Christianity is not about following the rules. But it is not about following no rules, either. Nor, following principles derived from Scripture that promise to achieve success in the Christian life. It is much simpler. It is about remaining. The quality of the Christian life rises and falls in relation to our ability to remain in the place Jesus has for us, a place that is not a concept or idea but a reality, more real in fact than the physical universe that surrounds us.
We have recently been discussing the voice of God and how it is is the only means of effectively living out the Christian life. It is God’s Spirit that that leads us into a place where all things are available to us.
If we stripped back the physical and material trappings of our existence and had eyes to see into the unseen world, I contend we would discover that this place, called by many names both in Scripture and throughout church history, is more real in fact than what we call real outside of us. When Jesus said, “Remain in me and I will remain in you,” He was attesting to this reality. We may have our own opinion as to what these words mean, but what is indisputable is that they mean something. Jesus was not commanding us to do what had no meaning.
But as to what they mean, we have I am afraid tried to frame a supernatural reality with human and natural understanding. We have tried to make “Remain in me” to mean obeying as much of the Bible as possible, or being just like Jesus — according to our own ideas about what that looks like. Which, by its very nature, must reduce itself down to a code of behavior, a loose fabric of Bible verses (along with our specific interpretations as to what they mean in any situation) that govern our lives. We have tried to make “Remain in Me” equal to obeying the written word itself, despite the fact Scripture says this can only kill us. We are afraid to leave its pages and the obedience it exacts and exchange it for the relationship He provides. We stay in the place of Rules. Why, I do not know.
Or, we have ignored the call to remain altogether, claiming that it is not about the rules (true). But in claiming there are no rules, we have invariably established rules of our own, new rules: Rules that take the form of principles and methods, and guidelines, and helpful advice and tips, which we claim are based on Scripture. These rules, which we call spiritual principles, promise us success in the Christian life. And so we remain in the place of Principles, holding out in the hope they provide.
The ironic thing is: The place of Principles is actually no different than the place of Rules it claims to reject. The only difference is in the goal it hopes to attain. In the place of Rules, the goal is God’s approval. In the place of Principles, the goal is His blessing. Beyond that, they are exactly the same.
But the place of Remaining by its very nature is supernatural. We cannot occupy it with rules of any form.
We may consider our love affair with rules and principles as harmless, but the problem is, we can only occupy one place at a time. The laws of the Spirit are in this case the same as the laws of Physics. If we occupy the place of Rules or Principles, we cannot at the same time occupy the place of Remaining. If we spend our energy on trying to be better, we will have no energy for being closer. If we spend our time following the principle that promises the blessing, we cannot at the same time follow the Author of that blessing. It is a spiritual as well as a physical impossibility: We cannot occupy, or be occupied by, two places at the same time, just as we cannot follow two masters at the same time.
Why would we wish to fill our lives with a chaos of rules and principles when we can remain in Him? Our problem is that we fail to comprehend how close God actually is. We do not understand that at the Cross, God did not purchase for us a time in the future when we would be with Him forever. He purchased for us the ability to be with him now. He did not purchase a reservation; he purchased an occupation: He occupying us, and we occupying Him. In the here and now, not one day in the future.
This occupation is just as He had with the Father. It is unbroken communion. The word communion as in communion with the Holy Spirit comes from the same origin as our word “communication.” Communication is the act of communicating. Communion is the state of constant communication. God is constantly communicating with us. He is always speaking. He is not far off, but very close. But in failing to understand this, we figure we are on our own, apart from his voice, and his love. We try to love Him from a distance, and turn our ear to principles and rules as the next best thing.
Recently, I saw an illustration of the gospel message depicted using the analogy of an umbrella. In it, God’s judgment against sin appeared as rain, and human beings, being sinful, were getting drenched. But Jesus’ death on the Cross for our sins was depicted as a large umbrella, and when they accepted Jesus, they came under the umbrella, out of the rain, and were happy.
The thing I liked especially about the illustration is that the umbrella provided protection all the way down to earth, where we lived. Not just up in Heaven, where we will one day be. When Jesus died for our sins, He touched all the way down to earth, right where you and I live.
And the umbrella is not just something Jesus provided; it is Jesus Himself. He has come to earth. He now resides in the hearts of his children by the Holy Spirit. He is that close.
We are no longer orphans. We no longer have to try to figure this whole thing out. The door to the place of remaining is open, and His voice is calling us, even now.
And, if for any reason, we find it difficult to think that God’s voice could be just as real and just as present as all the rules we surround ourselves with, now is a great time to ask Him what has stepped in and broken the perfect communion He died for. It is probably not what we think.