Religion says that I have to do certain things or act a certain way to gain the approval of God and other religious people. I can only have fun when doing [these things] but it's just plain wrong to do [these things]. You fill in the blanks. Here are some that I've come across over my years of meeting many religious people:
- You can have fun swimming, but only if you wear a one-piece swimming suit.
- You can listen to music, but only certain genres.
- You must wear shorts that cover your knees.
- You can use swear words, just not around your church friends.
- You can get drunk, just make sure to be at church and pay your tithe.
- You can "court", but "dating" is for heathens.
It's far from having a relationship with Jesus.
I choose to have a relationship with Jesus. I communicate with Him through prayer and His Word. He speaks to my heart, guides my paths, and takes care of me in ways I could have never imagined. He has restored me more times than I can count. You see, I don't pray to a statue or a dead man. That sounds pointless and silly. I pray to a living God who actually answers my prayers (although not always in the way I would prefer...but that's another topic entirely).
Jesus accepts us as we are. He loves me. Period. He can look right into my heart and know where I have sinned when nobody else has a clue. He also knows that what some religious folks label as "sinful" is actually not sinful at all because He knows my heart.
Sin starts in the heart and shows itself through actions. Sometimes I sin in areas where others have no trouble, and I avoid doing certain things for the preservation of my own soul and relationship with Christ. I don't swear because it feels (and sounds) like the opposite of love, joy and peace. I try to follow God's laws and listen to the convictions that He places on my heart, rather than just following the church crowd's behavior. Of course I fail. But I try.
There are many verses in the Bible that guide us toward living a life for the Lord. There are verses about how men and women should behave, alcohol use, fellowship, and sin. There are verses about pride, envy, murder, theft, and adultery. There are verses about lying, cheating, paying taxes, and loving money. Did you realize that it's possible to follow these rules and miss out entirely on a relationship with Jesus?
Isn't that religion by definition? Religious rules are a prison. A relationship with Jesus means FREEDOM.
Rather than worrying about the rules, I focus on drawing closer to God. Once I admitted my sinful nature and recognized that I am nothing and going nowhere without Jesus, I asked Him to dwell in my heart. I surrendered my life to Him. I asked God for forgiveness of my sins. I gave Him all of me. Ever since, He has been there with me. I am never alone, never hopeless, never forsaken. I am forgiven, loved, and made new. That, my friends, is a gift of grace than no man could ever give. There is nothing I can do to earn it. Only God can work in my heart this way.
He can work in your life, too. All you have to do is ask. It will change your world in ways that you'd never dreamed. It won't be easy all the time. In fact, you're guaranteed hardships. But...Jesus will be there to walk with you through it. You'll never be alone again. And at the end of this hard life, you'll see Him there at Heaven's gate, welcoming you HOME.