Pursuing a Relationship vs. Practicing a Religion

by Rebecca Ingram Powell

A few years ago when my son David was 4 years old, he asked for one of those popular WWJD bracelets. He had noticed several people at church wearing them. I thought it was a great idea, and I was hoping it would help him with some self-control issues he'd been having.

We went to the Christian bookstore to get one for him, and I tried to explain to him that the bracelet was worn as a reminder. It would help him to remember to ask himself, "What would Jesus do?" in every situation. The rest of that afternoon and evening, David was an extremely good boy, playing nicely with his brother and sister and  doing as he was told. The next morning, however, he had barely gotten up when I heard cries coming from the living room. Danya, then 6 years old, was holding her stomach and crying, "He hit me!"

I began to comfort Danya and looked at David questioningly. "What did we talk about yesterday, son?" I asked. "Did you remember to ask yourself WWJD?"

"It's okay, Momma," he said in all innocence. "I'm not wearing my bracelet today."

It's reasonable for a 4-year-old to have that kind of limited, literal understanding of Christianity. But what about the rest of us? Are we showing a lost world our bracelets, bumper stickers, and body billboards  (Christian T-shirts) without exhibiting the authenticity of an honest relationship with the Lord Jesus? Have we deceived ourselves with an outward display of religion that discounts the depths of true submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ?

Lately I've noticed that the world is finding it more difficult than ever to understand Christians. Remember Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, the two U.S. missionaries who were arrested and held prisoner in Afghanistan for witnessing to their faith a few years ago? I read several articles by newspaper columnists who were sincerely bewildered by these two women. They did not understand why Curry and Mercer would want to present Christianity to a culture already steeped in their own centuries-old faith.

In our nation of religious freedom comes a cry for tolerance that insists all roads lead to heaven. You may worship God, Allah, Buddha, the Goddess, the Supreme Being—whatever. We're all talking about the same thing, right?

No, we're not. When the question is eternal salvation, Christianity is an intolerant religion. Christians worship a Savior who proclaimed, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). Sorry, I can't say that I see room for any other gods in that statement. Besides, no matter what you want to call God, you will never know him as Father unless you receive His Son, Jesus Christ. He is the way—the one and only way to God.

I believe that the world has a hard time understanding Christians because in the face of the narrow gates of our religion, we lead very unrestricted, tolerant lives. Think about it. How are you different from your unsaved neighbor or co-worker?

As a young adult, I was working with a team of people on a legal research project. Among my co-workers was an Egyptian man, Khalil, who was a very devout Muslim. He was well-respected for his strict adherence to his beliefs and often fielded questions with good humor from his curious colleagues. People were very interested in his religion because he was a good representative of it. He made it look attractive. When I think about Khalil, I have to ask myself some hard questions. What do people think about Christianity when they look at my life? Does it look appealing to them? Are they interested in learning more?

The difference in Christianity and every other belief in the world can be found in the fact that we aren't practicing a religion, but we are pursuing a relationship. That doesn't come about by wearing bracelets. It comes about by constantly examining the heart.

Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you" (John 14:15-17). Is it written on your T-shirt or is it written on your heart?

When babies are born, they are issued a hospital bracelet for purposes of security and identification. After they leave the hospital, the bracelet comes off. They are known by family and friends without a nametag. As Christians, we should be known by our actions, rather than labels. When people trust our lifestyle, they will want to know our Life Source. My prayer is that Christ will not be my label but my life.

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