Jun 15 / Bill Ricksecker

Christianity: Religion and Relationship

"It's Not a Religion, It's a Relationship"

The phrase "It's not a religion, it's a relationship" has become a popular way for modern Christians to express the essence of their faith. This saying emphasizes the personal, intimate connection with God over mere adherence to rituals and traditions. However, it's crucial to understand that Christianity encompasses both a personal relationship with God and a structured religious framework. Let's explore the meaning of this phrase and how Christianity embodies both aspects.

The Essence of the Phrase

  1. Personal Connection: At its core, this phrase highlights the belief that Christianity is about knowing Jesus Christ personally and experiencing God's love deeply. It's not just about following a set of rules but about a heartfelt relationship with God.
  2. Beyond Rituals: It critiques the idea of performing religious rituals without genuine faith or understanding. This perspective seeks to move beyond empty practices to a faith that is alive and personal.
  3. Transformative Faith: This relationship with God is meant to be transformative, influencing every aspect of a believer’s life. It's about living out one’s faith daily, not just on Sundays.

The Modern Context

In contemporary society, many people are disillusioned with organized religion, viewing it as rigid or hypocritical. The phrase "It's not a religion, it's a relationship" resonates particularly with younger generations who value authenticity and personal experience over institutional formality.

Christianity as a Relationship

Biblical Basis: 
  • John 15:15: "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." This verse underscores the personal nature of our relationship with Christ.
  • Galatians 4:6-7: "Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir." This passage highlights the intimate and familial relationship believers have with God.

Theological Insights:
  • Puritans: The Puritans, though often seen as strict and rule-bound, emphasized the necessity of personal piety and a heartfelt relationship with God. Richard Sibbes, a notable Puritan theologian, wrote extensively about the love of God and the importance of a personal relationship with Him in "The Bruised Reed."
  • John Calvin: Calvin’s theology centered on the idea of union with Christ, which he described as the “mystical union” where believers are intimately connected with Jesus, experiencing His presence and love.

Christianity as a Religion

Biblical Basis: 
  • James 1:27: "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." This verse shows that Christianity involves specific practices and a moral code.
  • Acts 2:42: "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Early Christians engaged in communal worship and practices, illustrating the structured aspect of the faith.

Theological Insights:
  • Puritans: The Puritans valued both personal piety and communal worship. They saw church attendance, sacraments, and adherence to doctrine as essential to the Christian life. John Owen, another prominent Puritan, emphasized the importance of church structure and discipline in "The True Nature of a Gospel Church."
  • Augustine: Augustine of Hippo stressed the importance of the Church as the body of Christ, a community of believers united in faith and practice. In "The City of God," he articulated how the Church plays a critical role in guiding and nurturing believers.

Harmonizing Religion and Relationship

To fully appreciate Christianity, it’s vital to see it as both a religion and a relationship. Here’s how believers can integrate these aspects:
  1. Balanced Faith: A balanced Christian life involves both personal devotion and participation in communal religious practices. Regular church attendance, prayer, and sacraments can deepen one's relationship with God and the community.
  2. Deepened Understanding: Studying the Bible and Christian teachings enriches the personal relationship with God. Knowledge and understanding of doctrines and history enhance faith.
  3. Active Engagement: Living out one's faith through service, compassion, and ethical behavior demonstrates that the relationship with God has tangible effects on daily life. This integration shows how personal faith influences and is supported by religious practices.

The phrase "It's not a religion, it's a relationship" captures the vital truth of the personal nature of Christian faith. However, recognizing that Christianity is both a religion and a relationship provides a more complete picture. This duality allows believers to experience a rich, fulfilling spiritual journey that includes both personal intimacy with God and the support and structure of religious practice. By embracing both aspects, Christians can cultivate a faith that is both deeply personal and communally enriched, reflecting the fullness of the Christian experience.
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