One dictionary definition of religion is “the ritual observance of faith.” It is perhaps this connotation that is most often in our minds when we use the word religion. We may think of the repetition of certain prayers or a formal and liturgical service or some other form and order. In independent Baptist churches, however, if our faith becomes “a ritual observance,” it tends more to center around an understanding of that which is expected of us to be “good Christians.” There are those who have the idea that the Christian life consists of keeping two lists: a “do” list and “don’t” list. (Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m for everything that I’m about to mention on the “do” list, and I oppose everything I’m about to mention on the “don’t” list.)
We think the things we must “do” include going to church, passing out tracts, reading our Bible, spending time in prayer, attending Sunday school, serving in some ministry, etc. On the “don’t” list, we believe we must not smoke cigarettes, consume alcohol, view questionable DVDs or television programs, use bad language, etc. Every relationship involves do’s and don’ts. Whether it is parents and children, husbands and wives, employers and employees, or citizens and governments, there are things that we are expected to do and expected not to do. Our problem is that we think keeping the list is all there is. Not only is there much more to the Christian life than the do’s and don’ts, I would suggest that the do’s and don’ts are not even the most important part of the Christian life. God wants us to have a personal love/worship relationship with Him.
Jesus said, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:23). How amazing that God is looking for people who will worship Him. I am told that the word worship is made up of two other words: kiss and towards. The idea is that we are to direct affection towards God.
When I have the privilege of leading someone to Christ, one of my first goals is to teach him how to build his new relationship with Jesus. I usually ask a new Christian this question right after salvation: “On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest and one being the lowest, where would you like to be in your Christian life six months from now?” Usually the person answers between seven and ten. I then say, “May I share some things with you that will help you reach your goal?” I always give him four initial suggestions: read the Bible, pray, go to church, and tell others about Jesus.
Prayer especially helps new Christians take those first steps of their relationship. I say something like this: “Some people don’t feel they ‘know any prayers.’ But you don’t have to have a memorized prayer to speak to God. You just became God’s child. You can go to God and speak to Him as your Heavenly Father. You may have burdens and concerns and heartaches you have never spoken to anyone about. You can tell them to God.” It is amazing to me how often a person tears up as I make this statement. My goal is not simply to “get them to pray.” My goal is to teach them that they have now entered into a personal relationship with the God of the universe; that He cares deeply about them, and that He is interested in every aspect of their lives.
We work diligently in our church to help new Christians develop a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. When new converts begin to come to church, we encourage them to enroll in my “First Steps” class. We begin every class with blessings, prayer requests, and then jokes. The blessings cause us to think about what God has done for us, and the prayer requests cause us to remember what we need God to do for us. (The jokes make us laugh and help knit us together.) Again, I am drawing them into a relationship with the Lord Jesus. After they finish the four-week Sunday school class in my office, I encourage them to enroll in a twelve-week class called “Lifeline.” The theme verse for Lifeline is John 10:10, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Here we go a little further into teaching them to have a walk with God.
There are three elements that must be present to make sure our Christian life is a relationship and not just a ritual:
1. We Must Hear from God
We accomplish this by reading His Word. Colossians 3:16 tells us, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” I want to not only “get my Bible reading done each day,” I want to get something from God through my Bible reading. I want to have the Word of God be such a part of my life (dwelling in me richly) that it is a part of my conversation. We are commanded, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8, emphasis mine). The Word of God should guide my life.
2. God Must Hear from Us
The Bible not only tells us to have periods of prayer, it tells us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). It may seem like this is an impossible command. After all, how can we pray without ceasing when sometimes we are sleeping? Sometimes we are witnessing. Sometimes we are talking on the phone. I am told that the word continuous means never stopping.
If I turn on the faucet, the water would appear to come out in a continuous stream. But the word continual allows for intervals between repeated behaviors. If I turn the faucet off but it drips every few seconds, I am seeing a dripping that is continual dripping as opposed to continuous. I may not be able to pray continuously, but I can pray continually. The idea is that prayer should not occupy a few moments of the day and then be set aside for twenty-four hours. I am always to be in communion with my Heavenly Father.
When my wife and I drive somewhere in the car, we are not in constant conversation. There are moments when we may be listening to a CD, looking out the window at the landscape, or absorbed in our own thoughts. However, the conversation may be resumed by either party at any moment. Though we are not in continuous communion, we are in continual communion.
3. Others Must Hear about God from Us
While it is important to go door knocking as a part of our Christian witness and as a part of our Christian faith, our conversation with others about God should not be limited to the Romans Road. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our conversation should include praise to Him, gratitude for what He has done in our life, and references to His person and character. The root word for glory is the word opinion. When we glorify God, we give others a good opinion of Him.
I spent the summer of 1971 working for Pastor Bruce Musselman at the Hunsberger Heights Baptist Church in Saginaw, Michigan. Pastor Musselman later told my dad that he had never seen a greater example of “filial piety” than he had seen in me. He meant I had a reverence for my dad. I often quoted my dad. I admired my dad. I appreciated my dad. Because I loved my dad, his name, philosophies, and ideas frequently came into conversation. If we speak of our earthly fathers and mentors this way, how much more should we glorify our Heavenly Father?
Do’s and don’ts can help us keep biblical standards of holiness, but they can’t replace our personal relationship with Christ. If we are becoming more like Christ, we need to know Him. To build the relationship we must converse with Him by reading His Word and praying. When this relationship is in place, what we speak about to others honors and glorifies Him.