Over recent years there has been an attempt within the church to clarify the difference between religion and a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Most of us are familiar with religion as the identification of our faith. We understand religion as a standard of beliefs that we choose to accept and value as moral laws that govern our lives. Religion, however, is susceptible to the engineering of man, his interpretation, his traditions, and his agendas. It often falls victim to the lust of man’s heart for power and control, and quickly becomes the vehicle that drives dangerous dogma, thus vandalizing the image of the God it claims to worship. Religion has evolved into an institution that endorses a system by which we earn access to God by means of our own works and deeds, which makes our practices sacred by the observance of those who are authorized to bless it as acceptable to God. How, then, can we determine whether what we have is either religion or a relationship?
First and foremost, I believe that the attitude of our heart is the best barometer to determine our spirituality. When we turn to religion to be the foundation of our understanding of God and our creed of worship, it becomes very easy for us to detach it from all other parts of our lives. We accept it as being a part of our lives, but not our life. We endorse it on set days and occasions, but shelf it when it seems to interfere with conflicting ideas, opinions, desires, or priorities. Religion, as we accept it, becomes a tradition of formalities void of the Holy Spirit and the glory revealed in His presence.
A relationship is quite the opposite. A relationship is a connection made as love responds to love. The message of Christ consistently engages mankind with the love that his creator has for him, and is made known to him through His Son. A relationship is the outcome of one who is being pursued who turns to embrace the one who is pursuing. Many of us can recall at some point in our lives when we found ourselves attracted to another and falling in love. We were compelled by our heart to pursue the one who had stirred the emotion of love in us. But relationship wasn’t a reality until or unless the one we were pursuing decided to accept our choice of them, and respond with love to the love that found them. Here lies the beauty of the gospel message: Jesus said, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” He also went on to say, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends, if you do what I command you.” And what was the command He was speaking of? “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:9, 13, &12). In addition, the Apostle John wrote, “We love, because He first loved us” (1John 4:19).
As we connect with God in a relationship through Jesus Christ and by His Spirit, then we begin to embrace Him in every aspect of our lives because love compels us to do so. Think about those that you love here on earth: Are there not things that you restrict yourself from doing because love restricts you? You keep from saying things and doing things that may hurt the one you love. When we approach God in relationship, our lives begin to change because love reshapes our lives. It reshapes it in the way we think, what we accept, what we desire, and in what we do and say. A relationship doesn’t allow us to compartmentalize our faith for a select day or occasion, but requires us to prioritize our time, resources, and dedication to the relationship that love is bonded to. We become eager to experience more of the One we now love because that experience involves our experiencing a greater measure of His love for us. We desire to know Him in a greater way so that we learn what pleases Him. Our time in the word of God (the bible) and prayer no longer stands as religious formalities that measure our spirituality reserved for predetermined holy times, but becomes the anticipated date times we spend in communication with Him, much like that of a date night with a spouse or significant other in our lives.
So, as I conclude, let us understand that religion is a system of regulations that keeps God and us at a distance from one another so that we can only observe Him from a distance, but relationship is the invitation of God’s love to experience Him every day of our lives, and the glory we experience in that relationship changes our lives daily.