In this article, we will be comparing the differences between religion vs relationship with God. As believers if we are not careful we can easily be involved in religion and be oblivious to it.
Religion can easily dominate your prayer life. Religion can easily dominate your daily walk with Christ. Religion cripples your relationship with God and it greatly hinders us.
However, believers can go overboard when we use “the religion excuse” to live in rebellion and worldliness.
We must be careful that we don’t harden our heart to rebuke and correction. There are many things that will be discussed in this article. I encourage you as you read this article to examine your life.
- “[Alot of people] think that Christianity is you doing all the righteous things you hate and avoiding all the wicked things you love in order to go to Heaven. No, that’s a lost man with religion. A Christian is a person whose heart has been changed; they have new affections.” ~ Paul Washer
- “Religion is the possibility of the removal of every ground of confidence except confidence in God alone.” – Karl Barth
- “Most men, indeed, play at religion as they play at games, religion itself being of all games the one most universally played.” – A. W. Tozer
- “Religion is a guy in church thinking about fishing. Relationship is a guy out fishing thinking about God.”
Religion teaches you that you have to do.
Christianity says that you can’t do. You have to trust in the One who has done it for you. Whether Catholicism, Islam, etc. Every other religion in the world teaches a works based salvation. Christianity is the only religion in the world where you are justified by grace through faith in Christ alone. Religion keeps you in chains, but Christ has set us free.
Romans 11:6 “And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”
Romans 4:4-5 “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.”
Is Christianity a religion?
Many people like saying things like Christianity is not a religion it’s a relationship. This is true, but it’s not the entire truth. Christianity is a religion, but as believers we treat it as a relationship. The problem that I see in many Christian circles is that many people use the grace of God to indulge in sin. They say things like “relationship over religion” or “Jesus over religion,” but they forget things such as repentance and sanctification.
I hate the aspect of religion that says you have to do something to be right with God. I hate when someone tries to put legalistic rules upon believers. However, evidence of your faith in Christ is that your life will change. Evidence of your faith in Christ is that you will have new desires for Christ and His Word. I heard someone say, “Jesus hates religion.” This is not true.
Jesus hates hypocrisy, false religion, and He hates when people try to appear religious to show off. However, in John 14:23 Jesus says, “if anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.” As believers, we obey not to maintain salvation. We obey out of love and gratitude. When you have true religion, you don’t try to seem religious. You don’t try to act like something you’re not. You act as you are which is a new creation. Matthew Henry Commentary for James 1:26 says, “True religion teaches us to do everything as in the presence of God.”
James 1:26 “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”
James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
God wants us to pursue Him. Religion kills intimacy.
It’s a relationship that God desires! He doesn’t want you trying to be religious. He wants you to seek Him. Words mean nothing if the heart is not right. Are you involved in religion or are you involved in a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ? When you pray is your heart looking for Christ? What’s a relationship without intimacy? Is your prayer life boring? If it is, then that is strong evidence that you are involved in religion.
Leonard Ravenhill said, “There is no place on God’s earth more exciting than the church of the Living God when God is brooding there. And there is no place on God’s earth more boring when He isn’t.” When God is there our heart is filled with joy and excitement. The heart knows its maker. Religion or relationship! Which one describes your prayer life? Your prayer life dies when you become satisfied with religion. Stop going through the motions. You sit there in prayer and you say repetitive words and you know the heart is not right. You cheat yourself out the presence of God.
You say, “I spent an hour in prayer today. I did my duty.” No! Prayer is not a chore. It’s a joy. It’s a privilege to be in the presence of the Almighty God! We take prayer for granted when it’s something that we do out of obligation and not love. I am convinced that over 75% of believers do not actually pray. We have become content with throwing words around.
One great hymn writer said, “I often say my prayers. But do I ever pray? And do the wishes of my heart go with the words I say? I may as well kneel down and worship gods of stone, as offer to the living God a prayer of words alone. For words without the heart the Lord will never hear, nor will He to those lips attend whose prayers are not sincere. Lord teach me what I need, and teach me how to pray; Nor let me ask thy grace, not feeling what I say.”
One way to examine the current condition of your heart is to pray for more of Him and wait on Him in prayer. Are you willing to wait for more of His presence? Do you cry out all night to know Him? Your mouth can say, “Lord I want to know you but if you leave after 5 minutes, does that show a heart that truly wants to know Him?
You say the right words, but is your heart right? One thing I always say in prayer is “Lord I don’t want religion I want a relationship.” Sometimes my heart is so burdened and I say, “Lord I won’t make it through the night if I don’t have You.”
Deuteronomy 4:29 “But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Matthew 15:8 “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
Psalm 130:6 “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.”
Religion robs us of the love of God?
God wants you to understand His love. We often think that God wants us to do something for Him. No! He wants your relationship with Him to be characterized by love and not duty. Do you have a genuine love for the Lord? Are you missing out on God’s love? When we miss out on God’s love and substitute religion for a relationship, then we can end up being mean-spirited, grumpy, judgmental, prideful, and loveless.
I know of many Pharisees who say they know the love of God but they live as if they are in chains. Their life is filled with a false sense of condemnation and hate. Why live like that? Maybe you are a pastor and you fear the Lord, you obey Him, you do things for Him, you pray to Him, but do you genuinely love Him? We treat God like a loveless earthly father.
When your father is loveless or he never tells you about his love for you, then you feel as if you have to do more to gain his love. Does this sound like your relationship with God? Have your grown bitter over the years? The only reason we can love is because God loved us so much. Have you ever sat down and thought about that? The love that you use to love others and the love that you use to love Him is from His great love for you. We will never understand His great love for us.
I feel as if God just wants to tell us “shut up for just a moment and get to know My love for you. I love you.” It’s so hard to truly understand the love of God when we are searching for it in the wrong places. He loves you, not based on what you can do for Him, but because of who He is and what He has done for you in the finished work of Christ. Sometimes we have to just stop for a second, be still, and sit in His presence.
When you go to prayer from now on, ask the Holy Spirit to help you to understand His love. Pray for more of His presence. When we are in fellowship with God and our hearts are aligned with Him we will feel His love. Many preachers don’t know the love of God and have lost His presence because many have stopped spending time with Him. Examine yourself, renew your mind, and truly seek Christ daily.
Hosea 6:6 “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Mark 12:33 “and to love Him with all your heart and with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, which is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Romans 8:35-39 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”