I grew up in the affluent deep-south, where conservatism served as a litmus test for character. My initial reaction was to conform to the influences surrounding me but I found that the logical conclusion of what I learned contradicted the biographies of the bible. So I began looking for deeper revelation in scripture and in prayer. As I began to develop them and share, I instantly experienced persecution and at times became a pariah to the conservative Christian communities that I belonged. When I befriended likeminded believers, I found they experienced the same repercussions as I did and withheld what they believed to fit in the community.
What astonished me is that the “theological” disagreements, that brought negativity towards me, came down to words. Rather one read the King James Bible or the Living Bible could start brawls within the pews. But even in the same version of the bible, one side went to war with the other over how they “interpreted the scripture” and how they put it “into context”. Shooting off another scripture to back that position would produce a “serve and volley” tennis match that no one would seem to win. The reason this still shocks me is how do you actually know you are right? Context and interpretation are still subjective. Therefore, how could anyone know how wrong I am, based on the interpretation of words, considering these words created tens of thousands of Christian denominations? The proof would be in the pudding, wouldn’t it? Is that person more successful than I am? Do they have a happier marriage? Are they more respected? Is their life successful and more prosperous? And even if all of that is the case, does their excellent life really mean it’s because they held the right perspective of God and the bible? Hugh Hefner and Muammar Gaddafi are billionaires. Could you give Joseph the same litmus test when he was in prison? Would Daniel be able to pass the standard of correct theological doctrine in the lion’s den? No one would allow Paul to come close to a pulpit. Any single type of prosperity claim of what one denomination advertises (even though you would have to take their word for it), could be contradicted by some biblical hero in their time of testing, sin, struggle, and conflict. Even Jesus asked for a way out in the Garden of Gethsemane.
I do not ever want to come off like I know everything. I love questions. I think questions are popular. Answers are not. But I do possess an answer. All of it does not matter. It doesn’t matter what type of dispensation of apocalypse you believe. It does not matter if you think the bible obliges believers to uphold the law in the midst of grace. It does not matter if you believe God mandates a Christian dogmatic government. It does not matter if you believe church should be on Sundays or Saturdays. What matters is one thing: the relationship.
I know it’s an overused cliché to say “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship”. I abhor clichés. But there is a sense where some believe that adhering to such a proclamation exculpates believers from having to obey the rules of religion. And if they don’t obey the rules, chaos may assume because how can society and church leaders regulate the masses without them. Some call this Antinomianism. Some call it the Emerging Church movement. Some call it cheap grace. Some call it liberalism. Some call it heresy.
So, do I believe the sacrifice of Jesus Christ lets us out of obeying the rules?
Yes, I do.
And here is my argument. Imagine a man marries his childhood sweetheart. Everyone believes inevitably they would marry, so they commit to each other in matrimony. They have peaceful relationship of love and respect but it’s more of a partnership. Suddenly they began to experience serious problems and they do not know how much longer they can stay together. During this difficult time with his wife, another woman comes along who looks like she could be the centerfold for Playboy. They begin a friendly work relationship. She begins to flirt with our imaginary husband and offers him one night, no strings attached, to do anything he wanted with her. Ordinarily, the husband would not think twice about saying no he wouldn’t want to ruin his marriage. But he feels his wife is not the same woman anymore. He cannot find motivation to escape this temptation out of devotion for his wife. Therefore, he must find a way to honor his marriage vows through character. He made a promise. His rule is not to break it. Therefore, because of his rule, he stays pure to his wife.
I understand this perspective. We need rules because they teach us how to live in harmony with each other. They provide a boundary to keep us living the proper lifestyle that “honors God.”
But imagine another man gets married. However, this woman is the woman of his dreams. Everything about her is beyond perfect. Everything. She feels the same way about him. They begin this incredible love affair where every second of every day feels like the first time they kissed. Neither of them has ever experienced anything like this before. They believe nothing else out there even compares. They marry and begin to live the lives of their fantasies. They live for years, enamored by each other and pinching themselves for the love they found. Suddenly, problems begin infiltrating their marriage. The euphoria begins to dissipate. Disappointment replaces the surpassed expectations they experienced in each other. As the man contemplates the state of his marriage and how fast he has fallen from bliss, another woman comes along who looks like she could be the centerfold for Playboy. They begin a friendly work relationship. She begins to flirt with our imaginary husband and offers him one night, no strings attached, to do anything he wanted to do. He refuses her immediately. He doesn’t even think about it. Why?
Because of relationship. He is in love with his wife. He loves her without limits. He loves her without boundaries or inhibition. He loves the way she walks in the room. He loves the way she smells after working out. He loves her morning breath. He loves listening to her. He loves the way her skin feels and the way her kisses lingers her flavor on his lips for hours. He loves laying next to her at night, holding her, listening to her sleep. She consumes him. And while he desires to return to the inexpressible joy of their relationship, the misery of his current circumstances give him more pleasure then any happiness any other relationship could give him. Furthermore, the promise of the restoration of his marriage seduces him to wait for her and fight for her, forever, if needed.
Both husbands make the right choice. One does it because of rules. The other does so because of love. Of course a real marriage could never rise to the level of this hypothetical. Humanity and sin reign in all of us. Ain’t no perfect man or woman. No perfect marriage. But there is a perfect God. The marriage hypothetical metaphor does represent marital infidelity. It represents sin and righteousness.
It seems to me, the reason one needs religion and rules hinges on motivation. Does one obey God because they might go to hell or endure the punishment of sickness or poverty? Or does one obey because they believe the greatest pleasure in the history of the universe is the God who created it. If we all believed that the greatest pleasure and love dwelled in God, and there exists no juxtaposition; religion and rules would drown in obsolescence. There would be no need. But we need them because we don’t believe God’s the greatest pleasure in the universe. We need extra motivation. But, to convey the necessity of rules also conveys the limitation of God. If we somehow find him, like Elijah and Moses and Peter, his beauty will not intoxicate us enough to desire him; his presence will not awe us enough to follow him; his love will not draw us enough to obey him. Therefore, make sure we keep these rules in our back pocket and the consequences of breaking them, just in case.
The “inerrant” bible states, if you find him, you will love Him. Therefore, the purpose of life is to find him and to share him to everyone around you.
One cannot call themselves a Christian without having faith in God. Jesus proves God would never tell us to do anything he was not willing to do. Maybe, God has faith in Himself. Maybe, God has faith in his beauty. Maybe, God has faith in his presence. Maybe, God has faith in his love. Maybe, God is sure that if we experience his love, we will know nothing else compares and we will never choose anything else again. That is not rules. That is not religion. That is relationship.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3