Relationship vs. Religion
By: Jodi Lynn Hill
May 26, 2020
Relationship vs. Religion…are they really at odds? Often people say, “I hate religion! It’s all about relationship for me!" They really think that these two concepts are opposites. The question is really about law and grace or works and faith. Let's take a look at these and see if they can get married or if they truly are enemies.
While on the surface this is a good concept…in reality, it can negate a real truth and inadvertently create a lazy church. By religion, mostly they mean, “I don't have to follow the law. And I don't have to do anything to EARN salvation.” Which is true. Your salvation is not based on your works. You can't do enough good works to get into heaven by your works alone. However, the Scripture says, "Faith without works is dead." It also says that works alone is of no effect. But let’s take a look at James 1:19-27 and James 2:14-26. Go ahead and take your Bible and read these passages. Don't forget to highlight them, as well.
If the Bible meant for us to only have relationship, why is there so much Scripture that speaks of how we should live, temptation, and works of righteousness. Changing our thoughts, taking them captive, how we should speak, and when to keep our mouths shut? There is more Scripture based on those things than on the relationship aspect. Why? Maybe, because the relationship part is really the easy part. The hard part is learning to live the way your heart desires.
We live in such a sound bite world that we make statements that sound good on the outset, but don't offer any other information on what we mean by that. Truly, salvation is based on our acceptance of Jesus sacrifice on the Cross, but there is so much more involved in life after that. I know…everyone brings up the thief on the cross at the crucifixion. And the many other deathbed conversions/salvations. And while I don't negate their validity and sincerity, I ask you this…are you dead yet? No? Then you don't have that excuse. If you've asked Jesus to forgive your sins and for him to become Lord of your life, then you should desire to be more like him and strive to change the things within you so you can truly represent him the best you can. I want to be more like Jesus is more than just a song we sing. It should be the cry of our hearts. The Bible tells us how to be like Jesus…How to follow God's will and his ways. We wear the WWJD bracelets and ask each other, "What would Jesus do?" But we barely know who he is. That is the relationship part, but it also involves the "religion" or works part. Knowing who he is and what he does are equally important.
Hopefully, you read the passages of Scripture I gave you in the first paragraph. In verse 22 it says to not be merely a hearer of the Word but be a doer of the Word. Then, verses 26-27 tells us that many claim to be religious, but they can't even hold their tongue. Your religion (or works) is worthless. BUT…here is religion that God accepts: it is pure and genuine…caring for orphans and widows in their time of distress and refusing to allow the world to corrupt you.
Pure and genuine religion…caring for orphans and widows in their time of distress. What does that look like in today’s world? Psalms 68:5-6, "He is a father to the fatherless and a defender of widows…he places the lonely in families and sets the captive free and gives them joy." Today, it would be the homeless, the addict, the mentally ill, the prisoner, and those who have no family.
Romans 12:1-2 talks about this also. "Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…" The last part of verse 2 says, "that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
James 2:14-26…focus on verses 19-20, "You say you have faith (relationship), for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe and tremble in terror. How foolish! Can't you see that faith (relationship) without works (religion) is useless (dead)?"
Obedience to the law, the Scripture, the Word of God, God's instruction, God's direction and commands…is just as important as faith and relationship. James 2:26 sums it up, "Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works."
See, you need both. They cannot be separated. Faith without works is dead, Grace without the law is of no effect, and relationship without religion has no proof of being real. The person who does good works without faith is just a nice person, the law without grace is just rules, and religion without relationship is hopeless.
This is my prayer. Maybe you can make it yours, too.
"I so desire to be more like Jesus. As I talk about these things with others and ask them these questions, I find myself pondering them, as well. Am I really who or what I think I am? Am I any further along in my journey? Am I all that I can be, and if not, Lord, how do I get there? My heart cries out to be like Jesus…my flesh cries out to be left alone. My heart desires growth and change, but my flesh cringes, recoils, contorts and writhes in pain at even the thought. How do I bring my flesh under authority? Lord strengthen me and help me as you stretch me and train me. Remove the mask and the stains of this world to uncover my true self…the self you created and designed me to be. Show me who I am underneath through the filter of your love and grace. Thank you, Father for your patience and for staying beside me as I grow and walk the journey ahead of me. Amen."