I grew up in church, but all I learned about was religion. The result was that I developed a disdain for organized religion. All I saw were the impossible rules and the hypocrisy. It wasn’t until I was in my early 40’s that I encountered relationship and it changed my world. I think that it’s religion that keeps people away from Jesus and all He wants is a relationship. That’s what this post is all about. Let’s look at the differences between religion and relationship.
According to Wikipedia, “religion is a cultural system of behaviors and practices, world views, sacred texts, holy places, ethics, and societal organization that related humanity to what an anthropologist has called ‘an order of existence.’” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines religion as an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies and rules used to worship a god or group of gods; an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.
There are many “religions” in the world – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto, Bahai, Taoism, Skihism, Wicca, Hellenism, and typically Christianity is listed as a religion (although I will dispute this later).
Religion requires that people work to earn the love of a god or gods, to become one with creation/nature, or to receive some sort of reward in the afterlife. It’s all about the human effort or works.
Finally, religion is man-made. I don’t see any indication that God ever intended for there to be different religions. In fact, God intended for Adam and Eve to begin populating the world, expanding the garden of Eden throughout the entire world and creating one huge family – the family of God. Jesus, the second Adam, came to do the same thing. He rid the world of the power of sin and freed mankind to once again spread the Kingdom and populate the world with the family of God.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines relationship as, “the way in which two or more people, groups, countries, etc., talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other; the way in which two or more people or things are connected; a romantic or passionate attachment; a specific instance or type of kinship.
Relationship is all about connecting with another, learning about them, them learning about you, finding commonalities, and developing feelings (friendship, love) for each other. In the religions mentioned above, there is no talk about getting to know the god or entity and building a relationship with him/her/it. Again, it’s all about the human performance or works.
In Christianity, it’s all about relationship. God created a perfect universe and the earth so that he could then create beings in His image and have relationship with them. We see that in Genesis chapters 1-3, as God creates and then walks in the garden with Adam and Eve. We all know the story, Adam and Eve chose to be disobedient and ate the forbidden fruit, which introduced sin, death, and separation from God. The rest of the Bible is God’s pursuit of that relationship with mankind, culminating in sending His only Son to become a man, die a sacrificial death for the sins of all mankind, and then restoring the perfect heaven/world, so He can once again walk with mankind on the earth.
Religion doesn’t have a God who is pursuing man, it’s the other way around. Religion doesn’t have a God willing to die for the betterment of mankind, rather, mankind dies for the betterment of god.
So, when we define religion and relationship in this way, Christianity was never intended to be a religion, it’s a relationship between mankind and God. It requires that we, Christians, get to know God through the Bible and in quiet times of prayer. We build a love relationship with Him and are even referred to as the “bride of Christ” with Jesus as the Groom. One day, all born-again believers in Jesus will be taken to heaven for a wedding ceremony and reception, then eternity with our Groom and His Father.
It’s a beautiful love story that everyone can get in on. There are no rules to follow, just receive the free gift of grace (the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross) and begin your relationship with God.