You may have heard it said that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. I am not sure who first put that phrase together, but I have heard it most of my adult life.
This statement sure is catchy … but is it true? I mean, it seems like Christianity is a religion … after all it has doctrines, and places of worship, and organized leadership structures, and philosophies of living, and thoughts about God and creation and morality. Religions all have these things.
So in what possible way is Christianity (at least MORE of) a RELATIONSHIP than a RELIGION?
Well, it is found not in ecclesiastical structures and style … but in who Christians insist that God is. As a Christian I 10000% believe that God is knowable, relatable, accessible, and THAT HE LOVES US. I really believe that is true. So do hundreds of millions of Christians who are on the planet today.
When we say that Christianity is a relationship, we are saying that we can ACTUALLY KNOW GOD, because God has graciously made Himself available to us. Tim Keller once said that in order for the Gospel to be good news, then the God behind the Gospel must be both both all knowing and all loving. If God were all knowing and not all loving, then God would see our sin and not intervene in any way for His people. If God were all loving, but not all knowing, then we would live in fear that one day He would find out what we have done and He would reject us. But the fact that God is all knowing AND all loving, means that we (who have trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins) can be both known AND loved.
So when we say that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion, we are actually saying something even better than that. We are saying that the relationship that we ALL LONG FOR (to be both fully known and fully loved) is accessible for us ETERNALLY through our God who has graciously made this possible in Christ.
Now, the situation gets even better … we know that God is like this and that He wants a relationship with us BECAUSE Jesus came to this earth! Jesus is God in the flesh, and so when He walked the earth, eyewitnesses saw Him, interacted with Him, and recorded in the New Testament what they learned. This allows us to look at Jesus today and say with confidence “THIS IS WHAT GOD IS LIKE.” When a woman at a Samaritan well interacts with Jesus in John 4, Jesus reveals to her His omniscience by commenting on her troubled history, even though He was from out of town. Then, Jesus reveals to her His love by offering her “living water” that would quench her thirst forever and ever. The One who fully knew her, fully loved her. The same relationship with God is also available for us!
Like any relationship, our relationship with God in Christ grows as we spend time with Him and communicate with Him. As Christians, we believe that the Holy Bible is God’s Word. So when we read it, we are listening to the Lord. As Christians, we also believe that God welcomes our prayers (after all it was Jesus Himself who taught us to pray … Lord’s prayer anyone?). So when we pray, we are talking to God and He listens! As Christians we believe that Jesus is still at work in this world through His Spirit empowered church, so when we gather with other Christians and serve others in His name and obey His teachings, we are walking a path WITH HIM.
Christianity is a RELATIONSHIP with the LIVING GOD.
As a Pastor, my greatest joy and chief job is to introduce people to Jesus Christ and encourage them toward growth in their relationship with Him. This job is not just unique to me … it is also the job of every true pastor going all the way back to the first century. The Apostle Paul had this same Pastoral heart for his churches, including the church in Corinth. Apparently, though, there were some who (under the banner of the religion “Christianity”) came in and tried to promote a different version of Jesus, and lead the people astray. Paul wasn’t having any of it. He speaks out strongly against these opponents in 2 Corinthians 11:1-33. Paul had introduced the Corinthians to the real Jesus … like a matchmaker of sorts … and he was not going to sit idly by while they flirted with another philosophy or mythology or religion.
Jesus, the real Jesus, is jealous for the hearts of His people. He does not want to share us with worldly philosophies and made up religions. Why? To steal our fun? Absolutely not! He is jealous for us because the One who fully knows us and fully loves us knows the life that is best for us. The life we were created for. We are most satisfied in Him.
This Sunday at Wildwood Community Church, we will explore this beautiful chapter in Scripture together in part 2 of our “Mission:Own” sermon series. We will be reminded of the relationship we have with Christ, and then will have a clarification of what leaders in Christ’s relational network (i.e. the church) look like. See you Sunday at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 … and bring friends!