to make ourselves unavailable to the world and thus perhaps less important.

I feel the weight of this at any family event. Is it enough to enjoy the treasured moments with siblings and parents, or am I obliged to post some picture of it so that everyone else can know just how much fun I had? I have been discipled into believing that without making my moment with family public I am not enjoying life to its fullest. When boiled down, that’s exactly what we are being taught. The fullness of life is found in making every private or intimate family or relationship moment public for other people to like, comment on, etc. This has caused people I know to literally Facebook Live their kitchen meal prep. I know others who make public their children’s tantrums, fits, problems. I know others who make their kids’ successes just as public. Previous generations had bumper stickers, we have Facebook posts. I myself struggle with making private moments of hilarity or doofusness public on social media. We have been discipled into believing that making a public spectacle of private moments is normal, necessary, and fulfilling.

In her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren talks about how the start of our days are incredibly important when it comes to how we live and view our days.

Push as hard as the age that pushes against you. – Flannery O’Connor

Warren offers the making of one’s bed as a way to start our days, as opposed to incessant phone use. But it can be any number of liturgical and rhythmic routines that can orient our minds and hearts toward godliness rather than the lies of our age.

Evaluate what you do with your day, especially in the stillness and quiet moments. More often than not, where you go in the quiet is what you’re living for. You are being formed in ways that are beneficial to your spiritual growth, as well as ways that are not. Think through your routines and habits.

I know that when I conclude my day in prayer with Jamie, I am prone to wake up more spiritually aware, more focused on eternal matters in the day ahead. I know that when I spend two hours watching TV or playing Playstation, I am prone to head into the next day needing to be entertained, focused on the here and now. Our practices throughout our days establish us. It is thus incredibly important that we don’t drift through our days unaware of what we’re living for.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2 

My mind isn’t renewed if I give myself no time to sit with God and do just that.

Be aware of what you live for.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

iHeart

For the last year or so I’ve had a growing disdain for all things technological. Let me rephrase that. I’ve had a growing disdain for the way I’ve allowed myself to be controlled by all things technological. So, as of two short days ago, I’ve begun trying to implement strategies so that my foolish self won’t be so prone to addiction to these tiny boxes of information we call smart phones. iphone-addiciton

So I bought an alarm clock.

You see, that was my go to excuse for having my phone in my bed. I needed it as an alarm. Now that argument is invalid.

For the last two evenings, I’ve enjoyed honestly tremendous freedom, tremendous peace and rest with my Creator. I know it sounds somewhat laughable, but putting my phone up before bed and until after I shower in the mornings has been like a mini retreat of sorts.

I’m far from there when it comes to setting aside technology for rest. But I am glad to be making steps in the right direction.

Not every one will come to the same conclusions about technology. My purpose for this blog post is not to tell you guys to become more like me. Because that would be stupid, because I can be stupid. Instead, I’m wanting us all as a community of faith to consider our rhythms, routines, and habits. We rarely stop and consider in our culture why we do the things we do. I’ve only recently begun to stop and consider my technological habits.

Why should we as followers of Christ consider our habits?

This passage (among many):

How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word. I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from your commands. I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You. – Psalm 119:9-11

Here’s the deal. It all starts with the heart when it comes to our walk with the Lord.

H.B. Charles Jr. says it like this:

The matter of the heart is usually the heart of the matter.

Solomon would say it like this:

Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life. – Proverbs 4:23

Our hearts are the center of our intellect, emotions, and volition. From our hearts springs all of our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Because of this, we must protect it. Because of this, we must guard it. And oh my goodness no this has little to do with dating or courting, it has everything to do with what we fill our hearts with throughout the day. Scripture tells us our hearts are wicked. Naturally, left to our own devices, apart from Christ, we have wicked and ugly hearts. Now when I spend hours a day on social media and/or Netflix, which most of the time aren’t honoring a Biblical worldview, then it’s no wonder my heart strays into broken thinking and ungodly actions.

Here’s the deal.

I’m a moron. To be honest, you kinda are too (I understand if you check out here).

We are all prone to depart from what we know is right. We are all prone to abandon Scriptural beliefs for cultural ones.

Look back at the passage from Psalm 119. Do you want to live a pure life? This means much more than just sexual purity. This means holistically applying the Bible to all of your life. Do you desire that? Then keep His Word. How do we keep His Word if we don’t spend time in it?

I imagine a day where I’m devoting all of my down time to growing closer to the Lord through prayer, Scripture memory, Bible study, and family worship.

Now, God gave us good things. He gave us hobbies and ways to unwind at the end of the day. Here’s the question though. Is it beneficial for you?

 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. – 1 Corinthians 6:12

This blog post is not intended to be anti-media or anti-entertainment. It is rather intended to be pro-spiritual growth. So we need to each ask ourselves what hobbies and habits are beneficial for our individual spiritual growth.

