Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Principled Relationships

I recently read an email devotional from a man I admire and respect, and have used many of his devotionals in my own life and work. However, I have had to disagree with the following devotional. Here it is:

Stop Living By Christian Principles
TGIF Today God Is First Volume 2 by Os Hillman
Monday, May 04 2015

..."having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Tim 3:5).
God never called you to live by Christian principles. He calls you to live in relationship with the living God, Jesus Christ. One of the weaknesses of the Church today is that we teach people principles without the relationship. 

The western church is big on ten step programs, "how-to" methods and acrostics to illustrate memorable ideas. There is a place for establishing principles to change negative behavior. However, we are not called to have a relationship with principles, but a living God.

Living by principles is the equivalent to living by the law in the Old Testament. It is rooted in the Greek system of learning and is dependent upon our strength instead of being led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Principle-based living is powerless living. This makes our Christian experience a religion instead of a relationship. "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law" (Gal 5:18). 

We read about principle-based followers in the book of Acts, "The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people" (Acts 5:12-14). There was a group of followers who liked being taught but never entered the game.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us about the nature of God and His desire for every believer. 
This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

Friend, have you been guilty of living a life based on principles instead of knowing the One who authored the principles? Invite Jesus to be Lord over your life and begin to spend time with Him every day. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you through every moment of your day.

I fully agree with the problem of "religion vs relationship," and the need of personally knowing Christ with a vital relationship. What I have a problem with is the trashing of Christian "principles" as if something is wrong with living a principled life.

The Old Testament principles were established as a means of loving and obeying a covenant keeping God. The introductory statement to the ten commandments in Exodus 20 reads: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." God begins the commandments with a statement of redemption and deliverance. The commands are meant to flow from and follow redemption, not to be a substitute for them. It may be true that Israel missed this flow and legalistically followed the commands without savoring and living out the reality of a redemptive covenant relationship with God. And they did not do this well, as we know. But this does not invalidate those principles, which, by the way, Jesus Himself followed and obeyed.

Our own law code is founded on biblical principles, not a Greek-based system of learning. I am glad we are a society resting on principles, not on some kind of experiential, illusive, feeling-oriented relational reality. It is true our American and Western societies have departed greatly from those biblically based principles. That is to our detriment and maybe future destruction.

I am also thankful that many non-Christians I know live "principled" lives. My own deceased father, while never knowing Christ personally and relationally, lived on Christian principles taught to him by his grandparents and other family members. Therefore, he did not steal or murder or covet another woman apart from my mom. He even kept the sabbath. Not out of a relationship with Christ, but out of principled living.

So, I am opting for what I call a "principled relationship." I love Jesus and abide by biblical principles. Both are important and necessary. Why would we want it another way?