Many times, it is not “either/or”, but “both.” It is so in Nehemiah 1:9, where Nehemiah has just confessed the sins of Israel to God, and he quotes Him as saying to His people, “but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them … I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to make My name dwell.” We see here in God’s description of repentance, two inseparable aspects of a genuine relationship with Him:
First, the Lord describes repentance as “returning to Me.” It is coming back to the Person of God. Thus one might say that it is not about “religious deeds” as much as it is returning to the relationship with Him, which is indeed true to a point.
But significantly, He follows that with a second phrase: “and keep My commandments.” This is important, because some people try to minimize the importance of obeying God’s commandments, instead claiming that they just focus on having a good relationship with the Lord. But He makes it clear in this verse that the two go hand in hand.
Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) One who really loves God will not set aside His word, but will strive all the more to obey BECAUSE of his love relationship with Him. Don’t claim to have a great love for God, while at the same time you are breaking His commandments. If you really love Him, it is not either/or; it will be both!