“The Bible is not full of rules and regulations, but protection and direction.” I stole this quote from somewhere during my teen years and tried to make it sound like my own so that people would admire my insight. I put it in my “signature” for my email for a couple years until I feared it was too preachy. I didn’t want to offend non-Christians and sound like some religious “Bible thumper.”
But, isn’t that the point? There are too many Bible thumpers who have diluted the amazing truths of God into nothing more than a list of what you can and cannot do. Recently I chatted with a couple friends from work who are not Christians and haven’t really had too much interaction with Christians. I was surprised by their questions and comments.
“So, you’re a Christian. You’re anti-gay, then, right?”
“Oh, I feel kinda bad. I shouldn’t be swearing around you.”
Whoa! Come again? Each of the comments had to do with Christianity as behavior. Under this view, my Christian faith means that I don’t engage in swearing or homosexual practices. While I agree that these activities (and countless others) definitely do not build up the Church or help the individual understand God more, I wonder why the focus is on behavior first instead of relationship.
Christianity is not about behavior. You don’t get yourself sinless and then become a Christian. We first approach God in complete understanding of how crappy our lives are, usually because of how crappy our lives are.
Yesterday evening I was talking with a college student at the local university where I am doing some research. I recognized Adam as someone who had visited the church I attend, and we started up a conversation. Eventually, the talk came around to the issue of lust. (Pretty heavy for a first real conversation, eh?) Adam shared his feelings of insufficiency because he was leading a Bible study in the dorms but couldn’t shake off his problem with habitual masturbation. (He was surprised to learn that a large portion of pastors also deal with masturbation and pornography, things which he assumed would be absent from the life of a “real” Christian.) Here was a guy who was fervently pursuing a relationship with Jesus, trying to imitate His behavior, but ultimately feeling like a failure.
Jesus didn’t spend the large portion of time reading the religious pop psychology books about lust, but rather spent time with others fostering a better understanding of Him. He didn’t attend seminars about how to lead the anti-pro-choice movement in his town, but rather tried to show people love so they wouldn’t be looking for it in other places. Instead of fighting to get prayer in schools, He prayed.
Each of these pursuits are noble in nature, but I wonder if we haven’t lost sight of what was truly important. When Jesus met the woman at the well (1 John 4), she was a well-known adulteress. She was the proverbial village bicycle: Everyone had gotten a ride. Yet, Jesus looked past her label and her sins and helped her have a relationship with Him.
Notice this important fact. When He sent her back to her city as a new believer, He hadn’t tried to get her to stop sleeping around. He didn’t spend time pointing out the spiritual (and biological) consequences of premarital and/or unprotected sexual activity. Christ didn’t sit down with her and work out a plan of what to do the next time she was sexually tempted. Jesus told her the truth of who He was, developed a relationship with her and trusted that her behavior would eventually change as He worked in her heart.
I guess this brings me to my main point. I don’t want my religion to be known as a collection of commands and prohibitions, rules and regulations. Sure, there are guidelines to life in the Bible that help me to live my life for Christ. But, the main point of the Gospel is that Jesus loves us and came to earth to die for us so that we might live. Is that the message that the politicized, inflammatory religious right currently proclaims? I don’t want a religion, I want a relationship. I want to love Christ and to be loved by Christ; loved so much that His love can’t help but flow from my life to the lives of those around me. You can’t beat that as a life pursuit.
[Jonathan Bowman is a slightly obnoxious 24-year-old researcher in the Department of Communication at Michigan State University. He likes ice cream and snowboarding and hates brussel sprouts, fluorescent lighting and whiny roommates. He is working on his first book.]
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