In this article, we are going to explore religion vs relationship. We will examine the differences. This is an important thing that all Christians should know and have a clear understanding.
It is important for us as Christians to identify the difference between religion and a relationship with God. This distinction will let us know if we have a genuine relationship with God or we are only engaging in religious rituals and traditions that do not bring us closer to God.
When I was a young girl around the age of 11-12, I remember sitting outside on our patio steps looking up at the sky thinking, “Yeah, I am pretty sure there is a God, but He doesn’t get personally involved with us. He’s too busy doing with way more important things than to interact with us.
Oh, boy was I WRONG… At the age of 15, I had an incredible life-changing encounter with Jesus that forever changed my life.
And from the point on, I started to develop my relationship with God.
Religion vs Relationship
Now, Let us start by defining religion and a relationship with the Lord.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary; religion means:
1: the belief in a god or in a group of gods
2: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
3: informal : an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group
I find it so, interesting that in c 1200, they defined religion as a “state of life bound by monastic vows,” (source)
In a nutshell, religion focuses on following set practices and beliefs, and one gets punished for not following them. It is focused on what one can do to please God or gods so that they don’t face wrath.
In the Christian world, we see this at play in churches that develop rules for people to follow so that they can be in right standing with God. This is a true story, but a church in Italy (when my mom was a child) forbade its congregation to go to the beach because the pastor said it was unholy and a sin. This is not biblical at all, but a form of religion trying to control people.
In the Bible, we see this throughout the gospels with the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were constantly concerned about their rituals, traditions, and people’s pleasings. To the point, they didn’t even recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
Religion controls and blinds you.
Alright, let’s now look at what Merriam-Webster’s meaning behind the word, relationship:
1: the way in which two or more people, groups, countries, etc., talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other
2: a romantic or sexual friendship between two people
3: the way in which two or more people or things are connected
A relationship with the Lord involves accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and having a personal connection with Him.
You hear Him speak to you and He directs your life. God sent Jesus to save us from our sins and when we get saved, we are reconciled to God. We cannot have a relationship with the God without accepting Jesus Christ.
We are Righteous Through Christ
God shows us in His Word that we can only be righteous through Christ.
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” – 2 Corinthians 5:21
When we are in Christ, we are righteous through Him and not apart from Him. This means that when someone is not born again, they are not righteous, as God defines it. The world may say they are a good person, but they are not righteous before God. This may be hard for some to grasp or understand, but God’s Word is clear.
Many people have come up with religious rituals that are meant to cleanse them from sin and make them acceptable before God. Throughout their lives, they follow the rituals and say they are spiritual.
What matters to God is that we have a personal relationship with Him through Jesus, not how much money they put into the offering, what they avoid, what they say or don’t say…
When people go to church, just to go to church, this becomes a religious practice or habit that does not bring them closer to God. They don’t have a relationship with Him. Going to church is not a means of salvation, only Jesus is. We go to church to hear God’s Word, have fellowship, and grow in our relationship with Him.
Churches that Teach Religion
We have churches today that show their followers that as long as they engage in certain practices, they are in right standing with God. They have many things that their followers must do and not do. Some examples include wearing certain attire, praying a number of times a day, doing certain good works, saying certain prayers, etc.
When you investigate the religious practices of some churches, you will find that they came from their founders centuries ago. They are not willing to let go of those practices because they fear being excommunicated from the church.
One time Jesus told the Pharisees that they were breaking the command of God for the sake of their traditions. They were a religious lot who never believed in Jesus and exalted their traditions above the Word of God.
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. – Matthew 15:1-6
Religion exalts set practices and beliefs above the Bible, though they claim that they follow what it says. Religion deceives people by making them believe that they know God when they don’t. We know God by being in a relationship with Him. God is not pleased with our works that don’t come from a relationship with Him. (Isaiah 64:6)
Churches that Believe in a Relationship with God
If our goal is to grow and bear fruit, then we have to go to places of worship that follow the true Word of God and where His Spirit is welcomed. We have seen many churches come up today that are Bible believing and emphasize on having a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is where we need to be so that we can hear the true gospel preached, and we can align our lives to it.
When we are saved and have the Spirit of God in us, we are able to discern when we are being fed the Word of God or religious practices. We can then make the decision to attend a church or ministry that preaches the truth.
We Will Bear Fruit for the Kingdom When Connected to Jesus
We can only bear fruit for the Kingdom of God when we are connected to Jesus and not religion. Jesus told us in John 15:4 that no branch can bear fruit unless it is connected to Him.
This means that we can only be effective in doing God’s work and living a righteous life by being connected to vine, Jesus Christ. When we look for other ways of connecting with God, we will fall into deceptive doctrines that are harmful to us and other’s spiritually.
Many people today have fallen victim to religious cults because they thought they were serving God and living righteously.
They had not paid attention to the fact that the cult leaders were not preaching Christ and the importance of having a personal relationship with Him. Where the true gospel is not being preached, you are likely to find religion present.
More about connecting and developing your relationship, Jesus:
- What does it really mean to wait on the Lord?
- What does it mean to be a child of God?
- 5 Ways to draw closer to God
- 9 Practical Ways On How To Make Time For God
Key Break Down on the Difference between Religion and a Relationship With the Lord
I thought it would be fun to put religion and relationship in the boxing ring to compare the two. It’s very clear in this battle of religion vs relationship… that relationship is the WINNER!
|Never good enough||You are good through Christ|
|Self-Righteous||Righteous through Christ|
|Dead works||Good Works|
|Alienation||Adoption and Intimacy|
|God’s Presence Veiled||Face-to-Face|
As believers, we need to watch out so that we don’t fall into certain religious practices thinking we are pleasing God. Whatever God wants us to do, He tells us as we have our quiet time with Him. It’s part of our connection, relationship, and intimacy with Him.
In religion, the focus is on practices and what you can do to please God with your works. In a relationship with God, you are communing with Him and getting to know His heart. Your love for Him grows, and it’s out of that place of love that we serve God.
Religion does not bring us closer to God, it is only a relationship with Him that does. If you want to grow in your faith, start by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and then spend time with Him daily.
If you have accepted Jesus, ask Him whether you still engage in religious practices without knowing. A relationship with God will transform your life into something splendid!
I hope learning about the difference between religion and a relationship with the Lord has inspired you to go deeper in your relationship with Him. If you would like to leave a comment, you can do so below. I would love to hear from you and what you are learning from God.
Melissa is a passionate minister, speaker and an ongoing learner of the Bible. She has been involved in church and vocational ministry for over 18 years. And is the founder of Think About Such Things. She has the heart to equip the saints by helping them get into the Word of God and fall more in love with Jesus. She also enjoys family, cooking, and reading.
She has spoken in churches in California, Oregon, Texas, and Mexico and has been featured in Guidepost Magazine and All Recipes Magazine. Read More…
Thursday 19th of January 2023
I really needed to hear these words today! I have struggled with religion for a long time and due to that and just life experiences I have a hard time with "making healthy connections" which has affected my walk with the Lord. Thank God that He pursues us and finishes what he starts in spite of our shortcomings. God bless you!