I have heard the two words religion and relationship compared an awful lot lately. While I’m no expert on the matter I do have a rather strong opinion about this topic based on what I’ve read in scriptures.
You see, at one time I was sold on the concept that religion was what would save you. Like in so many other areas in my life, Jesus gave me first-hand experience with living religiously so that I could realize the errors in my way of thinking. That in turn taught me to have an authentic relationship with Him instead.
What do I mean by the word “Religion”?
While there are many different types of religions out there I am only focusing on Christianity today and what it means to truly live for Jesus. This is by no means a generalization of believers in certain denominations because I know that there are those who choose religion over a relationship with Christ in every Christian Church. So let’s get into it…what separates the two?
Is it possible to go to Church every Sunday, serve in the Church, have a position in the Church, and still not have a relationship with Christ? The answer to that question is yes. But how can that be?
It comes down to being a matter of the heart and about truly having a life-change that is Holy Spirit led.
Unfortunately nowadays there are many who believe just because they go to Church and put on a show that this means they have a relationship with Christ, sadly that isn’t so. There has been no evidence of a changed heart, their home life is not only the same but maybe worse, and there has been no repentance of the sin in that believer’s life. Church has become a weekend band-aid with no time during the week being devoted to prayer or reading the Word. Their “Religion” has become their God.
There are also the types who are in it for the recognition or to be people-pleasers within a Church. Their motives are false ones.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
A person may feel they have something to prove or feel pressured to get involved. Therefore serving in the Church becomes the priority and worshipping becomes a forced afterthought. This leads to a completely different breed of Christian. One who is lying to God and to themselves by going through the motions of what is expected of them without having a true relationship with the Lord.
Jesus warns us about becoming like this throughout the scriptures. He desires for us to be His true Disciples.
“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord! will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in Heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
Matthew 7: 21-23
How can you have an authentic relationship with Christ unless you are reading the scriptures for yourself? Are you listening to what your Church Leaders are telling you or are you listening to what God is telling you? There IS a difference. How will you know when what you are being taught is in error unless you know the truth? Are you depending on the religious practices to get you closer to God? Are you relying on the approval of others?
In 1 Samuel 2-3 in there was a story about Samuel as a young boy who served the Lord by assisting Eli. Eli and his sons were Priests who dishonored God. Even though Samuel was a young boy God used him and spoke through him. The Priests who held high position were punished for their wrong-doing. These Priests may have looked the part and played the part, but there was no relationship. God used Samuel because he truly sought the Lord.
The Pharisees were also known for following the law and religious practices yet they had hearts that were far from God.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to the people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Matthew 23: 27-28
Having a Relationship with Christ
Having a relationship with Jesus means that you are surrendering your life completely to Him. So yes, going to Church is a good thing. Having fellowship with believer’s is what we should be doing. Serving the Lord is what we are called to do whether it be in a Church or Ministry. But once again, it is a matter of the heart. Our motives need to be pure ones.
“All a person’s ways seem to pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”
Proverbs 16: 2
Surrendering to Jesus comes first, and the transformation develops over time as your relationship deepens.
Jesus searches our hearts and analyzes our motives. He sees the REAL us, so why try to hide it? We are only fooling ourselves if we pretend to be something we are not. Having a relationship with Christ is a willingness inside of us to ask God to search us and to fix all that is broken. We have to be willing to admit that we need His help every single day and then to take the steps that He asks us to in order for Him to mend those broken areas.
The Holy-Spirit prompts us to live according to His purpose and not our own. The Spirit convicts us when we are veering off path and guides us right back to where we should be. It is all perfectly laid out by an all-knowing God whose ways are beyond our ways. He becomes our guiding light, our Father, our Redeemer. He becomes the answer to every question and problem we may have. His love for us then becomes a tangible thing rather than another task to be completed.
There is no side-stepping it, and there is no alternative. God desires our walk with Him to be authentic and sincere.
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you –unless, of course, you fail the test?”
2 Corinthians 13: 5
“If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.”
Galatians 6: 3-5
To test yourself means that you search your heart and ask yourself if you are being led by the flesh or the Spirit. The flesh desires what is contrary to the spirit and the two are in conflict with one another. Are you seeking God’s will, or your own will? A good way to self-examine is by asking yourself if you possess the fruit of the Spirit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
Galatians 5: 22-26
While we will all fall short on this list from time to time you have to ask yourself if this kind of fruit is evident in your life on a consistent level. If it isn’t than you are more than likely acting in the flesh and desiring things that are contrary to what the Spirit wants. There may be some sin that needs to be confessed and repented of. Ask the Lord for wisdom in this area so that your relationship with Him can be established and grow the way that He wants it to.
By reading the scriptures the answer should be clear. God desires our hearts and wants us to have a relationship with Him. Religion will not save you, only Jesus can.