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Religion or Relationship
The Greatest Question Facing Today’s American Church
by Junior DeSouza
most relevant and poignant question facing the American church today is,
Religion or Relationship? God’s people, past and present, have always
faced that razor thin line between these two realities. The draw to
replace an intimate relationship with God with a lifeless and ritual-based
religion is a crossroads every church and believer inevitably comes to in their
journey. Whichever road is ultimately chosen determines the outcome of so
much more than just one individual’s spiritual experience.
Positively, a religion is a system of spiritual beliefs and practices. In
that general sense, the religion of Christianity is the set of beliefs and
practices centered on the person, words, and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In this sense, the word religion is simply a general designation used to
identify a particular system of spiritual beliefs and practices.
The New Testament uses the phrase, “the faith,” in a similar way (Acts 6:7, 2Co
13:5, Ga 1:23, Jude 3; NKJV).
The faith conveys this same idea of “a system of spiritual beliefs and
practices,” but more specifically, the Christ-centered one delivered by the
first century apostles. All those who are genuinely born-again in Christ
are members of this “one faith” (Eph 4:5), the Christ-centered religion.
There is, however, a negative connotation of the term religion. In
this second sense, the designation is used when God’s people replace intimacy
with Him with lifeless and dry (un-)spiritual practices and rituals that have
little or no personal impact. Hence, the term religion (or
religious) has come to have a negative connotation among many of our
churches and brethren longing to preserve the primacy of that fresh and
ever-deepening communion with Christ. It is in this sense that I am using
the word religion in this booklet.
The Age-Old Sin
For ages God’s people have battled with the deceptive nature of religion.
Solomon said there was nothing new under sun, and that definitely includes
religion. Biblical history testifies to us over and over that religion is
perhaps the most deceptive and ensnaring of all sins. Why? Because
it is a downgraded, but close, counterfeit of authentic spirituality.
Isaiah, Chapter 1 presents one of the best pictures in all the Bible of religion
replacing relationship with God. Of all that is mentioned, two major
themes emerge as the high points. First, Israel had departed from the
intimate knowledge of God (Isa 1:3,4), and secondly, they had continued
practicing the external spiritual rituals in spite of this departure (Isa
1:11-15). It is amazing that God tells Israel to cast all their anxieties
and burdens on Him (Ps 55:22), He lovingly cares for them, and He never
complains that they are wearying or burdening Him. Yet when their
spiritual practices lose personal sincerity and God-centeredness, He pleads with
them to stop because they are burdening Him (Isa 1:13,14)! However,
religion goes back further than Israel.
Satan, that fallen archangel, is the greatest of all religious personalities.
As a matter of fact, his downfall was his prideful desire to establish a
counterfeit religion of which he was the center and not God (Isa 14:12-14).
Through his deceptive half-truths and close counterfeits, he inspires a
multitude of empty religions that lure people away from that authentic love
relationship with the one true God through His Son Jesus. Paul said that
Satan does these things especially in the church, attempting to lure us away
from our marriage intimacy with Christ – that simple and pure devotion to Him
Revelation 2:1-7 contains truth that is paramount to these concepts.
Personally, I believe Jesus intentionally addressed the Ephesian church first
(of the seven churches in Asia) to make an impacting statement concerning
relationship and religion. Verses 2, 3, and 6 tell us the Ephesian church
was hard working, persevering, intolerant of evil, and discerning. What a
spiritual resume! How many churches would love to have Jesus say those
wonderful and affirming things to them!
Yet verses 4 and 5 always move me when I read them:
Yet I hold
this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from
which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
Jesus considers this hard working, persevering, holy, and discerning church
fallen because they have forsaken and neglected their First Love – intimacy
with Him. Anytime I feel like patting myself on the back for working hard
in the kingdom, or persevering faithfully through trials, or remaining holy in
character, or discerning of evil, I have to come back to this Scripture and ask
myself sincerely, Have I forsaken my First Love? This is the true
test by which we all must evaluate ourselves and our spirituality.
Jesus acknowledged and affirmed the Ephesian church’s good qualities, He didn’t
throw out “the baby with the bath water.” Yet He had to be honest and true
to His nature when He told them they had fallen from a great height by forsaking
their love intimacy with Him. The other qualities are great and necessary,
but in the eyes of Christ, hard work, perseverance, holiness, discernment, or
any other quality can never come close to the highest spiritual quality there is
– loving God.
Religion and the American Church
Unfortunately, Israel and our Ephesian brothers aren’t the only ones who have
been lured away by religion. It has crept into many of our American
churches as well. Many congregations, to differing degrees, have slipped
away from their First Love and towards relationship-less religious routines.
