You have probably heard the phrase, “Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship.” This phrase has become quite popular in evangelical Protestant circles today. However, some may wonder why certain Christians make a distinction between Christianity and religion. After all, the definition of religion is simply the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. Thus, Christianity is by definition a religion. So then, why do so many Christians seem to resist the categorical title of religion? I believe this comes from the common tendency to associate the term religion with an organized structure of a strict set of rules based upon the traditions of men. For example, many religions teach that one is required to perform certain good works or adhere to religious traditions to climb the mountain of righteousness to ensure they have a ticket to heaven. However, this conception of religion is man-centered as opposed to God-centered. The focus is not on what God has done for the world, rather it focuses on what the world must do to find God’s favor. Thus, the fundamental premise of the common world religions is that you cannot be accepted or loved by God until you perform meritorious tasks according to certain doctrinal standards. However, this is not Christianity.
Christianity is not an organized system simply following a rulebook, rather it is an intimate relationship with the God of the universe. Christianity is unique in that God loves you unconditionally (John 3:16). No matter how broken, lost, or imperfect you are, God loves you. He could not love you any more or any less than He does right now. Romans 5:8 states, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God is not waiting for us to climb a mountain that is impossible for us to climb. God came down the mountain as the person of Jesus Christ to get us. He stepped down from glory to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). This is the essence of the gospel. Jesus loves you and desires a personal relationship with you! That is powerful. No other religion is like this. All you must do is receive His free gift of grace and place your faith in Him as your Lord and Savior and you will be saved (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The question remains, however, since salvation is offered in Christ and we do not have to perform any good works to obtain it, can we just continue to live any way we want? When the apostle Paul was asked a similar question, he responded with, “Certainly not!” (Romans 6:15). Grace is never an excuse for sin. Jesus offers us freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. Jesus told His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Thus, true affection for Christ is evident in our devotion. Christians are not forced or compelled to serve God, rather it is a natural response of love and gratitude. If you love your spouse, you want to honor them. Likewise, if you truly love God, you will want to honor Him. And one of the best ways we can do this is by pursuing Him, His kingdom, and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
The King of glory invites us into His eternal kingdom and loving family. All we must do is accept the invitation. Thus, Christianity is not simply a religion – it is so much more!