Religion Vs. Relationship
At times, it’s a little surprising to get emails that ask, “What does your religion teach?” yet they come in every day, some from the United States but most from other countries. They want to compare Christianity to their religions. So, with the help of my husband’s commentary, let’s compare them. First of all, Christianity is not a religion—that’s a big difference right there. As a Christian, I have a relationship with the Lord. What do I mean by relationship? I mean that I know the Lord because I talk with Him—I call on the Lord several times a day to help me; I ask God to give me discernment, understanding, and wisdom several times each day—it’s an interaction between my Saviour and me.
Listen, God loves His children. He never lets us down. He helps us even when we’ve been bad and don’t deserve His help. He doesn’t cast us aside when we do something wrong. When we come back to Him in humble repentance, He is very, very willing to forgive us, and His grace is sufficient to cover all of our sins.
You might not think it’s possible, but the Lord Jesus Christ can become your friend. He can become your companion, your comforter, your strength, your peace, your joy—all at the same time being your Saviour. Isn’t that a wonderful truth? That’s so comforting to me. When I get up in the mornings, and I come to work, I know the Lord is with me. Throughout the day, I know He’s guiding me and directing my footsteps because that’s the very first thing that I ask Him to do each morning. When I leave the office, and I go get in my car to start home, I know the Lord is with me. He’s with me. Just as if you and I were to have a conversation—we would visit and talk and laugh—that’s the kind of personal relationship that Jesus Christ wants to have with you today as your Saviour and as your Lord.
As a Christian, you can reach the throne room of God in a moment’s time. It’s been done millions of times—people fall on their knees in repentance or cry out to the Lord for mercy, and He hears them, and He’s makes His presence known to them.
The believing sinner can ask for God’s forgiveness and receive it. But to my knowledge, in all of the religions of the world, there is no teaching on the subject of forgiveness. That’s because there is no atonement. Every single thing that man receives from God—all relationship with God, all salvation, the baptism with the Holy Spirit, divine healing, financial prosperity, the knowledge of the Word of God—all comes through the blood atonement of Christ.
Christianity is alive because our Saviour is alive. They tried to kill Christ, they tried to keep Him in a tomb, but He didn’t stay there, He got out. That means we don’t have to stay there either. Think about that—because He lives, we also live.
Christianity is a relationship with our Lord and all that He did to save lost humanity—that’s how it differs from any other of the world’s religions. As believers we don’t claim to “have a religion.” We say, “We’re Christians. We’re followers of Jesus Christ. He’s our Lord. He’s our Saviour. He’s our Master.”
Now let’s talk about religion. My husband defines it this way: “Religion in any form, is always that which is devised by man. Therefore, anything other than faith in Christ and the cross can be labeled as ‘religion.’”
On the other hand, Christianity, he says, can be summed up in this phrase from Philippians 3:9: “The righteousness which is of God by faith.” Why? Because this righteousness proceeds from God, which means that God, and God alone, is the source. None is of man—it cannot be of man—so if man is to obtain righteousness, he must look outside of himself. That’s one of the reasons that all religions of the world such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, and Islam are bogus. All of these religions were started by men—men who needed redemption themselves—so how in the wide world could they impart righteousness to anyone when they didn’t have it themselves?
Christianity is completely different because it comes from God, who became man—the man, Christ Jesus. As God, He has the power to change men, and as man, He paid the price on the cross so that man could be changed without defiling the justice of God.
So why does man, who needs righteousness but has none of his own, continue to create and chase after religion?
The answer is simple: Man wants to create his own rules for righteousness. Religion is devised by man supposedly to help him reach God, or to help him better himself in some way or manner. It is always self-improvement in some fashion, and it seldom makes an effort to curtail his involvement in sin. Consequently, the doing of these religions makes man feel good—it’s the greatest narcotic there is—while at the same time allowing him to maintain his particular lifestyle, whatever that might be. All of this is of man and is, therefore, unacceptable to God.
