Do You Have Religion or Relationship?
~A teaching that poses an important question to all believers~
There will come a time in everyone's life when what they believe will be tested and tried; and after they've been tried, one of two things will happen: they will either stand or they will fall in the trial.
What is the deciding factor? It is this absolute fact: THERE IS AN ALMIGHTY GOD IN THIS WORLD, and if you don't know Him, you will fall in your trials.
Now, before you start your "amen's," understand this: there are those who are in the right church, studying the right Bible, saying the right things, WHO STILL DON'T KNOW THE LORD THEIR GOD.
This truth is exemplified in an encounter Jesus had with a Samaritan woman at a well. This woman was very religious, knowing all the rules and routines of her belief system. But we will see that there are many barriers to be broken in turning from religion and entering into a relationship.
The First Barrier: Division
"When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, 'Will you give me a drink?' . . . The Samaritan woman said to him, 'You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?' (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, 'If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water" (St. John 4:7-9, NIV).
Here we see Jesus doing what He does best: opening a door an inviting someone to get to know him and offering them salvation. But we also see the woman's first roadblock; a spirit of division. The woman did not see the Lord; she only saw a Jew, and she knew that Jews didn't fellowship with Samaritans because of their racial mix and their beliefs. That is what religion does; it sets up rigid rules and boundaries based on carnal standards, and not on love. Many who confess Christ will not show love to other Christians who do not worship, dress, pray or fellowship the way they do. They do not see that the same Lord is in others that is in them! Beloved, Jesus doesn't care one drop what denomination or race you are; He does care what kind of spirit you have!
Second Barrier: Natural Vision
Notice the woman's response: "'Sir,' she said, 'you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself . . .' " (Vs. 11-12, NIV)
Notice what the woman judges him by: her natural eye. Not only is she thinking about natural water, but she is assessing Jesus based on natural sight! She goes on to compare him to a natural "great" man, Jacob! Beloved, that is exactly what religion does! It does not see with a spiritual eye; it only sees with a natural eye! "Look how often we shouted today! My, look how big a building we have! Oh, look at the size of our choir! And look at how saved they look! Oh, listen to our Pastor whoop! Our church must be the right church!"
Beloved, God is NOT impressed by your outward show! Unless your worship brings you a little closer to God and changed by His Spirit, all of your religion is in vain! Take your eyes off the natural and get in tune with the spiritual! "He who has an ear let him hear what THE SPIRIT says to the churches" (Rev. 2:11, NIV).
Look at Jesus' response: "Jesus said, 'everyone who drinks of this (natural) water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the (spiritual) water that I give him will never thirst'" (vs. 13-14a, NIV, inserts mine). Beloved, there is no lasting, spiritual satisfaction in the natural water of religion; until you press in to personally drink of the Lord's spiritual water (His Spirit), you'll have no true relationship and you'll never be truly satisfied!
Third Barrier: Hidden Sin
"He (Jesus) told her, 'Go call your husband and come back.' 'I have no husband,' she replied. Jesus said to her, 'You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband" (vs. 16-18, NIV).
In verse 15, the woman asks Jesus for a drink of living water. Jesus responds by giving her a chance to confess her sinful lifestyle, which he already had knowledge of by the Spirit. The woman soon realized that he was a prophet (vs. 19). Beloved, this is one thing we all must understand: ". . . all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13, KJV). There is nothing we can hide from God -- He sees all! But those that are religious are not concerned with what God sees; they care more about what others see. Until they are caught and confronted by the Pastor or other Christians, they'll continue to smoke, sleep around, drink, curse, and party! They are like the Pharisees of Jesus' day who "on the outside [they] appear to people as righteous but on the inside [they] are full of hypocrisy and wickedness" (Matt. 23:28). Jesus says, "Woe unto them!"
Fourth: Lack of Spiritual Knowledge and Tradition
Following her revelation that Jesus was a prophet, the woman revealed her fourth barrier: "'Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.' Jesus declared, 'Believe me, woman; a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know . . . Yet the time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth . . ." (vs. 20-23, NIV).
Here, the woman reveals her final barriers to relationship: tradition and lack of knowledge. The woman had no idea why Samaritans worshiped on Mt. Gerizam; all she knew is that her fathers did it, therefore it was good enough for her. Many saints are the same way, staying in dead, dry churches, never knowing the true intimacy of God, and too naive in His word to know it's missing! "I was born in this church, and I'll die in this church," they say (not knowing that they probably already did)!
There are so many saints in the Body who are so blinded by their traditions that they never grow in true spiritual knowledge of God; the Word of Truth never bears fruit in their lives and their growth is stunted, bringing to pass the truth of what Jesus said of the Pharisees: "By your traditions, you make the Word of God of non-effect." We must understand this: When we hold fast to certain practices and beliefs just because we've always done so, we are elevating our comfort zone over our growth. No one likes change; it is much more preferable to our flesh if things remain familiar to us, and hence more comfortable to us. This was the problem when Jesus began to teach the revelation of God to the Jews; they had a comfort zone within the confines of their religion that they did not wish to challenge, and those that stayed within that comfort zone (like the Pharisees!) did not grow, did not understand the gospel preached, and hence never developed a relationship with Christ, although they claimed to know the ways of God!
Don't we know of churches that are the same way? Having many rituals, traditions and man-made routines, but absolutely no understanding or TRUE spiritual life? There are they that "have a form of godliness, but deny the power (and life!) thereof." Beloved, we must break free of these religious barriers and press into a true, spiritual relationship with a true and living God!
~Pastor Ron Barnes