Religion or Relationship

Religion or relationship…another both/and answer to an either/or question.

People talk about the need for a personal relationship with the Lord instead of religion.  I hear it all the time in evangelical circles…and even really good, God-loving people will completely dismiss the one in favor of the other.

Growing up Protestant, I was taught that religion is man’s effort to reach God, and all our efforts will never accomplish that.  Relationship, on the other hand, is God reaching down to man and drawing man to Himself.  Of course, when defined that way, it’s easy to see why one would dismiss “mere religion” in favor of a friendship with God, and so, I joined them, for many years in ditching anything that “looked” religious, and bragged about “my personal relationship” with God.

But is that the true definition of religion?  I had to look and see.

According to World English Dictionary, religion is defined as:

  1. belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny
  2. any formal or institutionalized expression of such belief: the Christian religion
  3. the attitude and feeling of one who believes in a transcendent controlling power or powers
  4. chiefly RC Church  the way of life determined by the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience entered upon by monks, friars, and nuns: to enter religion
  5. something of overwhelming importance to a person: football is his religion
  6. archaic — a. the practice of sacred ritual observances  b.  sacred rites and ceremonies

[C12: via Old French from Latin religiō  fear of the supernatural, piety, probably from religāre  to tie up, from re-  + ligāre  to bind]

I LOVE the word picture of the origination of the word “religion”.  I see “fear of the Lord”, tied up, bound together…I see relationship here.  Because of my fear of the Lord, I respond to Him, and we are bound together as one.  I see relationship AND religion working together, one is God’s initiation to me, the other is my response to God.

According to the Bible, there is a religion that is valuable, pure, and faultless…it comes as a response to God’s initiation…a response to His gift of grace:

James 1:26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

I’ve been challenged with this lately, in my thoughts, and in my daily walk with the Lord.  As a Catholic, I’m finding it is not an either/or dilemma at all, but that BOTH are valuable and essential.  God, in His love and mercy, sent His son to die for my sins, and to bridge the gap from heaven to earth.  The “work” of redeeming man is done.  The gift is there, but it is not a relationship until the gift is unwrapped and accepted.