Life and Growth through Relationship, not Rules

“What does that mean to you?” I asked my client, who sat on the couch, her eyes wide, staring at what I had just shared with her.

“It just changes everything!”

It did change everything. It had changed everything for me a decade ago, and it had brought my faith to life during a time that felt like wading through mud in freezing rain. The game changer was this: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40, NIV).

Growing up, I learned that walking closely with Jesus meant not swearing, not having sex before marriage, having a good attitude, and endless other standards that “showed” that I was a Christian. I went to the Scriptures because I wanted direction for my life, and a way to avoid experiencing too much pain. Faith was, essentially, a way to “do life right.” When pain did come, and when it comes for my clients, the first question they ask in the office is, “Why? What is God trying to teach me?”

Jesus was talking to the Pharisees when he said, “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” He took the professional rule-followers of his day to the next level, from rules to relationship, but he did it to show them that what they wanted all along, life, was found in relationship, not following rules.

The questions I always asked when I spent time reading the Bible were questions about what I was doing wrong, and what I should do next. But the Bible is transformational only when the author of it transforms us from within, not when we, in our own power, change how we act. God alone changes hearts, and he does it like this: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV). This language does not sound like putting on a good face; it’s all about seeing Jesus and being transformed in the process of trusting him to be who he says he is.

That is why God is so focused on trust. He wants us to remember who he is so that we can change to be more like him. The questions I encourage clients to ask when going to the Bible are, “Who are you, God? If that’s true, then what can I trust you for?” rather than “What is God trying to teach me?” When they can trust him to be who he is, they can find the courage to make different and new choices.