That means that for me, I can’t have my phone in bed at night or in the morning. I can’t. You can. You may very well have way more self-control than me and be able to not spend hours on it between the sun setting and the sun rising. But for me, I’m not disciplined enough. It is not sinful to have my phone in my bed, but I find myself mastered by it and thus it is not beneficial.

Look one more time with me at Psalm 119:10.

I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from your commands. – Psalm 119:10

Devotion and humility.

That is what it takes to cling to Christ and grow spiritually. The Psalmist seeks God with all his heart, with deep devotion. In the same breath though he humbly acknowledges His need for Christ to cling to him. Don’t let me wander from your commands.

Let this be our prayer as followers of Christ. Let us seek Christ with devotion. Let us acknowledge that we need him to hold us tight, to keep us from straying.

Here’s a novel idea for all of us. It’s difficult to stray from Him when you’re focused on communing with Him each day. Hide His word in your heart.

My last rant is about the rat race. Don’t get caught up in it. We behave unconsciously via what we’re told is the way to behave. That’s why the thought of even putting my phone up at night before two days ago made me feel like a crazy person. Don’t listen to the culture at hand, cling to Christ.

Seek Him.

God’s Word teaches us all we need to live well.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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Grace To Say No

The enemy of our souls has crafted a debilitating and devastating one-two punch with which he wages war against us. The combination of temptation followed by shame in the aftermath of failure can leave us reeling and broken. I can think of countless times where I’ve been there.

We let our guard down, allowing our ears to be itched by the enemy with the enticing ‘promises’ of present pleasure and enjoyment. When our minds aren’t bathed in Scripture and prayer they becomes increasingly susceptible to these sly and alluring lies to give in to the desires of our flesh and act in sinfulness. The deed is done, as the lustful thoughts enter the mind, the angry word lashes out at the friend, the white lie is uttered from the mouth. Yet the enemy isn’t done with us quite yet.roadblock

After giving into sin, the enemy attacks us with shame, guilt, and condemnation. He leaves us grasping for grace, doubting its power to truly redeem and purify us of our most recent fault. We come crawling to the cross for redemption, but we wrestle in our minds and deepest hearts about whether or not there is actual grace for the 1001st fault.

Yet even with a Biblical and right understanding of the power that grace has to forgive us of our deepest faults, we can still get caught in a discouraging cycle of a habitual sin if we don’t realize that grace has power before we sin as well.

The cycle goes something like this. Temptation, sin, confession, forgiveness. Temptation, sin, confession, forgiveness. We may have seasons of strong victory over our habitual sin, but if we don’t understand grace’s one-two punch, we are destined to remain in such a cycle of despair and discouragement. Been there. Done that. Bought that t-shirt. I don’t want to be stuck in a cycle of sin again. So how do we overcome, and stand firm in temptation?

We understand the full power of grace at work in our lives. We understand that grace is not only there for us when we fail, it is there for us before we even come close.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. – Titus 2:11-14

Wow. Read that passage again. Really meditate on it and strive to comprehend it. The grace of God teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and worldly passions. It teaches us to live lives of self-control, uprightness, and godliness. This doesn’t come from a self-help book (been there, done that), it doesn’t come from simply willing yourself to be better. The power to change and get free of habitual sin lies in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that is greater than all my sin.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, combat the one-two punch of the enemy. Don’t get dragged down into a never-ending cycle of temptation and condemnation. Counter with not just the grace that we are given when we sin (because we will continue to make mistakes), but the power that grace gives you and I to say no to that which our flesh wants to say yes to.

How do we receive this power? By faith in what Christ has done, and hope in what that means for eternity.

This passage is beautifully explicit about what Christ has done for you and I who worship Him as Lord. He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify us. You and I have been redeemed from the stain of sin, we have been purified from the infection of our flesh. Christ did this. Not because of anything we could do, but because of His great mercy and love (Titus 3:5).

Let that saturate your mind and heart. Let that seep through the broken cracks of your sinfulness and let it come as a breath of fresh air. In Christ, we have grace that is greater than all our sin.

Implementing the power of grace to say ‘no’ to our temptations does not come by way of formula or steps. It comes by way of meditating on the gospel and proclaiming aloud that “that’s not me”. When temptation comes your way, proclaim the wonders and goodness of God’s grace. When temptation beckons, combat it with prayer and the recitation of Scripture. Maybe you memorize this passage and use it to wage war on the enemy. Whatever method you may use to combat sin and experience grace, let Christ be central.

Oh how foolish and naive I am when I attempt to combat sin through my own strength. Oh how fortunate and blessed I am that I don’t have to.

The power to overcome sin is the Lord’s.

Meditate on His grace.

Walk in freedom.

Wage war.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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