I lived so many years in religious chains. I lived mainly a "sin-avoidance" gospel. In other words, my Christian walk was mainly about not sinning (no cussing, no lying, no drinking, and so forth), doing Christian duties to keep me from sinning (Church, Bible, Prayer, Bible Studies), and finding Christian techniques to help me avoid sinning (wear Christian T-shirts, listen to Michael W. Smith, and wear a Cross necklace).
I also viewed God as a Daddy who was hard to please. I always had to prove to myself, and to God, that I really loved Him. My thinking was like this: "I'm going to change my life. I'm going to quit cussing. I'm going to quit looking at porn. I'm going to read my Bible more, pray more, put the Fish on my car, and get a Christian tattoo). I failed to truly believe and rest in the reality that in Christ I am completely accepted and loved. The Apostle John said, "This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sin" (1 John 4:10). He also wrote, "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). God loved when I didn't love Him. He sent His son even while I flipped Him off. He first loved me and then i loved Him. But still I had it all wrong. I was living as if He loved me because i first loved Him. I didn't get it. I was chained to religion.
I realized that religion is performance. Religion is living for God's acceptance and love. Relationship is living from his acceptance and love. Religion is trying to get God to respond in love. Relationship is living in response to God's love. And with that I learned that I don't obey God to get accepted. Rather I obey because I'm already accepted by God. I don't serve Christ to get loved, I serve Christ because I'm loved. See it?
Spoke at a conference a couple of years ago. In the front row, to my right, was a girl who looked like she hated being there and hated me (or the message, or both). After the second day, and the third and last session, a lady approached me with tears in her eyes. She said, "I brought a group of girls here this weekend. They are from a foster home. They are hardened, bitter, and angry. Well, one of those girls gave her life to Jesus. She was sitting in the seats in front of you yesterday." It was that same girl. The lady continued, "Her heart broke for Christ because of something you said. She heard you say, 'God loves you.' It was the first time she ever heard a male say that God loved her.'"
"God loves you." I'm sure you've heard those words before from many people. Those three jaw-dropping words are so cliche' now. They make for cute coffee mugs and colorful calendars. But have you truly paused, opened your Bible to 1 John 4:10 & 1 John 4:19, Romans 8:14-16, and savored that G-O-D L-O-V-E-S YOU!
Are you living a "sin-avoidance" gospel? Is your walk with Christ more about modifying your behavior to look more Christian? Or do you believe with all of your DNA that you are ferociously loved by God, and because of that love you want to live for His glory? His first love for you changes everything. Who wants to be religious with a ruthlessly loving God who wants relationship? This God, our God, who would give His Son so that we might have that relationship. Stop living for His love. Start living from His love. Don't obey so that you might feel accepted and loved by God. Obey because you are accepted and loved by God.
Chains be gone! Be free.