I have heard many who confess to follow Christ say that they are not in a religion but a relationship. In fact, I have said this in the past myself. However, as I have grown wiser and more knowledgeable through my relationship with GOD, I have come to a better understanding of the relationship between the two. Many of the negative ideas I originally held regarding the Christian religion came from its misappropriation by those being intentionally deceitful and those ignorantly following the blind which were leading them. Our heavenly Father never intended for Christian religion to operate separate from a relationship with Him. The influence of Satan, the great deceiver, is very evident in the many counterfeits being circulated today. Another example is the US has been accepted by many as a democracy however it falls short of the tenants of a pure democracy because many of the people born in the US have not been allowed to vote, and the electoral college dilutes the power of the vote represented by actual people. Tax paying people with black and brown skin, born in the US, are referred to as citizens however they have been historically denied the basic citizen right of equal protection under the law. So, this demographic has not actually been recognized as full citizens. Again, it is much like the many people condemning socialism and communism though we have never had a country on earth to operate in the pure ideals of them as expounded on by Marx and Engels. The names were misappropriated by countries like Russia and China though these countries have never employed all the key components.
These are just a few other current day examples of how people have been deceived and excepted counterfeits. Until you foster a love for truth which drives you to seek GOD’s face and study His word, Satan will continue to exploit your natural love for comfort and pleasure. The truth is disruptive to the false. Truth tears down the false to make way for a true and eternal foundation and structure to be built.
Religion is defined by Merriam Webster as a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith. We can take from this definition, in relation to Christianity, that Christian religion would be a system of attitudes, beliefs, and practices held with ardor and faith. So, by definition, there is no separation between the practices required in a religion and the relationship by faith which empowers them. The problem again is that we have seen Christianity misrepresented, resulting in misunderstandings, confusion, and denunciation. As I mentioned earlier, the Father never intended for any actions to take place outside of a relationship with Him. When you read Christ reproving the pharisees and Sadducees, you see Him addressing religion without relationship.
“But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Luke 11:42 KJV)
Christ is saying true religion is doing both. Look at this parable taught by Christ.
“10 So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. 11 And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: 12 And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. 13 Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:10-14 KJV)
Again, both are required by Christ the King. This guest was clearly called a friend, however He failed to comply with the prescribed system or practice of preparation. We are also taught by the apostles James and Paul that it takes both to be complete. James says faith without works is dead, and a man isn’t justified by works alone or faith alone (see James chapter 2). Paul says without love, the essence of the relationship, he is nothing and none of his religious acts mean anything (See 1 Corinthians chapter 13).
At issue in the separation of faith and works is the practice of sacrifice on both sides. On the side of works oriented devotion, there is the sacrifice of effort and busyness being offered for justification and validation. On the side of faith only oriented devotion, there is the sacrificial love of GOD being used as justification without the reciprocal sacrificial love unto the laying down of personal will in obedience.
GOD is clear, He desires obedience over sacrifice. Christ did not give himself to become a common sacrifice for sins, like the old testament practice of yearly sacrificing bulls, rams, and doves. He gave Himself once to fulfill the requirements of the old testament law forever, which was ruled under the law of sin and death. He has now ushered in a new covenant which is ruled by the law of life and spirit. The resurrection life we inherit from Christ is the life of a dear and obedient son of GOD.
You man of faith, are you going before GOD reminding Him of the sins He has already remitted because you are not exercising true overcoming faith; the faith which David used to defeat Goliath, the faith Joshua used to take the promised land. Doesn’t your faith tell you that the very life of Christ is in you to do His works; to live righteously, to fill the hungry, to free the oppressed, to counsel the fatherless, to give shelter to the homeless, to please the Father. When did you go beyond yourself to demonstrate that you trusted Him? Just something to consider.
You who are busy in works, have you ever just sat with someone broken and not tried to fix them? Just sat with them and listened and only gave a solution if they asked for one, or do you feel pressed to say something or do something? Have you ever just sat and cried tears of joy because you knew in that moment, GOD’s love was perfect for you and you felt His arms around you? Have you ever sacrificed for someone and told nobody, but just praised GOD for allowing yourself to be used?
These are the manifestations of confidence in GOD’s love for you and belief in His promises. These examples are glimpses at the works of faith, the fruit of true religion.