What does God put first, our behaviour or relationship?

Unique to Christianity is the belief that humans can have an affectionate relationship with God. God is “Abba, Father” in Galatians 4:6, which is like calling God ‘Papa’, or ‘Pops.’

Calling God Papa, however, would be close to blasphemous for some people because God, to them, is not like a Dad who enjoys his kids. God expects his children to behave. Proper respect and submission, they say, are what God requires if one hopes to gain his favour.

I used to think that too, so it was surprising to read in Romans 5:8 that God loved us “while we were yet sinners.” So it isn’t behaviour that comes first in God’s dealings with us, it’s relationship.

With that in mind I wondered what would happen if I put relationship first in dealing with my own children. It would mean loving them no matter how they behaved, or how badly they messed up. But what if they caught on that they’re loved – even at their worst – and they exploited it to slack off, or as the Bible says, they turned “grace into license?”

Well, yes, that’s the risk I’d have to take, but isn’t that the risk God took with me? He loved me while I was yet a sinner, when my behaviour was at its worst.

Which faced me with the question, “What do I really want from my children?” Is it their best behaviour I’m after, or a relationship? Is it children I can feel proud of, or children who call me ‘Dad’ with affection?

If it’s an affectionate relationship I’m after, then I know how God won my affection. He did it by loving me to death for nothing more than being me. It was strange getting used to a God like that, because religion had taught me that God only loves and favours those who behave. But if love worked on me, why not on my children?

So I made it obvious to my children that they don’t have to live up to my expectations to be loved. There is no need for them to impress me, no demands they must fulfill to win my favour, no hoping for 100% on a report card to make me “really” happy with them, no pressure to make me feel proud of them, and no condemnation when they messed up. I wanted them to feel free to strike out on life knowing they were loved no matter what.

And twenty years later, sitting on our front deck with all my children and their extras around me having a great time together, I thank our Abba Father for teaching me it’s relationship that comes first, not behaviour.

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Does religion help in tough times?

The answer to the above question is a resounding “No.” No, religion does not help us in tough times. It never has and it never will because religion (not based on the Bible) has no idea why “tough times” exist in the first place. 

Tough times exist, according to the Bible, because we are “in bondage to decay,” Romans 8:21. We are stuck in a world that’s falling apart and we can’t stop it. Why? Because God made it that way, verse 20, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it.” And our history conclusively proves the truth of that statement. No matter how hard we try to solve our pressing global problems, our efforts always end up in frustration. 

Religion, however, does not accept that we are incapable of solving our problems. Buddhism is a classic example. It recognizes we have a serious problem as humans, that we have these cravings for things that can never satisfy, and all our suffering can be traced back to that – BUT, Buddhism tells us – we have the power within ourselves to solve it, by subduing our cravings. How? By having a right mind, right speech, right intentions, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation. In other words, we can solve our problems and stop all suffering by making ourselves into better people. We have the ability within ourselves to do this. Buddhism would never admit we are helpless. 

Nor would Islam. Tough times in Islam are interpreted as a means of cleaning up sin, or making us into better people – but never as proof of our helplessness. Never would Islam or Buddhism accept that we have minds controlled by a sinful nature so powerful that only the Spirit of Christ living in us can control it. Instead, religions think human nature can be controlled and improved by laws, techniques, energy forces (like karma) and suffering. How, then, can these religions be of any help in tough times, when they have no clue that tough times are meant to illustrate our helplessness, not to make us better?

But it’s recognizing our helplessness that leads us to God’s solution. When Paul cried out in frustration, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death (7:24)?” that’s when he discovered there’s a Spirit who “helps us in our weakness (8:26).” It was when he accepted his helplessness that he realized God had provided him with power that he didn’t have naturally. It wasn’t religion that helped Paul in tough times – it was the Spirit.

Hello reality; goodbye religion

God said we’d die, and there hasn’t been a human yet who hasn’t died. Hello reality, therefore; we’re all going to die – either in the natural ageing process, often advanced by disease and poverty, or we’re killed by accident, war or a natural disaster. And even if scientists discover how to reverse the ageing gene, imagine what billions of ageless humans would do to each other in the fight for survival.

But religion jumps in with a soothing solution: Death happens to us all, yes, but not to worry, there’s another life after death, based on some vision of the afterlife a man had. And being a very charismatic chap millions of people in his region of the world believed him.

And isn’t that how Christianity got started too? Jesus arrived on the scene, also claiming he had special insight into life after death. He even claimed he’d come from God and been sent by God to solve the problem of human death in himself, and humans would no longer have to worry about death if they believed and followed him. And many people in his region of the world believed and followed him too.

But Jesus’ credibility took a nosedive when he died. So now what proof was there of life after death when Jesus, just like all the other charismatic visionaries in human history, died, and with their death the proof of whether they were right or not about their version of the afterlife died with them?

But Jesus came back to life again. And the most shocked people of all were his followers, who thought he’d been talking through his hat when he predicted he would rise from the dead. But now he’d gone and done it, forcing that rag tag bunch of shattered, despondent men and women to face reality, that what he said about life being possible after death was true.

And face it they did. It’s what started them on the road to believing in this man. It wasn’t for any religious reason or superstition based on vague, unprovable visions; it was based on evidence, the pure, raw evidence that a human being had defeated death, and he was standing there and talking to them – and eating food – as proof of it.

So hello reality, goodbye religion, because who needs the superstition and vague visions of religion when the proof of life after death has already happened, and a human has defeated death? But religion breezes over that as if it never happened, resulting in all sorts of weird ideas about the afterlife that have no proof whatsoever to back them up.

How is Christianity different to other religions?

Christianity isn’t different to other religions, in that it too, like all the major religions, has symbols, rituals, special commemorative days, named gods, and belief in an afterlife. It too erects impressive buildings, lays out strict rules for how to behave, and attempts to moderate behaviour by the promise of eternal rewards for good people and the threat of something awful for the wicked. And like all typical religions Christianity claims it too is the only true path to spirituality and eternity.

Christianity has also shared the same embarrassing faults with other religions, of divisions and conflicts within, of splinter groups breaking away to carve a purer path, of dealing extremely harshly with heretics, and even justifying the killing of other humans as a godly duty. Christians are also just as vulnerable as members of other religions to judging and condemning anyone who doesn’t agree with them. And like members of all religions, Christians also believe we must escape these horrible bodies of ours and this horrible world into some ethereal bliss that is totally out of touch with why this creation came into existence in the first place.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that many people wonder why we have religions at all, especially when religion has been the cause of so many conflicts, crusades, inquisitions, massacres, burnings, stonings, mutilations, land-grabbings, and the worship of human power and personality. And no religion, including Christianity, can be excused for its stupidity and cruelty by dragging out a list of the good things it has done, because none of the good done has erased evil completely or permanently in the world, or in any religious community either.

Would the world be better off without religion, therefore? Of course it would. No more killings in the name of one’s god, no more holier than thou attitudes, no more barbaric practices in the name of religious purity, no more chucking rocks at each other over doctrinal differences, no more fear of eternal torture, no more philosophical rubbish that offers no solution to death or evil, no more worshipping fallible human beings, no more wildly different ideas as to what happens to us after we die, no more wanting to escape this beautiful earth and our wonderful bodies for something fuzzy and meaningless for eternity, and no more self-centred play acting to get oneself saved.

But true Christianity was never about any of those things anyway. It’s about a man who said he was sent by God to give us eternal life, and came back from the dead to prove it. It was all about solving the problem of humans who die. Nothing religious about it; just raw reality.