We’ve probably all heard the emphatic claim that “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship.” You might even have read or heard me voicing the same thought! On the surface, it looks like we’re merely “splitting hairs” doesn’t it? But knowing there’s a distinct difference can truly be life-changing!
In a nutshell, any “Religion” is essentially based on an influential person’s beliefs about God, about man and an after-life, and what he believes man needs to do to reach them (or to deserve a higher spiritual plane of existence). Yes, that definition can indeed also apply to Christianity — but only until a person realizes there is one very major difference between Christianity and other religions.
Jesus taught the opposite of other Religious leaders. He clearly told all those who listened that on their own, it was impossible for any of them to enter God’s eternal Kingdom. So it was going to take the intervention of God to make it possible for individuals to establish a relationship with Him now, so we could achieve eternal life with Him later.
This means it’s that special “Relationship” of man and God working together that makes the impossible possible.
Saul of the Bible, who later became known as “Paul”, is a wonderful example of the difference between a “Religion” and this unique “Relationship” we can have with God.
Saul started out being probably the most zealous adherent to a Religion that a person would ever meet. He centered everything on what his Religion taught, and he excelled at it too — until he received a personal visit from Jesus, God’s Son, whose followers he had been zealously hunting down and martyring.
After that personal encounter, he withdrew from his Religious roots to reexamine a lot of what he had been taught at the feet of the learned men of his day, and through the scriptures. When Paul returned a few years later, he was a dramatically changed man. His life no longer revolved around his Religion but centered on the resurrected Christ Jesus and his personal relationship with Him. And he began teaching others what it meant to have that same type of relationship with Jesus and to follow Him.
With a Religion, we’re relying on ourselves and our own efforts to get us to heaven. With a Relationship, we’re relying on God to help get us there. So can you think of a better way to differentiate between the two methods, than the words “Religion” and “Relationship”? I can’t.