RELATIONALLY VITAL RELIGION
One of the dire warnings that Jesus gave to those who would be His followers was that the time would come when people would live like those during the “days of Noah” when people were oblivious to God (Luke 17:26-27) and went about their daily routines — eating, drinking, marrying, raising a family — without regard for God or His commands. Even though it was couched in surprisingly mundane descriptions perhaps leaving the original hearers to wonder why Christ would be so concerned about this, as we read on in this passage we discover that Christ is warning that it is when such ‘ordinary’ activities are done without regard to God and His commands, we are in eternal peril. Even such routine things as eating and drinking, the apostle Paul later stated, should be done “to the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31). When such cares of this life consume all of our attention and hinder us from gazing upon the face of Christ (2Cor. 3:18; 4:6) and end up distorting our priorities (Matt. 6:33) we are in divine peril. This peril is even greater for those who are nominally religious because chances are they are completely unaware of the risk they are taking and Christ’s dire warnings to avoid it. The answer is not to be more religious but to be truly religious by embracing what Christ taught about a relationally vital religion…
WHICH PART OF THE WHEEL IS YOUR RELIGION?
If we were to think of our lives as being a bicycle wheel and each spoke represented an aspect of our life, which part of that wheel would be dedicated to God? The kind of Christianity that Jesus described, to use the wheel metaphor, involved a commitment to Him being represented as the hub and the rim of the wheel. In that way, every spoke flows out of Him to Him.
And whatever you do, in word or deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
For those nominally religious people whose “Christianity” is just a spoke in their life-wheel, God is largely irrelevant, the bible is a largely unfamiliar book, and church attendance is just an occasional (and optional) duty. This concept of religion is known as formal Christianity. It’s referred to in Second Timothy 3:5 – having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. ‘Formal Christianity’ stands in complete contradistinction to the way of life that Jesus called His followers to.
¶ Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.
This concept of Christianity as described by Jesus is known as ‘vital’ (from the Latin vitalis meaning “life”) Christianity. Because this is so starkly different to formal Christianity these followers of Christ often shy away from describing their vital Christianity as a religion and prefer to describe it as a relationship. This preferential description may baffle a formal ‘Christian’ who has little idea why anyone would describe their religion as a relationship. This is because they are probably unfamiliar with the biblical exhortations to refer to God in prayer as “Abba” – Daddy (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Jesus actually stated in a prayer to His Father that the only way that someone could truly be His follower was to know Him and His Father (John 17:3), and apostle Paul described this relationship as his highest pursuit –
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
Timothy Keller distinguishes formal Christianity from vital Christianity preferring instead to use the words religion and gospel. This is how he sees the distinction:
This is a particularly helpful distinction for those who have been deceived into thinking that formal Christianity is actually Christianity. Understanding what Keller calls Gospel Christianity should lead a person to see that Christianity is both a relationship (with God and His people) and a vital religion. It should also change the way a person understood life and their place in this world.
HOW THE SYMBOL OF THE CROSS EMBLEMS THE VERTICAL & HORIZONTAL ASPECTS OF RELATIONAL CHRISTIANITY
The emblem of Christianity is the Cross. It reminds us that God reached down to us in love through giving mankind not just His written Word — but also through His Living embodied Word — His Son. Christ taught us that peace with God was a vertical relationship with the Father made possible because of the Cross (Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20). The evidence of a person in a vertical relationship with God is their horizontal relationship with their church family. The vertical and horizontal aspects of being a vital Christian are expressed in Matthew 22:37-40.
Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.
First John 2:10
By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
First John 3:10
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.
First John 3:14
True, vital Christianity is indeed a relationship, it has a power religious element to it as well. As Keller has pointed out, we do not become religious to get right with God — we become religious because we have been made right with God by God (Eph. 2:8-9). The Bible prescribes that the child of God exhibits “true religion”.
¶ If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction,
and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
True, vital, religion is grounded in a delightful devotion to God through Christ (Rom. 16:27). It is active, relational and heartfelt. It takes seriously both of the two greatest commands of Christ in Matthew 22:37-40. Thus, obeying Hebrews 10:25 is a sacrifice they are more than willing to make. This sacrifice is gladly made when they meet together with God’s people to worship God (Heb. 13:15) give heed to the preaching of God’s Word (Rom. 16:25), going into their closet to pray for their brothers and sisters and the lost (1Tim. 2:1-3); and continually seeking the Kingdom of God as their first priority (Matt. 6:33). These are all the reasons why biblical Christianity is a relationally vital religion.
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