“Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” — Jesus
If you are trapped in a form of Christianity that feels more like a burden than joyful companionship — perhaps you are stuck in a religion without a relationship.
If you are more overwhelmed by guilt than by God’s goodness — perhaps you are stuck in a religion without a relationship.
If you are constantly comparing yourself to others in the Christian faith and either not measuring up OR looking down on them in your heart — perhaps you are stuck in a religion without a relationship.
If your spiritual life is debilitated by a fear of messing up, failing or falling away from the faith — perhaps you are stuck in a religion without a relationship.
The Jewish people had their religion - had the law - had God on high - had a High Priest as a mediator - and by the time Jesus arrives on the scene, the most fervent and qualified followers of Judaism were trapped in legalism, void of compassion, hard-hearted, and prideful. The Jewish religious leaders and scholars rejected, condemned, and crucified the Son of God who came to make God personally known to the world. They couldn’t get past their religion to see the amazing relationship God was offering.
What sets Christianity apart from all the other religions in the world is this invitation to know God personally and intimately through His Son, Jesus Christ. To have a relationship with the living God! And this relationship is based not on what we DO but on what Christ already DID: living a sinless life and fulfilling all of God’s law, dying on the cross and satisfying all of God’s wrath against sin, resurrecting and defeating death and the grave, forgiving and justifying forever all who believe in Him. And all of this is summed up in a personal invitation by Jesus: “Come and follow Me.”
A simple and insightful example in the New Testament of the difference between someone who pursues Jesus in a relationship and someone who views him as a religion to adhere to can be found in the brief description of two sisters who welcomed Jesus into their home (Luke 10:38-42):
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, are both surely honored and delighted to have such a wonderful and special guest in Martha’s home. However, one of the women chooses to spend every second WITH Jesus while the other chooses to busy herself with serving him. While Mary sits at his feet, listening to his words and enjoying his company, Martha is “distracted” by all the preparations that had to be made. While Mary is swept up in His presence, Martha is swept away by demands and expectations. But whose? Jesus’ or her own? And what about all those distracting preparations? Were these requested by Jesus or assumed by Martha? Maybe they were common courtesies, maybe set-in-stone practices, but nevertheless, Jesus makes it very clear that he is more pleased with Mary’s attention than Martha’s activity. Perhaps Martha was just trying to be a good host or maybe she was trying to prove something to Jesus and the others…and herself. Look at me. LOOK AT HOW I’M SERVING THE LORD!
Only one of these women experienced true Joy in Jesus’ presence. Only one chose “what is better”. Relationship will always be better than religion. At best, religion points us to God’s holiness, reveals our sinfulness, and leads us to repentance — which is where the relationship with God that we were truly made for begins. At worst, religion creates blind and prideful Pharisees out of us all.
As Christians we are called to do many things: fish for men, make disciples, serve, teach, pray, worship — but all of these activities must flow FROM our life-changing and life-giving relationship with Christ — from time spent WITH him, sitting at his feet, listening to his words, and being directed by His love in our hearts. Otherwise, the Christian life becomes a burden, we become judgmental, and our hearts grow bitter and cold.
So if practicing religion never satisfies like an abundant life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ then why do we go back to religion again and again?
Because it’s tame. It’s predictable. It’s manageable — but it’s also empty. Don’t let religion replace your relationship with Jesus!
“I have come in order that you might have life — life in all its fullness.” John 10:10b
On a final side/practical note: As we get ready to celebrate a much-needed day of thanksgiving tomorrow, don’t allow your preparations for those you care about to distract you from quality time spent WITH those you care about. And men, choosing to sit at the feet of the TV watching football is not choosing the "better”!