Relationship vs. Religion

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Relationship or Religion?

I think this is a huge question that has a very simple answer, yes. By definition religion is the belief and worship of a personal God or gods. Christians do believe and worship a personal God which makes this His religion.

I have come across a few people who have made statements to me that go something like this, “religion is dumb, it’s all about a relationship with Jesus”.

First, saying that you love God but hate spending time with His people is like saying you love your girlfriend or wife but hate spending time with her and every time you see her you get filled with bitterness or frustration but despite that, you still love her.

You cannot separate the Shepherd from His sheep, just like you cannot separate the King from His kingdom.

These people also don’t think going to church is important because it comes off as legalistic.

Now, there is the problem.

Religion is not bad by any means, the problem arises when we take “worship of a personal God” out of the equation which leaves us with a legalistic religion and no relationship.

Marriage is a lot like that too. I married my wife because I love her and so before marriage there was a relationship that began to grow and when we decided that we were ready to kick it up a notch we got married. Now marriage comes with its own set of rules we have to follow but those rules are usually a joy and not a burden. Usually, I want to love my wife like Christ loves the church but there are times when I don’t but I do anyways because she is my wife and we are married which means I am obligated to do that, even though most of the times I freely choose to. Some of you know people that no longer love one another and there really isn’t any chemistry there anymore. They stay together for the sake of marriage which paints a perfect picture of what religion without a relationship looks like.

Marriage without a relationship is like religion without a personal relationship with God; empty, joyless, hopeless, sad, exhausting, and dead.

Legalism is very real. Legalistic religion existed when Jesus walked the earth and it exists today. Jesus Himself rebuked the Pharisees about being just that.

Jesus said “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness of me” John 5:39

People constantly search the scriptures but never come to full understanding what it means to walk with God.

Religion says you must do to receive a blessing but Jesus says we have already received it in Him.

Religion says you must do to be loved but Jesus says that you are already loved.

Religion enslaves us to burdens we cannot carry, Jesus sets us free.

Religion sets a standard no human can obtain, Jesus has met the standard so that we can be a part of His perfection.

Religion binds us to the law, Jesus places us under grace.

There are three primary stages of genuine conversion.

  1. Understanding: knowing that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah and Redeemer. He, a perfect person, is Lord and King of kings and He loves you so much that He came to die on the cross for your sins, was raised three days later, and for those that put their faith in Him receive life and receive it abundantly.
  2. Conviction: Convictions are feelings of guilt and shame that come from you being aware of your own sins, imperfection, and lost-ness.
  3. Action: Understanding that Jesus is the savior and you are imperfect and sinful which brings you to put your trust in Him as your only hope and live a life that is worthy of a gospel explanation.

I think a lot of the time we come across people who take biblical knowledge and act on what they know which creates a cold and harsh type of religion.

Without the experience of God’s grace in our own lives and over our own brokenness and sin, we tend to lack compassion and grace to the lives of others. Instead of extending grace, mercy, and forgiveness we extend rules and commands that modify their behavior while completely neglecting their heart.

If you have been hurt by a church and it really gave you a bitter taste of what a follower of Christ looks like, or if you have had a poor experience growing up in a church, I would like to encourage you not to give up. Christians are not Christ and being upset with the church would be like being upset with the sick people in a hospital. Christ is far better, far greater, than anyone describes Him to be. That is why you need to experience Him for yourself.

Here is one of my favorite videos. Jefferson Bethke shows the difference between a relationship with Jesus and legalistic religion.

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, you have to experience him that is what Christianity is all about. It is not just an abstract truth or a mystical experience, it is an experience of truth because the truth became a person and now relationship is the way in which the truth comes in.”

–Tim Keller


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