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Religion is relationship, not rules
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Why would anyone want to be a Christian? There are so many rules, right?

From the Ten Commandments to the tithing, from the Sunday morning sacrifice (and by that I mean not sleeping in and actually getting to church) to the lifestyle restrictions — there are so many commands.

It can really crimp a person’s style. So why do it? Why commit to keeping all those rules?

The answer: You’re asking the wrong question. But that’s not uncommon. I think so many people see religion as all about rules.

"No sex outside of marriage. No gossip. No greed." Things that our society tries to convince us are just fine, Christians commit to avoid.

There are rules involved. But as we look at our text for today, we need to realize that religion is not a set of rules. Religion is a relationship.

The rules are actually just gifts God gives us because of that relationship. When we make it about the rules, we’re just trying to make it about ourselves — how good we are.

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul said, it’s not about "me:"

"For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

It’s not what we did. It’s what he did. Look at the picture he uses that makes that point.

He draws us back to God’s creation of the world. Think of that — at the beginning of time, when God created the heavens and the earth, darkness hovered over a world that was formless and empty.

At that first moment, God opened his mouth wide and said, "Let there be light," and suddenly, piercing the darkness, light came screaming out of the mouth of God at 186,000 miles per second, filling the world with its brilliance.

Miraculous, right? Earth-shattering even. We get that.

So now, get this. Paul said that is what that same God did with us. He "made his light shine in our hearts."

For Paul, it was when he was knocked to the ground by the light and called to faith by Jesus himself (Acts 9). But the same scene happened in your life.

Years ago, you were born, emerging from the darkness of your mother’s womb into this world of sight and sound and air and light.

But that’s not what we’re talking about.

It’s when you were reborn, whether that was first through baptism or the word, as God called you out of the darkness of sin and unbelief and confusion into the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

By God’s promise, you were shown, you were given the glory of God — in Jesus.

That’s the key. If God would have just shown you his glory, you’d be dead. That’s what holiness does to sinners.

Holiness cannot tolerate sin. It must destroy it, like light destroys the darkness. The two cannot coexist. So he shows us sinners the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Paul put it so well in Romans 5:8:

"God demonstrates his own love for us in this — while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

We were sinners. Whether that’s not listening to your parents or the police, following your friends or your greed or your lust, whether it’s the disrespect or the pride or the laziness — there is no escaping the darkness we were born into and that our mistakes perpetuate — until Jesus.

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God."

(2 Corinthians 5:21). Through our relationship with Jesus, we are the righteousness of God.

Sure, in religion, we make promises to God and try to do things for him — but all that is truly nothing compared to the promises he’s made to you.

Since you carry around in you the crucifixion of Jesus, since you live in the reality that scene brings, his resurrection changes everything and gives hope and a promise to every situation.

So when you see trials, know that he will bring you through because he’s proven it: Jesus loves you.



Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at