And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. – John 17:3
In the Book of Acts the early Church birthed at Pentecost was referred to as “The Way.” We seldom see the Church referred to as “The Way” anymore. In fact, there are a lot of things that are done in the church and that the Church has become associated with that find no basis in scripture. Some hide behind what they say are methods based on Biblical “principle,” but today’s Church leaves a lot to be desired when compared to the Church in Acts.
But at an even more rudimentary level, the Church of Jesus Christ was designed to facilitate a relationship with God more than what it has become, a religion. In Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer He defined eternal life in the following way.
John 17:3 (NKJV) – 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
Jesus defined eternal life in distinctively relational terms not as a religion. The idea of knowing “the only true God, and Jesus Christ,” is to know by experience (Greek ginosko)., The objective of the Church for its members and the hope of about every human ever created, is eternal life. That “eternal life,” according to Jesus, is having a relationship with Him and His Father. Jesus has made that possible through His redemptive work on the cross and His confirming resurrection.
Relationship versus religion. What is the difference between a relationship with God versus a religious idea toward God? The answer to that question is found in what Jesus went on to state in His High Priestly Prayer.
John 17:4 (NKJV) – 4 I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.
There are two things in this statement by Jesus that are significant to delineate between relationship and religion. The first is Jesus’ statement, “I have glorified You on the earth.” The verb “glorified” (Greek edouxasa – Aorist/Active/Indicative of doxadzo – to ascribe glory to, to honor, to praise) speaks of something accomplished or simply completed. The second statement by Jesus of significance is, “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” The verb “finished” (Greek eteleiosa – Aorist/Active/Indicative of teleioo – make perfect, complete, finish, accomplish; bring to completion, perfect) also speaks of something completed. Now we need to keep in mind that Jesus made this statement to the Father in His prayer before He went to the cross. His life brought glory to the Father. The raising of Lazarus from the dead brought glory to the Father (John 11:4). But wasn’t the cross the primary mission of Jesus, to provide a way for our sins to be forgiven and have eternal life? Yes. Jesus Himself pointed to the cross as His glory (cf. John 12:23-24). The Father said, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again” (John 12:28). But Jesus speaks of glorifying the Father on the earth, as completed. Then He adds that, “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” How was Jesus’ glorifying work finished, completed, perfected, if He had yet to go to the cross? The answer to that question is that Jesus was speaking proleptically.
A proleptic statement is a statement of something that has yet to be accomplished, as though it were accomplished, because it is certain to be accomplished. As a teenager one Halloween I was out carousing with my friends doing a lot of mischievous stuff like throwing eggs and showering people with shaving cream. Well, our unruly behavior led to someone calling the police. When we heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights, we all scattered. We happened to be in a park at the time and so when I ran it required I hop a fence. I had gloves on but when I put my hand on the fence to hop over it, the jagged metal on the top of it cut through my glove tearing my skin open. I later would need nine stiches to close the wound. But when I cut myself I took off my glove and just looked at my hand. So stunned was I that I didn’t immediately notice the police officer coming up to me. He looked at my hand. He looked at me. I looked at him. We both knew when I got home, I was dead. The gracious merciful understanding and helpful officer was kind enough to not charge me and rather brought me home and walked me to the front in the middle of the night. When my father, awakened from a dead sleep, answered that door and saw me and the officer, and then saw my bloody hand, well, I knew, I was dead. I am here to tell the story, yes, but my ride to the hospital, stitches, pain, and consequential parental grounding penalty effectively killed me for any more fun for the foreseeable future. I may not have been literally dead, but I was socially dead. The fact of my impending penalty was so certain from the first, though it hadn’t yet occurred, was spoken of as a fact.
