“The difference between Christianity and every other faith in the world is that all other religions are about man trying to reach up to God. Christianity is about God reaching down to man.” -author unknown
For many generations, people have been debating the difference between religion and relationships when it comes to how each person views God. What most people tend to forget, though, is that these two things actually go hand in hand in a lot of situations. But before we examine how they are similar, we must look at religion and relationship as tow separate ideas.
Religion (Self Effort, Works)
Goal: reach out to God, try to work your way into heaven
Means: diligent service & works, with hopes of a reward (heaven)
Power: good, honest effort through self-determination
Control: self-motivation and self-control
Results: apathy, failure, chronic guilt, eternal separation from God
A religion is defined as the organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence. In other words, it is a group of imperfect people who come together to follow a set of rules ordained by God that are impossible to follow perfectly. It provides a moral basis of what is right and wrong, but who follows the rules of religion perfectly enough to hold the final judgement of that moral standing? Who is righteous enough to set these moral rules upon the rest of humanity?
In the Old Testament, God gave the Jews a set of moral standards to live by called the Ten Commandments. These Commandments had to be obeyed or else people would face the punishment of death either physically or spiritually. The Ten Commandments go as follows; 1. You shall have no other gods before me, 2. You shall not make idols, 3. You shall not use the Lord’s name in vain, 4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, 5. Honor you father and mother, 6. You shall not murder, 7. You shall not commit adultery, 8. You shall not steal 9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor, 10. You shall not covet.
All of these commandments may seem easy enough to follow when carved in stone, but when God’s people actually tried to put them into practice, they were horrible at it. Nobody was capable of keeping all ten of these commandments. Why is that? Because although God gave us the dots, we were incapable of connecting them in the right way. Over the next several generations, the Israelites began to twist and add things to this list of commandments that God did not put there, morphing His word into something that He had not intended it to be. They would warp God’s commandments into rules that worked for their lifestyle. But who has the power to do that? Does a person who obeys nine out of the ten commandments make it to Heaven above the person who obeyed only five? NO. The Scriptures plainly state that if one commandment is broken, the punishment will be death, and because of our sinful nature, we are not capable of setting moral standards of living since The Lord is the One who first created morality. It is simply impossible for us to reach God based on works alone, which is exactly what religion alone teaches us.
Goal: trust fully in Jesus, then live to please Him
Means: confess sins, repent, yield self to Jesus
Power: the Holy Spirit does God’s work in and through us
Control: allow the Holy Spirit to control & direct our lives
Results: love, joy, peace, freedom, victory, power, eternal life in heaven,…
A relationship is referred to as the way in which two or more people are connected or interact. In other words, it is a personal investment of time, interest, and feelings shared with another person. More often than not, relationships take time to mature and prosper as people proceed to get to know each other. There are no real rules that are set for creating relationships, there just needs to be a mutual consent to develop a trusting relationship.
Since Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden, God has been desperately fighting for a relationship with each of His children, but He will never force a relationship upon us unless we are willing to surrender our hearts to Him. He also knew that even though He gave us a set of rules to live by that we would choose to stray away from His commandments due to free will and our sinful desires. From the very beginning, He already had a plan in motion for us to choose a relationship with Him over trying to work for our salvation and acceptance into Heaven.
Of all the people that have walked this earth, only one has been capable of keeping all of God’s commandments throughout the duration of His life. Only one person has lived a life so pure and perfect that He could serve as the bridge between a perfect God and imperfect people. His name is Jesus Christ. Prophets had been speaking of His birth for more than four thousand years before He was born, and when He was born, He came quietly. Throughout His childhood, He kept his identity as the Son of God a secret until He knew it was the right time. Jesus was put on this earth to bring light and fruit to the law that God created for us to follow. Since He was the only One that could perfectly fulfill this law, He sacrificed Himself for us by dying on a cross and raising from the dead just three days later. This was done so that we, too, could have a relationship with God in which He sees us as blameless and pure, just like Jesus.
But, God does not force us to believe that Jesus is the key to life. Instead, He allows to make that choice for ourselves. By giving us the free will to decide, we are allowed to have a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him, instead of having to work for His approval. God is already deeply satisfied with us; He has already forgiven us for not being perfect. It is up to us to decide, though, whether or not we want to accept His gift of forgiveness or to be heavy laden with the guilt and oppression that comes with the pressure to perform on a level at which we cannot achieve.
Although religion and relationships are two completely separate ideas, they do intertwine with each other and support each ideology. Religion without relationship is a competition that has no certain standard of evaluating which competitor is better than the others. A relationship is pointless without the evidence of work through some form of religious practice.
So the Ten Commandments give us a basis on how to live a good life and how to be good people, but what is the point of trying to do good works if we already know that we are going to fail? All of the work that we will be doing to try and achieve a certain level of perfection will be done for our own self gain when our good works are really supposed to be done to benefit others. In the case of religion alone, we would only be motivated to do good works so that we have something to brag about and help us prove our goodness on judgement day. Good works become selfish without having a relationship with Jesus. When we know Him, we know that we are not perfect and that no amount of work we do could get us into Heaven. So, knowing that, we have no pressure to work for our own personal glorification, but rather to work towards spreading the love of Christ to the rest of the world.
But since we have a relationship with Christ that covers up all of our sins, does that mean that it is okay for us to continue sinning? Of coarse not! Our faith should be reflected by the way that we live our lives. This does not mean that God expects us to immediately drop our sinful habits and live a blameless life, but it does mean that we are to work out our faith through fear and trembling through a process called sanctification. In other words, as our relationship with God grows deeper and stronger, we should surrender more of our hearts to be transformed by Him in order to do the work of His ministry.
The two concepts go hand in hand. We will never reach perfection on our own, but through a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ, we are able to surrender to Him so that we can live, work, and love others in His name.