Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.
Growing up as a conservative evangelical, I often heard that “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.”
But Paul in Ephesians 4 doesn’t make that point. Listen to the list of dos and don’ts in the religion he teaches:
Put off falsehood.
Get to work.
Share your earnings
Don’t blather on uselessly.
Say something helpful.
Sounds to me like a religion—a list of rules to guide our speech and actions.
Eventually, though, Paul does get relational when he says, Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30).
Then he promptly resumes his list:
Get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice.
So what is Paul’s model for a Christian life? In this passage, the obvious way to not grieve the Spirit is to keep all the rules. Is Paul saying our job as Christians is to make God happy by toeing the line, by obeying his laws?
Is this what they mean when they say Christianity is a relationship, not a religion?
A different way to approach this passage is to start at the center and work our way out. At the center is the statement, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30).
A personal relationship differs from rules because a relationship wants me to be concerned about someone else’s feelings, not just their behavior. A relationship requires me to work with others, to know others, to share something of life with them.
I can keep rules with the attitude, “I’ll do it because I want to, not because you tell me to.” I can build relationships with an attitude that says, “Yeah, it’s tough to share your values, but I’m willing to learn.”
A relationship is more than the sum of its rules, more than a collection of acceptable behaviors. Many people keep the same rules I do about stealing, lying, adultery, and murder. But I neither have nor want a relationship with most of those people. Like Anne of Green Gables, I want kindred spirits, not just other humans.
Paul tells me that Christ lives in me. Have I developed a kindred spirit with him, a relationship that doesn’t grieve his Spirit? I want the Spirit to be at peace in me, not restless because I violate his goals and values.
Our father, do I need a relationship app to improve my interactions with you? Or are there already too many people surfing dating sites and lists of rules in hopes of finding a a relationship?
O Spirit of God who lives in me, make my heart alive to your movements and your moods. I want to know when I grieve you. I want to know when you approve. I want to be a kindred spirit with you.
I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.
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