That Jesus’ mission of the cross was so certain it could be spoken of by Him as being “finished,” is vitally important to distinguishing between relationship and religion. Someone who has a saving relationship with God in Christ can have that relationship because Jesus has completed the work of redemption by paying our sin-death penalty (cf. Romans 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:21). Someone who has a relationship with God in Christ bases that relationship on the completed work of Jesus Christ. That is good news because our forgiveness of sins and eternal life is not based on anything we do, but on what Jesus has already done. And if our salvation is based on the completed work of Jesus, not our works, then it is certain and secure. Because a relationship with God in Christ depends on Jesus’ completed work, we rest in that completed work and know with certainty that it is our possession. We have a blessed assurance that by faith Jesus is mine and eternal life is ours too.
A religious orientation has no assurance of salvation or eternal life because it is based on the individual’s good works. When you depend on what you must do to be right with God, you are never certain if you have done enough. When you depend on your work it’s always uncertain, unknown, unassured that what you do is enough. Religions, including “Christian” versions of religion, depend on what people do as the basis for them to earn eternal life. This is a FALSE gospel that is really no gospel at all. Paul spends the better part of two epistles refuting the idea of anyone working their way to heaven (cf. Romans and Galatians). Religion, therefore, is reduced to a system where authorities assign and determine how much work is enough to satisfy the justice of God and to earn eternal life.
The relational good news of Jesus Christ is that He has done all the heavy lifting, He has completed all the work, and because He has, and made the benefits of His redemptive work available to us simply by receiving it by faith, then we can be assured of our salvation; as sure of our salvation and eternal life as God is faithful to keep His word. The gospel leads to strong, steady, certain, assured, confident saved followers of Jesus. by faith in Jesus Christ we are justified or assured that God sees us legally just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned. The good news gospel relationship is one of peace and security. Religion on the other hand has no such peace and security. It is filled with uncertainty and obligation, work, and seat, and labor, and nervousness, and discomfort, guilt, and diminished glory to God. The gospel gives glory to God and creates a spiritually fruitful worshipful response to God. We exalt Him and praise Him for His glorious merciful and gracious gospel. When we relate to God religiously we see God as tyrannical, enslaving, harsh, mean, and vindictive. That is the difference between a relational versus a religious view of God.
Religionists will always oppose relationalists. Religion creates an environment where a person takes pride in their work. Relating to God relationally on the other hand because it is based on God’s grace, humbles us. The Bible states God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). Religion, because it is lifeless, ends up being a form of humanism or people-centered worldview. And when the life-giving water of the Holy Spirit is gushing out of true gospel Christians, it always creates a clash with the stone walls of religionists.
The Way. We see this clash between relationship and religion in the book of Acts. On the Third Missionary Journey Paul came to the city of Ephesus, a hotbed of pagan religion. In Acts 19 “there arose a great commotion about the Way” (Acts 19:23). In Acts, Christianity was known in the world as “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9 and 23; 24:14, 22). The word “way” (Greek hodos) means a road, a route, a journey, metaphorically it means a course of conduct, a way of thinking, a world view. The definite article “the” distinguishes this “way” as “The Way,” a particular worldview and way of living.
“The Way” emphasizes that early Christians were known by THE WAY of life they lived. The Way was composed of people transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ and work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Those who were a part of “The Way,” had changed, they were different than they once were, better (e.g. Saul became Paul – Acts 9). “The Way” was “the way of salvation” and even demons who possessed people knew this (Acts 16:17). The Way was a powerful new group of people whose God, Jesus, was able to confront persecutors, knock them down off their high horse, convert them, and assimilate them into Spirit empowered proponents of The Way, e.g. Saul to Paul in Acts 9. The Way was a particular way of living in Christ that involved new birth in the Spirit and the baptism with the Holy Spirit and power (Acts 18:24-28). The Way was made up of those led by the Spirit – like Paul in Acts 19:21. The Way spread the gospel far and wide (Acts 19:21-22). Th people of The Way were fulfilling the Great Commission wherever they went (Mat 28:18-20). The Way cut into the profits of the religious because the REAL RELATIONSHIP with Jesus (e.g. John 17:3) exposed the bankruptcy and emptiness of pagan idolatry (Acts 19:23-27). The Way was violently opposed by religionists (Acts 19:28-34). The Way was civically opposed (Acts 19:35-41). The Way was cautious toward but not deterred by opposition (Acts 19:31; 9:2).
