Religion vs Relationship

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“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

If there has ever been a time when we need a refuge and strength, it is now. God is an ever-present help in our time of need. But in our study of Jesus’ “I am” statement we are learning that there is a stark difference between knowing God and knowing about God.

We can study and earn a Ph.D. in religion yet be furthest from God. If we don’t get this right in life, nothing else matters.

Every one of God’s promises overflows from knowing Him, not knowing about Him. In John 8:48-59 we jump right into the middle of a conversation Jesus is having with a group of guys known as Pharisees.

A Pharisee was not so much a person but a way of thinking or knowing God.

The Pharisee-movement began when Israel was at a low point spiritually during the intertestamental period.

These men engage this young Rabbi named Jesus in a heated debate who is interpreting God’s law differently than how they want people to understand it.

In Biblical Hebrew culture, and even to some extent today, arguing was an art form. Hebrews were passionate about the truth. The truth of any matter was more important than being right or wrong.

Firing off question after question was a means of refining what you believed or identifying a flaw in your thought process. From a western perspective, this passionate debating may look like fighting but it wasn’t that way with them.

That is until someone turned it into a fight.

The Pharisees, who are frustrated with Jesus, call Him, “a Samaritan and demon-possessed.” When decency takes a backseat smearing someone, everyone loses.

Using Samaritan as a derogatory term was a common practice for many Jewish people at this time. Samaritans were half-Jewish and as a result, they were ceremonially unclean and despised by Jewish men and women.

In Matthew 5 Jesus defined anger and slander as punishable offenses and went as far as saying the slanderer will be “in danger of the fire of hell.”

Anger must be repented of before it consumes us.

Jesus politely answers them but he does not acknowledge their “Samaritan” comment. He is not going to validate the shaming of the Samaritans.

He clearly points out that He does not bare the characteristics of a demon-possessed person because He seeks to honor and glorify God, not Himself. He then redirects the conversation by using the phrase “truly, truly” which made the listener pay attention to what was about to be said.

Not only is Jesus confident that His teaching is accurate, but He tells them that anyone who keeps my words, aka obeys them, will not see death. The Pharisees are now even more convinced He has a demon.

He wasn’t speaking about physical death but the final death. Jesus doesn’t promise immortality; He promises eternal life.

But then the conversation escalates to level 1000.

58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. John 8:58-59

Jesus invokes the sacred name of God that was not allowed to be spoken. He was not someone sent from God, like a prophet, He is God in the flesh.

Here’s the thing, everything in the Hebrew scriptures was preparing the people for this very moment. They have long waited for a Messiah, a Savior, who would deliver them from the debt, guilt, and power of sin.

Religion can’t do that for you.

  • Good morals won’t silence your guilt.
  • Good deeds will not pay off your debt.

Only Jesus has the authority to wipe your sin debt clean and give you eternal life.

But the Pharisees had become so enamored with religion and routines that they stopped looking for God.

The God whom they refused to speak His name for fear of dishonoring Him, is standing in front of them and they are ready to throw stones at Him!  

Religion is not God’s will for you, it’s the acceptance of Jesus’ gift of forgiveness that brings you into a relationship with Him; that is God’s will for you!

You were not made to go through life alone, but to have a relationship with God. Jesus, the “I Am,” has come and removed every obstacle from you, now all you must do is follow Him.

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