The church today is full of meaningful and thoughtful phrases. They can lift my spirit when I am sad and discouraged. Words can build up and tear down. These phrases, these cliches can be misleading. The one that comes to mind these days is one of those that I find misunderstood. I’m speaking of the tagline, Relationship vs. Religion.
Relationship vs. Religion is a catchphrase heard a lot among Christian circles. It is almost cliche. Honestly, I wonder at times if it is just something we say so casually that we do not take into account what the phrase means. The gift of the relationship was a hard-fought battle which Christ bought with His blood on the Cross!
Before the cross, there was the Law. Requirements galore and in reality, very difficult, might even say, impossible to keep. The conditions of a Holy and Just God are out of reach and unchangeable. These conditions can lead to a world of working for approval and never attaining the goal. Or so it would appear at first glance. If this is the whole truth, How did Abraham, Moses, and David gain approval even with all their faults? A life pleasing to God involves faith and relationship.
What exactly Is religion
I love lists and orderliness. Rules and regulations give me a sense of security. I appreciate knowing what God expects of me. I thrive under this system, but I can take it too far. Living like this only leads to bondage, caught under the strangled chains of failure leaves me in a rut. What I feel secure in, without moderation, can hurt me. That is the same thing with religion. Jesus did not come to bring us chains but to break them. Religion is never intended to hinder our freedom, but it will lead us toward a relationship with Christ.
Being religious can be misunderstood. It can lead to a life of fear and a barrier to a real understanding of Who God is. “It is not a matter simply of affinity and intellectual love but of difference and of intellectual fear, rising from the limitation of our thought and not its absoluteness.” The most important consequences of such a view can be very simply stated. God is personal and therefore known in the context of a relationship. “Religion is communion with God, the relation of a living person with a living person.”¹ (McCurdy, L. & Forsyth, P. T. 1999)
What’s the difference?
Many misunderstand and believe religion only rules, requirements to be met is not necessarily right or wrong. It helps to know what the definition of religion which is:
“the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.
“ideas about the relationship between science and religion”
Some people have come to believe religion is harmful or bad and many have misunderstood its purpose. It is the worship of a supernatural being. God is supernational. He is eternal. It is appropriate to give Him worship, honor, and glory. What makes religion turn sour is an unhealthy sense of obligation towards works alone. We lose freedom when we place importance on deeds alone; we are out of balance. Works without faith are crippling. I would say this, just faith without works is dead (James 1:17), worship without faith is dead. One must have a balance between faith and works.
Like anything in life, it can be distorted. A. Z. Tozer wrote, “Most men, indeed, play at religion as they play at games, religion itself being of all games the one most universally played.”²
Religion can be a hindrance if we are not approaching it with reverence and respect that God deserves. If we are taking God for granted, having a lukewarm heart, we suffer.
So, again, what’s the difference?
God created all things, and He needs no one, nothing. Yet, He desires a relationship with His greatest creation, human beings. He created a perfect garden and walked with Adam and Eve. He talked with them and cared for their well being. God also gave them free will. Our Creator does want robots who love Him out of duty but, by choice, wants a relationship with us. Sin brought in a barrier that no one could get past. The need of a Savior is now evident. Jesus is that Deliverer.
We are relational beings. God created us in His image so, being in need of contact with other beings is no accident. If we ignore this fact, we will fall into a legalistic, overly religious mindset which only leads to misery and loss of purpose.
God loves me, this I know!
Marcus Borg wrote, “God loves us already and has from our very beginning. The Christian life is not about believing or doing what we need to believe or do so that we can be saved. Rather, it’s about seeing what is already true.. that God loves us already..and then beginning to live in this relationship. it is about becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God.”³(Borg,M. )
I would argue for both religion and relationship. It is a state of a heart. We enjoy both when we are obedient to God, not out of obligation but out of a love relationship with Him. When we know deep down how much He loves us, We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19). Knowing that I am loved by Yahweh, the Most Holy God is giving me the ability to move forward toward my dreams without fear, pushing after what He has called me to do. There is no place, no greater joy than to be in a relationship with God!
¹Leslie McCurdy, Attributes and Atonement: The Holy Love of God in the Theology of P. T. Forsyth (Colorado Springs, CO; Milton Keynes, MK; Secunderabad, AP: Paternoster, 1999), 116–117