Another aspect of The Way was that those of The Way, like Paul, had a testimony (Acts 24:10-16). Paul testified that The Way was a “sect” (Greek hairesis). A “sect” is a group made up of members who are a part of the group by choice. This group was distinguished by their own tenets or beliefs. Because a sect often broke off from a larger body of people, they were frequently accused of being heretical (Acts 24:14). Those of The Way like Paul didn’t go looking for trouble but didn’t avoid it either if it came. They were courageous in their witness (Acts 24:12-13). The Way was known for worshipping God and obeying His word (OT at the time – Acts 24:14). The Way’s central message for which they were known was that there is hope in Jesus because of His death and resurrection (Acts 24:15). The Way lifestyle was one that strove to have a good conscience without offense toward God and men (Acts 24:16). This is a good clear picture of the early followers of Jesus who were a growing group who came to be known as “The Way.”
It goes on to say in the passage:
24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen.25 He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: “Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade.26 “Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands.27 “So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.”
The great commotion was linked to the diminishing worship of false idols due to the successful preaching of the gospel in the Spirit (19:26-27).
The particular idol most worshipped in Ephesus was that of Diana. One dictionary states the following about this god:
ARTEMIS [i.e. Diana]. This was the Greek name of the goddess identified with the Latin Diana of classical mythology. The name Artemis is pre-Greek. She first appears in Greek literature as mistress and protectress of wildlife. (Cf. W. K. C. Guthrie, The Greeks, and their Gods, 1950, pp. 99ff.) In Greece proper she was worshipped as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and twin sister of Apollo. Horror at the pains her mother endured at her birth is supposed to have made her averse to marriage. She was goddess of the moon and of hunting, and is generally portrayed as a huntress, wild dogs in attendance. Her temple at *Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the world, and here worship of the ‘virgin goddess’ appears to have been fused with some kind of fertility-cult of the mother-goddess of Asia Minor. The temple was supported on 100 massive columns, some of which were sculptured. Tradition claims that her image fell there from the sky (Acts 19:35) and is thought to refer to a meteorite; Pliny tells of a huge stone above the entrance, said to have been placed there by Diana herself. Her worship was conducted by eunuch priests, called (Strabo, 14. 1. 23), and archaeologists have discovered statues depicting her with many breasts. The silversmiths who made small votary shrines, portraying the goddess in a recess with her lions in attendance, or possibly souvenir models of the temple, caused the riot when Paul was ministering there (Acts 19:23-20:1). Their cry of ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!‘ (Acts 19:28, 34) is attested by inscriptions from Ephesus which call her ‘Artemis the Great’ (CIG, 2963c; Greek Inscriptions in the British Museum, iii, 1890, 481. 324).
The false god Diana/Artemis was no match for the Spirit empowered gospel of Jesus Christ. But this didn’t mean the followers and profiteers of Diana were going to take their losses lying down. If Satan can’t win, he’s going to kick and scream and throw a tantrum. If Satan can’t deceive, he will try to intimidate and if possible destroy the work and workers of God.
Religious Resistance. It’s not uncommon for religionists to resort to violence. That is what we see in the account:
28 Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”29 So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions.30 And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him.31 Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater.32 Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together.33 And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defense to the people.34 But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”35 And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus?36 “Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly.37 “For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess.38 “Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another.39 “But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly.40 “For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.”41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.”
In Ephesus, therefore, we see what happens when the Spirit encounters false religion. What can we learn from this encounter? We can summarize the following things from this passage:
First, the underlying concern of the idol craftsman was loss of profit (19:24-25). Profit and religion often go hand in hand. This is true because religion is man’s attempt to reach God or a god and is a work of the flesh. When the flesh is involved in anything, the focus is ultimately on selfish gain. A religious person is out to get fire insurance for eternity, or they are out to secure blessings and benefits to enrich themselves in this life. All of it is based on profits.
