Not Just A Religion, But A Relationship

Not Just A Religion, But A Relationship

Preacher Huijun - 19 December 2020

Weekend Devotion: Not Just A Religion, But A Relationship

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Most people consider all religions to be the same. Yet, Christianity is not merely a religion, but also a relationship between God and man. According to dictionary definition, religion means “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.”[1] In that sense, Christianity is also a religion, as it does have laws, commands, sacraments, doctrines, etc. Yet, Christianity is also more than just a religion.

 

What is Christianity as a religion?

To link it with the dictionary definition above, Christianity as a religion would include believing in Jesus Christ as the only Savior of mankind, believing in the revealed word of God in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, being committed to live by the standards, principles and directives of God’s word, going through Christian sacraments such as the Holy Communion, and practising the spiritual disciplines of Christianity as such Bible-reading, praying, serving, etc.

 

Yet Christianity is not just a religion, but also a relationship.

1) Because God not just calls believers into a set of rules, but into a relationship with Him.

<Jn 1:12> Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. Before becoming a child of God, all humans are estranged from God due to sin. But because God loves us, He came to save us in order that we can be reconciled to Him. Together with His salvation, God calls us into a covenantal relationship with Him, where He will be our God and we will be His people <2 Co 6:16>. Thus, Christianity is not merely a religion, but it is about being born again and adopted as a child of God, as <Ro 8> says: 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. The moment we believe, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us <1 Co 3:16; 1 Co 6:19; 2 Ti 1:14; Ro 8:11>. Christ is also in us, as Paul mentioned in <Gal 2:20>, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

So you see, being Christians means entering into an intimate relationship with God, characterised by love and the presence of God.

 

2) Even the commands of God speak of a relationship.

Jesus summarised the sum of God’s Law as: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” <Mt 22:37-40>

Now, “love” speaks of relationship. Even when God commands us to obey Him, He wants us to obey out of love for Him. Jesus said, “if anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.” <John 14:23> In Christianity, God not just wants us to obey laws, but God wants us to know Him, draw near to Him, love Him, and enjoy a real intimate relationship with Him.

 

3) With relationship comes the empowerment of love.

When we love someone, we will want to help them succeed. Likewise, when God loves us, He will also empower us to live right before Him. Religious rules and laws alone do not save, in fact, they only expose sin, leading to judgment. <Ro 3:20> says: Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. Many religions lay the ultimate burden on humans to “make or break”, but the problem is, humans do not have the ability to achieve holiness and be saved on our own. However, in Christianity, God will also help us obey His commands. “We (are able to) love because he first loved us” <1 Jn 4:19>. The Holy Spirit is also given to God’s children so that we can have power <Ac 1:8>. When we “walk by the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh” <Gal 5:16>.

 

4) Relationship brings assurance.

When there is a lack of relationship, believers tend to be easily insecure about whether they can really be saved eventually, whether their “gods” love them and will not abandon them. Instead, they often worry if they will be disqualified from blessings if they cannot attain a certain standard set by their “gods”. However, in Christianity, when we share a covenantal relationship with God, we know for sure that nothing can separate us from the love of God <Ro 8:38-39>.

 

Be careful of over-emphasizing either religion or relationship.

1) Risk of legalism if only emphasize the religion part.

Religion without relationship is just nothing more than a set of rules, which the believers have no choice but to follow or suffer whatever consequences the religion teaches will come to those who disobey. There is no joy, only dull duty, if there is only religion without relationship.

 

2) Risk of indulgence if over-emphasize the relationship part.

To say that we have a relationship with God does not mean that we should not care about obeying His commandments and fulfilling our religious obligations. We need to beware of using the “Christianity is not a religion” excuse to live a worldly and self-gratifying life. We cannot use the grace of God to indulge in sin. And we certainly cannot use our relationship with God to manipulate Him into changing His will or holy standards to suit our selfish desires. Furthermore, when we talk about relationship, it is not just about having warm fuzzy feelings about God, to the extent that we emphasize on feelings but neglect God’s truth. There is sometimes this wrong perception that to fight legalism, we have to stay away from things that presumably cause legalism, such as God’s commands or any sense of rebuke when we do not obey God. This should not be the case. To prevent getting into legalism does not mean that we should go to the other extreme of only focusing on the love of God, but throw away His laws and His purpose for us to be His witnesses and be Christ-like.  

In the Christian faith, there need to be both the right knowledge about God and spiritual intimacy with Him. We should know God’s commandments, obey Him, but also nurture a lively and sweet relationship with Him.

 

During this pandemic, we not only have the Christian duty to pray for the world, share the good news with them, and sustain our church and Christian living even with COVID restrictions, but we also need to find joyful assurance from our relationship with God, that in such times of crisis, we are not alone and He will surely take care of us, because He is our God and we are His people.

[1] From www.dictionary.com.

Preacher Huijun
Preacher Huijun
huijun@lifechurchmissions.com

Huijun joined The Life Church and Missions (Singapore) as a preacher in 2012. She is effectively bilingual and preaches occasionally at the Chinese service. She graduated from Singapore Bible College and currently lives in Singapore with her husband, Chengji.

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