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Religion or Relationship?

on Mon Nov 06, 2017 10:35 am
One mantra of the new aged Christian movement, is the phrase "Christianity is a relationship with God and not a religion." The point they're trying to say is rather than following a set of rules to attain salvation, we must have a relationship with God instead. Everything we do comes from God loving us and us loving Him in return. This is why Christianity is different and why it is better.

There is several problems with this and in short, this is not what the bible teaches.

1) You're confusing nonbelievers.

The literal definition of religion is a belief in a God or gods. Which Christianity falls under. Not only that, Christians are using the phrase hoping it alone with convert or reach others. When really it won't. No person is going to give their life to Christ just because you said Christianity isn't a religion. The world doesn't hate religions it hates Christianity. In fact, the world is grasping on to every religion in our modern times and even forming their own. Paganism, wicca and witchcraft are trendy and gathering followers, new spiritual movements and new aged religions are forming, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism are also making a resurgence in mainstream and even those who claim themselves as atheist are turning to a more religious zeal in convincing others of their beliefs. Rare is it to find someone who truly believes there is no karmatic like score keeping kept by someone or something in existence. People innately know that evil deeds will be judged somehow and in someway.

So to win people to Christ we must not rely on saying we are different. We must show them we are different.

2) Jesus taught us to be religious.

Many people claim Jesus taught only a relationship. That he came to abolish religion and what it entails. However Jesus actually praised religion and confirmed the Law. In Matthew 5 he even goes on to say that unless you are perfectly religious you cannot enter heaven. His rebuke of the Pharisees was not about them being religious, it was how they were only religious in public, while in private they broke every rule they taught. He even praised the Pharisees for tithing religiously! Both Jesus and even Paul would go on to explain what following proper or true religion would look like. Jesus said it would look like loving your neighbors and Paul adds to care for the widows and orphans among you. Yet in his letters, Paul would reference religion and how you should be religious and how Christians religious meant nothing if they weren't doing certain things such as controlling their tongue.

The difference between Christianity and other religions isn't that Christianity isn't a religion. Rather, every religion, including Christianity, has a list of what must be done in order to be good, gain salvation, eternal rewards and so on. While other religions makes everyone do and say different things, Christianity is blunt and plain. We can't keep the list. We all fall short. None of us can be saved. So instead of trying to make it on our own, and failing, Jesus came down and paid the penalty for us so we don't have to be perfectly religious anymore. The joy of grace isn't felt when you think you are good enough in some way. It's when you know you deserve to be punished for your actions, but you are being spared. Other religions live in a constant struggle trying to outweigh their bad with good, hitting the right check boxes and always being worried if it's enough. Christianity is knowing we will never be enough, but luckily our savior is. Jesus was perfectly religious and we should try to emulate him as best we can.

3) We can't have a "relationship" until we have religion.

Another thing forgotten in the "relationship not religion" teaching is the fact that we can't have a relationship without receiving salvation. And we can only receive salvation by accepting the religion. The well-known phrase of "asking Jesus into your heart to be saved" is backwards to what the bible teaches. Jesus said to repent so he may dwell within us. The bible explains how before we are saved we hate God, just as the world hates Him. So we need religion then relationship. We can't have relationship without religion.

4) Just a relationship ignores who God is.

Many modern worship songs and a lot of current preachers talk about God the friend and father. However, they will never bring up God the king, the judge. God who is perfect wrath and justice. It doesn't fill the pews when you tell people God has to bring every sin you have ever done into account. He can't ignore a single one! People jump around singing about being buddy-buddy with God, when being God's friend isn't what gives you salvation.

Not one person will go to heaven for being Jesus' friend.

We are to serve God. We are to worship Him as king. We are to fear Him. And we must love and respect Him. Teaching only that God is a loving father who will accept you just as you are, doesn't save anyone and gives them a wrong view of how they must live their life. God isn't an enabling rich and powerful father that no matter what His kids do, daddy will cut a check and the problem goes away. He is an absolutely unbiased judge that will condemn His beloved children in the courtroom for violating His law.

Not one person who goes to Hell isn't loved by God.

When we come to terms who God is and just how pure He requires us to be, it makes grace that much more joyous when we receive it.