Second, false religion is no match for the Spirit empowered gospel (19:26). Paul was directed by the Spirit to preach that gods made with hands are not gods. Paul spoke out against talisman or the charms of false gods. False religions lack the Spirit and are dead spiritually, that is why those who were sincerely seeking after God were leaving the false religion of Artemis for the new life in Christ found in the gospel presented by the Spirit through the apostles.
Third, false religion responds to the Spirit’s truth with wrath and fanatical anger (19:27-29). When confronted with the truth, false religion doesn’t rationally weigh the evidence, it shouts in anger. (E.g. “Don’t confuse me with the facts!”). When Muslims are confronted with the logical facts that show the falsehood and errors of their beliefs and “holy” book, the Koran, they often shut their ears and minds and raise the volume of their speaking to give the impression that their conviction is good enough. But it isn’t, no amount of shouting can squelch the truth of God as the Spirit reveals it in His word. Like Islam fundamentalists, these Ephesians grabbed anyone associated with the Spirit’s truth and abuses them.
Fourth, those led by the Spirit should use caution and restraint when confronted by fanatical religionists (19:30-31). Paul wanted to go into the crowd and try to reason with them, but when his friends advised him against it, he listened. There is no use putting yourself in harm’s way with a fanatical crowd. You may think such action is brave and courageous, but it may just as well be a fleshly attempt to impress God and others. It could be you are testing God which is sin (Mathew 4:5-7).
Fifth, the presence of confusion indicates these false religionists were not of God (19:32). God is not the Author of disarray or confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40). You can be sure Satan is at work when there is confusion and chaos present in a situation. When such a situation arises, it would be prudent to pray for God to give you the peace that surpassed understanding (John 14:27; Philippians 4:6-7).
Sixth, the fanaticism of false religion does not listen to reason and only shouts louder (19:33-34). As stated before, when an opponent is faced with truth, especially truth that threatens to expose falsehood in his life or belief system, often they will shout in an immature attempt to drown out the words of truth (Jeremiah 10:14-16).
Seventh, the fanaticism of false religion is often controlled by government intervention (19:35-41). One reason for secular governments is to protect people from such fanaticism (Romans 13). When false religion and government is intertwined, (such as in Islamic states like Saudi Arabia), an extremely dangerous situation arises where persecution of believers (even unto death) becomes acceptable. In Islamic states witnessing or winning a Muslim to faith in Christ is a crime punishable by death. Frequently, when a Muslim is won to Christ, the evangelist is persecuted and murdered by riotous mobs before the governments can even intervene. The Roman government was often a source of persecution, but here we see that the order it commanded (i.e. Pax Romana) led to the protection of the disciples.
Here we see that religious fanaticism is no match for the power of the Spirit working through people like Paul. It is because Paul was empowered by the Holy Spirit that God could use him in such a situation. What would you have done in such a situation? Would you have run for cover, or stood firm like Paul? Do you envy Paul’s power and the way he’s used by the Lord to confront such false religion? You can have the same kind of power. Surrender to the Spirit and ask Him to empower you and use you. Request and receive by faith the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Religion is no match for the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ which offers as a gift of God’s grace, a personal saving relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. The good news is that God is knowable and can be known by faith. The good news is you can be sure and certain of your standing before God, your eternal life. The good news is that when you turn from your sins, confess them to God, trust in Jesus completed redemptive work and resurrection alone for your forgiveness of sins and eternal life, your future is secure. You don’t have to fear hell and doubt your eternal destiny. You don’t have to live in guilt and fear. You can know God, know His love, which casts out fear. That is the Bible way. That is The Way of Jesus.
 The mostly Pauline expression “in Christ” refers to have a saving relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ; His paying the penalty for our sins on the cross, and His resurrection validation of that redemptive work and defeat of death.
The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.