This past summer our family took a tour of Jewel Cave in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Halfway through the tour, as we stood almost 300 feet below the surface of the earth, our tour guide turned out all the lights.
Thankfully he gave us a heads up, so I was able to pick up our youngest daughter, Haven. I held her tight as the lights dropped and we were surrounded by darkness. There was no light, no sun, no glimmer, nothing. Our guide told us that the darkness was so profound that our eyes could not adjust to it. No matter how long we stood there, the darkness would not lighten up. And without light we would never make it out of the cave, encouraging thought.
Paul writes in Romans 3,
“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-24)
Paul spends the first three chapters of Romans helping us understand that no matter how good we think we might be, no matter how close we are to perfect, no matter how many times our culture tells us we are just fine, in reality we are lost in sin. We are stuck in the darkness of our fallen lives and there is no hope of escape without the light.
We seem wired up to forget that truth. It is pretty easy for us to over-estimate our goodness and under-estimate our sin. It would be like standing in that cave, in the darkness, and telling the guide, “Don’t worry about the light. I can get us out of here.” No amount of wishful thinking and good intentioned actions would lead us out of over 100 miles of dark passages. Only the light could help us. No amount of self-help study, esteem building exercises, or human-centric pep talks can pull us out of our sinful, dark lives. We need a Savior. We need the light of truth and honest reflection on the condition of our souls.
Clutching to our religious rituals isn’t going to light up our lives. Going through the motions of religious requirements can’t illuminate our dark hearts. We need to pursue relationship with God. Religion fails where relationship saves.
Religion is the legalistic routines of our lives that appear to be spiritual but don’t touch our hearts.
Relationship is the desire to know God and to open our lives to His loving intervention. Religion keeps us under the deception that we can do things to make God accept us, no matter how dark our lives are. Relationship opens us up to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit as we allow the Word of God to speak to us and hold us accountable to the truth. Religion is a system of dos and don’ts. Relationship is a conversation that helps us understand what God dreams for us and then gives us the motivation to live out those dreams.
No amount of good work and righteous action can change the sin and brokenness in our lives. Only the death and resurrection of Jesus can cover the debt of sin that we owe. Only the blood of Jesus shed for you and for me can take the place of the death that our sin would lead us to. So pursue the light of God’s love and Word. Allow His Word and His people to draw you closer to the light and then allow that light to reflect off your life so others might see.
What are the things you do to try and “find your way” apart from Jesus?
Are you depending on your efforts or God’s grace?
What is one practical change you can make to intentionally trust in Christ’s leading?
Jesus, Son of God. I confess that I have been depending on my own abilities and skills to get me out of the caves of sin I so often fall in to. Forgive me, forgive my pride. Shine your light in my life. Reveal your path to me, that I might be a light others could follow.