Rules or Relationship?
1 John 3:1-3
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
I used to be a slave to religion. I used to burden myself with scaling an enormous wall of rules and regulations that I perceived God had placed between He and I. I used to try and marry the contradictory ideas of grace and works. Many have fallen victim to the idea that God has indeed done all that is needed for our salvation, gift wrapped it, and freely bestowed it upon all who would receive it, but somehow if we do not follow the rules, then what was freely given can be revoked and annulled. If it is a gift, then the gift requires no compensation. Thus, to add some caveat of responsibility to the gift ultimately renders it a reward and not a gift. The idea of grace and works are contradictory as Paul says, "And if it is by grace, then it is no longer by works. Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace" (Rom 11:6). In context Paul is referring to election, but we see this same concept of works and grace being antithetical found throughout Pauline thought (Galatians; Phil 3:7-11; Eph 2:8-10; Ti 3:4-7).
Ultimately Christianity is about being reconciled with God and entering into a familial relationship with Him as our Father. John articulates perfectly the heartfelt response of those who have been rescued by the power of divine love. He says we are His children, and this inclusion into His family is a deep expression of love and affection. John continues by saying when Christ returns we will be like Him, sharing in His glory, His inheritance, and His likeness. It is this love and this promise that drives the child of God to want to live, here and now, in a way that is pure.
John says something that sounds very strange to us, but to his original audience would have made a great deal more sense. He says "we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." Now if you are anything like me you probably read that and thought, "what the heck does that mean?" In ancient Jewish mysticism, they believed that beholding the glory of the Lord transformed them into His likeness. They got this concept from Exodus 34:29-35, when Moses shone with the glory of God. We see this same idea in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 3:16-18). Paul and John both believed that beholding the glory of God in Christ transforms us, but John here states that upon our seeing Christ at His second coming, we will be fully and completely transformed, sharing completely in His glory and likeness.
It is the love of God for us that motivates us to want to live in a way that honors Him, not rules. For truly there are no rules in this new covenant. This is a unilateral covenant, one that depends solely on God and not on us by any means. But it is our love for God, our response to His love for us, that motivates us to want to honor Him with our lives. Further, it is the promise that we will be transformed and glorified with Him at His second coming that compels us to want to express Christlikeness here and now. Knowing the Spirit is seeking to move us from glory to glory, conforming us to His image now, in love and thankfulness, we yield with joy and anticipation! Our motive to be like Christ is not rule driven, but love driven. His love is an infectious and contagious goodness that penetrates our hearts and ruins us forever. In thankfulness and adoration we seek to honor Him with our lives, yielding to His presence and desiring His fruit to be formed within us.
This is so extremely important because there seems to be much confusion in the body concerning this. As a result many have abandoned the faith, experiencing from fellow believers harshness for their behavior and having one to many religious fingers jammed in their faces. My friends God places no burden on you to be like Christ. God did not make salvation a reward for those who have the moral muster to grab it. Rather, God has indeed lovingly bestowed a gift upon us. And when we truly see this, and let it soak into our hearts, we will respond in like-love, worshipfully bowing before Him, overflowing with thankfulness and joy!
Maybe you are like I was. Maybe you have been duped into believing Christianity is about rules and law. Well my friend I invite you to step out from behind that imaginary wall of dos and don'ts and allow the light of His perfect love and kindness have a go at your hungry heart! Ditch the rules, embrace grace, and experience the freedom and joy of relationship!