So what is it that God will accept? To answer that, we have to go back to His standard and what He required of man as it regarded righteousness—the Ten Commandments, listed in Exodus 20:2-17:
When we read these Commandments they seem simple enough; however, due to man’s depraved, fallen nature, it was and is impossible for him to keep them. It simply cannot be done. Because of his fallen nature, man substitutes other gods in place of his Creator and other saviors in place of Jesus. Therefore he keeps right on stealing, murdering, lying, and engaging in immorality and covetousness. This is the cause of all the trouble and heartache in the world, even though man refuses to recognize it.
- I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
- Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
- Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
- Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
- Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
God still demands that mankind come up to the standard which He gave us in Exodus 20. Of course, man cannot do this, so God provided a way that it could be done: He became man, kept the law in every respect, and took its penalty and curse upon Himself through His death on the cross—even though He never failed Himself—all on our behalf. If man exercises simple faith in what Jesus did—Christianity—then the great righteousness that belongs to Christ—the perfect, pure, spotless righteousness that He won by keeping the law completely and handling its penalty through His death—is given instantly to the believing sinner and makes him, in the eyes of God, just as pure as Christ.
So we see how Christ’s righteousness enables the believer to have a right relationship with God. No religion in the whole world offers that because religion deals with doing while relationship is concerned with being. Religion says, “I can do it.” Relationship says, “Christ can do it through me.”
A person with a genuine relationship with Christ will also perform good works, but those deeds will emanate from the relationship (James 2:18–26). We are facing a battle between what is good, and what is best. Religion constantly involves itself in doing good things. This is commendable, but it is not best. God’s way is the best way because it emphasizes a living relationship with Christ, and out of this relationship will come good works.
Philippians 3:9 says, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:”
The word found carries the idea of a testing of metals to ascertain if it is what it claims to be. All who are not “in Him,” but rather in a church, a denomination, any other particular religion will be found wanting. It is only that which is “in Him” that God will recognize.
People are saved by faith in Christ, not because they do or don’t do certain things. When these type of things are done, religion is the result and not relationship with Christ.
Paul learned about religion the hard way. Before his conversion to Christ, his entire life was absorbed in religion, yet he did not have a relationship with Jesus. But at a particular time, God allowed him to hear the testimony of a person, Stephen, who did have a living relationship with Jesus (Acts 7:54–60), and what he witnessed in Stephen made a tremendous impact on him.
Unfortunately, there are very few modern Christians today who really want a relationship with Christ. Most desire to make up their own religion—one that appeases the conscience toward their wrongdoing. Sadly, there are always plenty of churches that will accommodate about anything that these lukewarm believers crave. However, anytime the Word of God is abrogated, curtailed, hindered, weakened, or compromised, it always falls out to the hurt of the individual who is involved. The problem is, these local churches eventually impact entire countries because a nation is guided much by its religion.
The greatest atrocities in the world have taken place in the realm of religion. When men leave God and His ways, they become lifted up in their own self-righteousness, and they justify anything and everything they do, irrespective as to how cruel it might be. That’s how the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the religious leaders of Israel, could crucify the Lord in the name of the Lord.
Going back to Paul, prior to his conversion, he was adamant about his religion: “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:5-6).
The phrase, “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church,” portrays the fact that Paul at that particular time frame in his life (before his conversion) considered his persecution of the church a meritorious work. That’s how spiritually blind religion actually is. Zeal was supposed to be an important part of religion; it still is. Paul was saying that he had shown the highest degree of zeal possible. He had gone so far in his attachment for the religion of his fathers as to pursue, with purposes of death, those who he claimed had departed from it and embraced a different form of belief.
But on that road to Damascus, praise God, he falls to the ground when he hears the voice of the Lord ask, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” I believe people cling to dead religions and dead churches because they are afraid to face the person of Jesus Christ. They know that none of their religious rules, zeal, or self-righteousness can stand in His presence. But it’s in His presence that every single person is given the opportunity to know Him as Saviour, to walk with Him, and to have fellowship with Him. When Paul encountered the living Christ, he instantly chose relationship with Jesus over religion: “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”
So, what’s it going to be for you, religion or relationship?