A religious person subscribes to specific laws and beliefs. A Christian, as described in the Bible, lives in a personal relationship with the Lord. Don’t confuse the two.
Let’s take a look at three types of people who are members of our churches.
1. The religious person.
He is presented in our text as the person who has no relationship with God. This person believes in a “higher power.” He could be a deist, who believes that some power created the universe, but has no further contact with it. He could have an ethic and be a good moral person who presents himself as a religious person. The frightening fact is that this person can be found in many congregations, and because they are such nice people, they could be chosen for some important office in the church. A good example would be a Sunday school teacher or an administrative leader who feels the message proclaimed should be one that makes people feel good and causes no one to be offended.
This is not a hypothetical case. One reason many of our churches are dying on the vine is that God’s message (proclaiming Christ as the crucified and risen Lord) is not being proclaimed. While this goes on, people in the congregation grow apathetic about the situation and do nothing to correct the problem.
Even the thought of this happening has caused me to believe we should be much more cautious about the persons a congregation chooses to be its administrative leaders and teachers. Imagine what serious things could happen if a person who questioned the basic truths of God’s Word taught a Sunday class for children, youth, or adults. This is not a pleasant thought to entertain. However, it is important that we consider who is teaching in the Sunday schools of our churches.
2. The person with an immature faith.
This person could say, “I was raised in the church and was exposed to the Christian faith. I believe that God created me in his image, that I am a sinner, and that Jesus Christ suffered and died for my sin. Yes, I believe that he was raised from the dead and one day he will return to judge the living and the dead. But I have not committed my life to Christ. My relationship with him is impersonal. I spend little time with my Bible, and I have no prayer life.
This person would not argue with you about the faith. He has an intellectual understanding of the basic Christian teachings and gives assent to them, but he has not received Christ. Thousands of people confirmed in our churches today claim no relationship with Christ. Yet they express appreciation for their training as a youth. We have every reason to believe that one day their faith will become real and living. It often takes some traumatic event in one’s life to see the need for a Savior. That is when the spiritual awakening takes place. In the meantime, we continue to witness to this person and keep them in our prayers.
3. The person who is a Christian.
This person is growing in his relationship with the Savior. This is what Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will obey what I command . . . He who has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” This person is not saved by his love, but by faith in Christ. However, faith produces love.
Jesus never allows love to dissolve into an emotion. It is revealed in obedience. Love calls for action. For example, the marriage relationship. Love between a husband and wife is not simply saying I love you, it is also revealing that love through actions.
When we know how God wants us to live and see how far short we fall, we join Paul in saying, “Wretched man that I am, who can deliver me. . . . The good I want to do, I don’t do, and what I don’t want to do, I end up doing.” Do you have some of these feelings? Does this guilt cause you to wonder where is the personal relationship you claim to have with Jesus?
Christ has a word of encouragement for us. He says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you. The Spirit of Truth. He will be with you forever.” Remember, this Counselor is the Holy Spirit who lives in you. Jesus continues, “He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:17, 18)
Jesus continues, “On that day (when we are aware of our personal relationship with Christ), you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:20-21).
Our Lord is giving us a picture of the Christian life. It is a love relationship starting first with God’s love for us. He gives his Son to be our Savior who forgives our sins and brings us into a relationship with God. God then shows us his will for our lives, and the Holy Spirit, who lives in us, empowers us to live this life. When we fail to keep these commandments, he forgives us and we start over. We have not arrived at perfection, but we are working at it. As the years go by, this relationship continues to grow, and we become more Christ like.
The question the disciples were asking is, Where are we in our relationship with our Lord? This should also be our daily question. We need to learn from the early disciples that by living in God’s grace, we grow in our relationship with God. We say with Paul, “Not that I have attained it, but I press on to that high goal of being one of God’s loving and obedient children.”