January 09, 2015 | Steve Vistaunet

“Religion operates on the principle that ‘I obey, therefore God accepts me.’ But the gospel is ‘I’m accepted through what Jesus Christ has done, therefore I obey.’" Timothy Keller

I once tried navigating the length of a balance beam. To my uninitiated eyes, it looked deceptively easy — until I climbed aboard. That 4-inch-wide plank was just 4 feet off the ground, but I might as well have been suspended over the Grand Canyon. To match the Olympic feats of unaided somersaults or flips on such a slender surface will be forever beyond me.

Judging a competition in such an event must indeed be a challenge. Eagle eyes seek out the slightest slip or bobble. Were the feet properly aligned? Did the performer rotate completely? Did she stick the landing?

From that vantage point, it seems clear that religion has no exclusive corner on legalism. Aside from the regrettable example of some athletes, the sports world has us all beat. Multiple “instant replay” videos of football and basketball plays are run backward and forward in slow motion to determine if rules were followed, if the receiver had control of the ball before stepping out of bounds, if the runner beat the throw, or if the basketball player’s foot was touching the three-point arc when he released the ball.

We support such efforts because we know these events, to mean anything at all, must be kept within consistent boundaries. So this begs the question: Do our relationships or our religion deserve the same intensity, the same fidelity, the same fervor that we give to other vicarious experiences?

Country singer Johnny Cash, backstage one evening, reflected on the contrast between the pull of the entertainment world and the safe haven of his new marriage. It took him just 20 minutes to write out the lyrics to a song with a lesson.

Each stanza ends with the iconic words, “Because you’re mine, I walk the line.” Cash was no angel. He knew the challenges of addiction, drugs and alcohol. Perhaps he should’ve walked farther away from that line, that edge. Yet the lesson remains. Committing an infraction in sports may reap a temporary 15-yard penalty, but crossing the line in a relationship risks an irreparable breach of trust, a permanently broken heart.

Why should we permit ourselves to be less passionate about our walk with God than with sports or other human relationships? A relationship with God is all or nothing. Choice is God's gift of freedom, the power to answer "yes" or "no" to the divine Knocker at the door. Choice can cause hearts to soften or harden, spiritual bonds to strengthen or shatter. Spiritual fidelity or infidelity, like any other relationship, is always a choice.

Therein lies the intriguing relationship of fidelity and grace woven through the stanzas of the faithful down through the centuries to us and our children. Fidelity is not an Olympic sport, graded by performance perfection. It's our active choice, our response of gratitude to the only perfect One who has already paid the ultimate and eternal price.

How could we be satisfied with anything less? Because we’re His, we walk the line.