5) You end up focusing more on your label than your relationship with God.

Another sad thing about this phrase is that people who live by it will quickly defend them not being religious, but often will not defend Christianity or their salvation. You will see comments bashing Christ and their response is "well real Christianity isn't a religion" instead of correcting the hatred being shown to Jesus. While he doesn't need us to stand up for him, we should be extremely quick to defend him! They're so quick to say Jesus is my friend that they neglect to be friends with him. It baffles me when someone claims Christianity is a false religion how so many condemn the word religion and so few the word false. We're told that we're our heart is so where our priorities lie. This thinking shows that many have their priorities in being labeled a Christian rather than actually being a Christian. It may fool those around you, but it will not fool God who looks at your heart and not your outwardly appearance.

It's sad to think, these people are so insistent on not becoming a Pharisee by being "religious" like them, they have become exactly what Jesus rebuked them for, for worrying about the outwardly label instead of the inwardly heart.

6) It's to appease the world.

James 4:4 bluntly explains that by trying to be friends of the world, you become God's enemy. The root of the phrase "relationship, not religion" is trying to make the world be more friendly to you. God warns us very sternly that that thinking is not His thinking. Too often sinners are accepted into a congregation without ever being told to change, just because it's a relationship, not a religion. Yes, Jesus was a friend of sinners, but he frequently told those who followed him that they must become religious or they would go to Hell. Jesus talked about Hell more than he did Heaven. This is because Hell is very real and will be the destination for all who are not saved. If you're truly in a relationship with Christ, then his light should shine on the impurities in your life so much that you are convicted and strive to change them about you. If someone is willfully living in sin, they are not in a relationship with Jesus.

When we receive salvation, we are given a new heart with new desires. And just as Paul says he still does things his new heart does not wish to do, we are now aware of these sins in our lives. We battle with the flesh daily. The life of a Christian is not appealing to those who are lost. Verses that talks about the darkness hating the life, on how they crucified Jesus so how much more will they hate those who follow him, are in the bible for the reason. And that reason reinforces that if the world is your friend, you're doing something wrong.

Final Thoughts

Many who subscribe to the phrase like to bash legalism. Legalism isn't a biblical term, but rather came about arguing against the belief that salvation is done by works and not faith. It has since become a more broad term that pretty much includes any denominations teaches, ceremony or practices that is required by the bible.

Legalism is not sin. In fact, should you be legalistic and do something that you think is wrong, the bible says that to you, it is sin. Not only that, but the bible says that if your brother is legalistic and what you're doing causing him distress, you should stop doing it. They're faith is weak and you honor yourself by sacrificing your right for your brother.

However, misusing God's name is sin. This could be blasphemy or taking it in vain, but can also be saying God does or doesn't want something for someone that isn't in the bible. So often, these people use God's name to justify what they or someone else is doing, when it is wrong. There are still sects that believe dancing is wrong. We should not use God's name to insult their beliefs, rather we should support them in it and encourage them to follow it. If through your interactions with them, you're able to minister to their faith and they realize they are not sinning by dancing, then great! But you should not be encouraging them to do so until then. And you should not be telling them about your dancing or wanting to dance as it'll cause them distress that you're sinning.

Any sacrifice someone makes for God, whether intentionally or simply because they were taught to do so, is for their glory. God sees the person trying to live for Him and is pleased by it. God also sees those who rejoice in their freedoms and are pleased by those who use them to glorify Him as well. So if you're neighbor is legalistic, let them be. Rejoice and be glad God has redeemed you. And rejoice and be glad for your neighbor whom God has also redeemed.

Yes, Christianity is a religion. It has rules and consequences. And honestly, they are quite severe. But while we were yet sinners, God knew we could not be perfect and so He sent His son Jesus. Jesus was perfect in our place. Then, Jesus was nailed to the cross, went into the pit and paid our punishment for our sins for us, so we no longer have to. And because Death could not hold our perfect savior and he rose, so will we rise if we have faith in God's grace and Christ's payment for our sins. Nothing we can do can earn that. Nothing we do will make it more valid. But we should rejoice that the all-powerful God of the universe saw fit to have a relationship with us, even though we did not deserve it.
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