It’s Not a Religion, It’s a Relationship?

What Would You Say?

You’re in a conversation and someone says, “Religion is full of hypocrites. Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.” What would you say? Some people claim that practicing religion and having a relationship with Jesus are opposites. They think of religion as legalistic, hypocritical, and judgmental. Jesus on the other hand was loving and forgiving and personal. He welcomed everyone, and even said, “judge not.” We can be friends with a guy like that. There’s no need for sanctuaries, sacraments, or sermons full of rules. Right? Well, no. Biblical religion is actually essential to having a relationship with Jesus. The next time someone says, “it’s not a religion; it’s a relationship,” here are three things to remember: Number 1: We need to define “religion” the way the Bible defines it Whenever someone uses the word “religion” negatively, they usually mean they are against legalism and hypocritical behavior. But there are perfectly good words for legalism and hypocrisy. We just used them. And so did Jesus, when He condemned the Scribes and Pharisees in the strongest possible terms for their legalism and hypocrisy. While Scripture always condemns legalism and hypocrisy, it doesn’t always condemn religion. Though Jesus never actually used the word “religion,” the word shows up five times in our English New Testaments. Most of those times it’s used neutrally, but one is fully positive. In James 1:27 says that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Jesus, according to this passage, loves and commands this kind of religion. Number 2: Jesus Himself was deeply religious Jesus was an observant Jew. He went to synagogue, kept holy days, endorsed the Old Testament Law, founded a Church, established discipline for that Church, instituted a ritual meal, set up leaders, commanded baptism and preaching, and insisted people believe certain things about Him. As Pastor Kevin DeYoung said, “If religion is characterized by doctrine, commands, rituals, and structure, then Jesus is not your go-to guy for hating religion.” What Jesus hated was fake and hypocritical religion. He loved the real thing. Number 3: The Christian religion is actually how we have a relationship with Jesus Plenty of fake, hypocritical, and unloving people call themselves Christians. In a sense, all Christians are these things. We all fail to live up to our faith and our Savior. However, much of the New Testament is dedicated to calling these sins out, and then calling us to repent. Still, that doesn’t get anyone off the hook. When Jesus defined what it means to have a relationship with Him, He said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” One of those commandments is found in Hebrews 10:25, which says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” In other words, the relationship we want with Jesus is found by being part of God’s people, the Church, a relationship clearly defined in Ephesians 5. Here, Paul likens the love between Christ and His Church to the love between a Bridegroom and His Bride. Simply put, the Christian religion, rightly understood and practiced, centers on the most beautiful and intimate relationship in history. To say you love Jesus but don’t believe in religion is like a bride saying, “I love my husband, but I don’t believe in marriage.” So, the next time someone says, “I’m a Christian, but I don’t believe in religion. It’s a relationship,” remember these three things: Number 1: We need to define “religion” the way the Bible defines it Number 2: Jesus Himself was deeply religious Number 3: The Christian religion is how we have a relationship with Jesus For What Would You Say, I’m Shane Morris.