It has been said that the Old Testament is about Law, but the New Testament is about relationship. It seems that a long standing tension between religion and relationship exists at the core of faith. I have heard Christians notoriously state things like, “It’s not religion; it’s a relationship.” I recently heard someone go one step further and declare that relationship came through Jesus Christ. The idea conveyed is that, somehow, a real relationship with God would sidestep regulations and rules and laws, and exists outside the confines of definable limitations. And, further, that Jesus came to earth to accomplish just this task, leaving behind, a pure, limitless, free relationship without any boundaries, and any such boundaries will relegate this new-found relationship back to the Old Testament regulations of legalism and religion. YUK!
Do you remember when you were an infant? What a life! You went to sleep when you wanted, woke up when you wanted, ate when you wanted, and dirtied your diaper when you wanted! Why does that ever need to change? When did it all change? Why can’t my parents just continue to treat me like an infant and take care of my most basic needs? It seems to me that the problems all start when we come to an age of accountability. There is a point, as we mature, when we become conscious, self-aware, others-aware, and responsible for our actions. Soon our parents start putting all kinds of expectations on our behavior. We go to bed “at a decent hour.” Or, we eat dinner when it is served. Or, we “make bubbles in the toilet” now.
Suddenly, we begin to recognize boundaries in other relationships. Children start to understand that boys and girls are different, and boys can’t treat girls like other boys. We begin to understand that I can’t poke my teachers fat belly, like I poke my Dad’s fat belly. In our teens, we often experience the betrayal of friends, or even the pain of unrequited love.
God created Adam and offered only one rule: don’t eat from that tree! God desired a friendship. He would come to the Garden in the cool of the day, EVERY DAY just to walk with Adam. Imagine THAT! But Adam would betray trust and God would create a new set of rules.
God would establish a friendship with Abraham. God calls Abraham His friend in two locations in the Old Testament. What an incredible honor! But Abraham’s descendents would betray that relationship as well, until God finally establishes the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Torah.
Even in the midst of all of the Laws that God would declare to Moses, He would firmly establish His desire to have a relationship with the Israelites, “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).
God has always and only ever desired one thing: relationship. His Laws are perfect. They restore our souls to right-standing with him by providing the boundaries and expectations of a mature relationship with Him. What often gets interpreted as “just religion” is God’s setting in framework the limitations of our friendship, His Laws of Relationship. If we attempt to negotiate a friendship with God without the boundaries that He has established in His Law, we aren’t any different than a fully grown man still dirtying his diapers for someone to change.
May we all grow into a mature relationship with our Heavenly Father!
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