I have finally concluded, after many years of struggling, that I utterly abhor the word religion. Allow me to clarify. I hate what religion has been defined as by popular culture: narrow-minded, perfect, dry, holier-than-thou, confusing, bigoted, and—perhaps worst of all—condemning. Too often, people who associate themselves with the word religious also don other words like hypocritical, judgmental, and self-righteous. For me, the word that I always unconsciously associated myself with was the troubling word uncertain. Uncertain of my standing with God and of my eternal fate, I skated along though an existence riddled with doubt and fear. Growing up in a Christian community, I often heard mention of the word grace. People claimed it had something to do with God—but if it did, I did not know what it was. As strange as it may sound, it was neither a stirring sermon nor a shocking miracle that finally woke me from my dark, religious stupor. It was love.
At a Christian conference that I attended this summer, while praying for forgiveness for my doubtfulness and spiritual inadequacy, a woman’s hand suddenly alighted on my shoulder and she whispered, “He delights in you.” This person told me that God not only delights in me, but that He is pleased with me. Right now. No work was required from me before God loved me. He has always loved me—I know that now. Paul declares in Romans 5:8 that,
“…God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to earth to die for the sins that previously separated all people from God. By taking on the whole world’s sin, Jesus made it possible for imperfect man to come before a Holy God. Biblical Grace can be defined as this: a free gift God gives to all who will accept it to save souls from hell, and make it possible for us to be with God. Ephesians 2:8 proclaims,
“For by grace you are saved through faith…this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…”
Forever changed and conscious of the mysterious, all-encompassing grace of God, I am finally free of my old uncertainty.
Doubt does sometimes take transient residence in my heart, but can never stay long before Jesus’ love demands its removal. The greatest proof that I know of for the existence of the God of the Bible is that I can tangibly sense His loving presence in my life. Before I was able to comprehend that God’s grace was real, I was often empty and troubled about my standing with God, but afterwards, I was spiritually resurrected, charged with fresh purpose, and certain of my future residency in Heaven.
Prior to my revelation of Jesus’ love for me, I was not sure what would happen after I died. I knew there was a heaven and a hell, but believed that I was not a good enough Christian to be confident that I was Heaven bound. As a result, for many years I silently prayed the sinner’s prayer every week at church, and cried myself to sleep some nights due to a crippling fear of hell that rose in my burdened heart. In my mind, forgiveness was a gift God granted to those who believed in Him with enough faith to move mountains. My faith was not sufficient enough to move even a pebble. I was baptized as both a baby and a teen, I had prayed and read God’s
Word scrupulously, and I had tried to be a bold witness for Christ. I was perfectly religious, and I was utterly missing the fact that my own personal holiness did not determine God’s feelings for me. Grace is grace. Either you receive it and believe God is quick to forgive, or you do not. Ironically, I had grown up in a Christian family and community only to find that my understanding of God’s grace was totally wrong. It matters very little where you are or what you know in your head. If you do not believe in your heart that you are saved by God’s free gift of grace alone, and that He loves you regardless of your spiritual strength, you will be like a man born blind—always surrounded by darkness, and wholly unaware of the incomprehensible beauty that surrounds him.
“For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Before I had a relationship with Jesus, I often struggled with my identity. Now I am not only certain of my identity, I celebrate it. Once I subconsciously labeled myself as Uncertain, but now I know my true name is Hephzibah, which is Hebrew for “the one the Lord delights in (Isaiah 62:3-4).”
When my life is difficult, I do not doubt God’s presence in my life—I cling to it. When I am afraid of what other people think of me, I pray to God for boldness. When the enemy tries to seduce me with his cruel lies—that I am worthless, that God does not love me—I tearfully hold onto God’s promises for my life. Sometimes when I cry out to God for deliverance from the evil in my life, the Lord is quiet. He does not always respond immediately, but He always proves Himself faithful in the end. In Jeremiah 29:11 the Lord comforts those who seek Him with these words,
“…I know what I have planned for you…I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.”
It is not easy to be a Christian. There are times when I wonder if I am wrong to believe in a God I cannot see with my human eyes—that is, until I remember how many times I have seen Him redeem dark lives, fill previously vacant eyes with light, and grant me peace in hours of turmoil.
Recently, God proved Himself to be faithful to me while I was praying at church. My spirit had been burdened because of some family issues occurring at the time, and I asked God to deliver me from my painful circumstances. A few minutes later, a friend of mine shared a passage of scripture with me that she felt like God wanted me to read: Psalm 13. In this psalm, David cries out to God,
“How long, LORD, will you continue to ignore me? How long will you pay no attention to me? How long must I worry, and suffer in broad daylight? How long will my enemy gloat over me? Look at me! Answer me, O LORD my God! Revive me, or else I will die!”
At the end of the passage, he rightly concludes,
“...But I trust in your faithfulness.”
These words were exactly what I needed to hear. God had directly answered my prayers! With unflinching conviction I declare that God is not only loving and faithful to save—He is alive. He is here.
He is patient, kind, never envious, never bragging, not puffed up, not rude, not self-serving, not easily angered, not resentful or glad about injustice, but He rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never ends.
God hates religion because it keeps us from seeing His true identity as our divine, loving Father. Just go ahead and ask God to show Himself to you. The Lord will reveal Himself ten out of ten times to the person who seeks Him with a sincere heart. If you do not believe me, discover the truth for yourself. I dare you.