Read: Isaiah 53:5; Philippians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 5:21
My husband and I have been listening to Greg Laurie's testimony concerning how his life changed after having turned his life over to Jesus. Hearing about Greg Laurie's conversion caused both of us to marvel at the miracle of our own journeys and how Jesus had shown us our need for a Savior as well as His personal love for us. What Jesus did for me was to help me understand the vast difference between religion and a relationship with Him. I was religious, and I knew about Jesus, but a relationship with God? What did that mean? I had no idea; so, with that in mind, may I tell a story that might illustrate this precious truth? Perhaps someone might be encouraged by seeing how different those two things truly are.
This is a true story. I know since I am in it. It occurred decades ago while I was working at a facility which served mentally challenged folks. One morning, I was summoned to meet with my supervisor. We were not alone, and the subject of the meeting was not a pleasant one. To cut to the chase, I was told that my work was in need of improvement in more than one area. The problem stemmed from my lack of vision. I had three months to improve my work. I was under a work improvement plan. Each week, I would be required to come and hear my evaluation for the week and sign that I had been informed and understood what had been said. If, after the three months, I had sufficiently improved in my weak areas, I would continue to be employed. I determined that I would give it all that I had. Let's stop here and play multiple choice concerning what happened in those ensuing weeks. Ready? Choose.
1. After three months, my supervisor told me that, though I still had deficiencies, they could see that I had been trying very hard. They had observed enough improvement to cause them to continue to employ me.
2. After three months, I was told that I still had deficits but they had decided that since they were small, they would look the other way. My employment would continue.
3. After three months, it was decided that other employees' work ethics were less than mine; so, my employment would continue.
4. After three months, though I had improved in some areas, I fell short in other different parts of the job; therefore, I resigned.
5. None of the above.
If you chose none of the above, sadly, you are incorrect. Is it ever none of the above? The correct answer is choice NO. 4. Actually, it didn't take many weeks for me to know that I would fall short of my goal. My vision simply wouldn't allow me to perform with the necessary adequacy; so, one week I admitted that fact to my supervisor, and we finished out the remaining weeks with less stress. There was something very freeing about admitting the truth about my inability. Regardless of my effort or the fact that others didn't work as hard, I still fell short, and there was no remedying the problem. The only thing I could see each week as I signed that paper was that there was a deficit that I couldn't meet. A hole that kept filling up even after I tried to empty it out.
What a picture of religion. How hard people try to ‘dot all the Is and cross all the Ts’, only to find themselves treading water once again. Religion highlights man's efforts and how he holds out his signed paper before the Holy God Who sees every area where there is yet another failure because there is no one who has or ever will live a righteous life, Romans 3:23. Except Jesus, 1 Peter 2:22;1 John 3:5. What can be done when our short-comings continue to be exposed? Here's where the story turns and becomes all about Jesus. It is to our advantage that we see our inability because, then we are free to reach out for God's gift. What Jesus offers instead of religion is His righteousness. This is what He freely holds out to us. We can receive this wondrous gift in exchange for giving Him our sins, 2 Corinthians 5:21. We discard our useless attempts at perfection and exchange them for His perfect righteousness which He offers as a gift, Philippians 3:9. How can Jesus make such an offer? It is because of His finished work accomplished on the cross, John 19:30. It was there that the Savior provided atonement for all of our sins, Isaiah 53:5.
Each week, as I signed the paper that indicated both my improvements and short-comings, I was aware that there was nothing I could do to meet the required standards of my employment. There was no one whose adequacy I could receive to cover over the deficits I had. That's just like religion. However, may God be praised. He offers something more. He offers each of us a relationship with Him. When we receive the provision of forgiveness He offers, we become His children, John 1:11-12. He invites us to learn from Him as we walk with Him, Matthew 11:28-30. Instead of working out of our own strength, we rely on the Lord Who makes us adequate, 2 Corinthians 3:5-6. Back when I admitted my inability to meet my employer's standards, that was the end of our relationship. Yet, it isn't that way when we receive salvation, Ephesians 2:8-9. The Lord comes to live within us, and it is the beginning of our experiencing an abundant life that He offers, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; John 10:10.
Religion or relationship. It is our choice, and praise the Lord. There is truly a difference.