Christianity–A Religion or a Relationship?

Posted: August 4, 2010 in Uncategorized

“Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship.”  So the saying goes.  Since becoming a Christian I have heard this over and over again.  From pulpits, books, and conversations this common line continuously comes forth.  I have, however, never really liked it.  I must admit that it has always been awkward for me to completely agree with.

Now, before anyone throws stones, let me be clear.  I believe that Christianity is first and foremost about a relationship with Jesus Christ.  I believe that is exactly what those who use this phrase generally mean.  My salvation is tied directly and exclusively to my relationship with Christ.  Either I have repented of sin and trusted in Him or I have not.  If I have then I am a child of the living God.  If I have not, then I still stand as God’s enemy (Romans 5:10) and His wrath is aimed right at me.  So, the greatest question a person can ask is what relation to God are they standing in?  Are they children or strangers?  Are they friends or enemies?  To be both a child and a friend of God I must have placed my faith in Christ and be united to Him (relationship).  None of my religiosity, that is my religious activity, can make me a child or friend of God.  My church attendance, prayer life, bible reading, tithing, and missionary zeal are useless in reconciling me to God (again, read relationship).  So, in  that sense I say yes and amen to the phrase “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship.” 

Now, here is my divergence from this commonly used statement.  It is my fear that we have used this phrase so widely and pervasively that we have fed the idea that there are no religious, or ceremonial, activities that we should be involved in.  Or, at the very least, certain religious acts may be nice but they are not necessary.  Let me give an example.  By casting off any thought that Christianity involves any religious acts we have undermined the very need to be committed to a local church.  If Christianity is simply about my relationship with Christ and has nothing to do with religious acts, then why attend a church?  Why gather with a local body and take the Lord’s Supper, or be baptized, or sit under the preaching of the Word, or be held accountable to a standard?  Why should I spend time in private prayer, meditation on Scripture, and so forth? 

Now the answer to all those things above is because they are ways in which I live out my relationship with Christ in a healthy way.  My prayer life, my bible study, my participation in the ordinances of the church (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and so on, are the things that I DO as one who has placed his faith in Jesus.  That, my friend, is my religion.  Webster defines religion a number of ways.  Religion is defined as a “committment…devotion to a religious faith or observance; a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; scrupulous conformity; a system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”  And those ae the things that characterize my relationship with Jesus Christ.  I am committed to Him and His commands, devoted to pursuing His glory, have a personal set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices that mark my relationship, seek to conform to His image, and hold to these things with ardor and faith.

None of those practices or commitments save me.  My relationship with Christ through faith in His person and work alone are my hope.  But that relationship takes on a certain form of religion.  When James wrote his letter in the New Testament he knew this.  He talked about a faith that was marked by works.  He talked about “pure and undefiled religion before God” (James 1:27).  Those works, that religion, was not the basis of salvation.  The basis was faith.  But genuine faith results in a form of religion, that is, it results in certain things that we do.  Examples are caring for orphans, widows, the unborn, committing to a local church, being baptized, and regularly participating in the Lord’s Supper. 

Christianity is a religion but only in the sense that our religion is a reflection of the relationship we have with Christ through faith.  Let us not forget to point this out to a generation that seems to shun anything that seems religious, as if there were no commands and practices that Christ wants us to follow.  As believers in Jesus Christ there is a pure and undefiled religion we seek to live out.

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