This is evident to any observant believer, and sadly, to many disillusioned
seekers as well. We know religion has diluted many of our congregations
when week after week our affections and passions are no longer stirred for our
First Love, Jesus. Prayer becomes consistently boring and worshipping in
song is simply our lips on autopilot. We are content to maintain the “holy
huddle” or country club atmosphere in church and no longer zealously pursue the
lost and unchurched. Getting out of Sunday worship at twelve o’clock is
more important than anything special the Lord may want to do or say. We
rush to leave the meeting without lingering to fellowship with and be involved
in each other’s lives. No genuine revival ever began at eleven and
ended right at twelve!
Perhaps the greatest evidence that our American church family has been affected
in significant ways by religion is the fact that our culture continues to grow
in anti-Christian sentiment and disillusionment, coupled with external trends of
ungodliness and immorality. It seems as if our international brethren see
this more clearly than we do – it always touches me to hear that believers from
other nations have felt a divine calling to come to America as missionaries!
An authentic national church will greatly influence its culture. Justice
and righteousness will be practiced widespread, and God’s kingdom will be the
The Signs of Religion
Can we get even more specific about religion? What are some signs to look
for that tell us we are living more in religion than relationship? I
believe God’s Word highlights several earmarks of religion for us.
Work over worship. Individuals and churches
walking in religion will often find themselves placing the highest spiritual
priority on the work of the kingdom, and not on the worship of the King.
We know that work has a legitimate place in the kingdom. We are even told
to devote ourselves fully to the Lord’s work (1Co 15:58). However,
religion focuses on work over worship. Precious Martha worked very
hard to serve Jesus, and yet Jesus lovingly corrected her and said that sitting
at His feet was the better priority, the one greatest thing (Lu 10:38-42).
Anointed and fruitful spiritual work can only happen when it is an extension of
Head knowledge. Religion focuses mainly on
intellectual head knowledge about God, while relationship integrates head
knowledge and experiential knowledge. The Pharisees studied and
knew the Old Testament more than anyone else in all of Israel (Joh 5:39,40), and
they even walked around all day with Scripture verses tied to their foreheads
(Mt 23:5)! Yet Jesus told them emphatically they did not personally or
experientially know the God they “knew” so much about (Joh 8:55). Religion
is long on intellectual information, but short on heart relationship and
Legalism. Legalism is the excessive
preoccupation with keeping external spiritual practices (Mr 7:1-13). It is
more concerned with external practice than internal purity. The Pharisees
were masters at this. In Mt 23:25-28, Jesus scathingly rebukes them for
appearing righteous outwardly (by their “perfect” keeping of spiritual rituals),
but their hearts were full of greed, wickedness, hypocrisy, and death.
Whether it be “perfect” church attendance, a daily “quiet time” or devotional,
doing outreach every week without fail, always raising hands (or not) when
singing, or performing some other spiritual practice, Jesus said He is searching
hearts and minds (Re 2:23) and that His priority is on the heart, not externals
(1Sa 16:7). This does not negate or devalue forming good spiritual habits
or establishing a consistent routine, it simply warns against preoccupation and
priority on these to the neglect of a pure and sincere heart towards God.
Tradition. Traditions are the man-made
customs and behaviors that are unique to a place, group of people, or
generation. In the church setting, traditions are customs created by man either
to enhance the biblical spiritual experience or to replace it. In this
sense, traditions can be positive or negative, depending on their purpose and
consistency with the Word. In a negative way, man has created certain
customs to replace God’s Word. These traditions are not found in the Word,
nor are they conceptually consistent with the Word, yet they are held to,
obeyed, and imposed on other Christians as if they were God’s very command.
Jesus rebuked the Jews for disobeying God’s Word in order to obey their man-made
traditions (Mr 7:8,9,13). Man-made traditions can be customs like style of
music, type of dress, order of service, and so on. Religion sees man-made
traditions as the sacred cow never to be sacrificed, while relationship
“trembles” at and obeys God’s Word as the highest authority for spirituality and
life (Ezr 9:4, Isa 66:2).
Majors on the minors. Another sure sign of
religion is “majoring on the minors.” In other words, focusing and
fixating attention and message on the peripheral aspects of God’s Word, while
neglecting its more important core aspects. Religion loves to focus on
things like whether the death penalty is biblical or not, what the exact layout
of end-time events should be, whether some spiritual gifts are still in
operation or not, and various other particulars. Relationship focuses on
the “surpassing greatness” of knowing and enjoying Jesus (Php 3:7-10), loving
and serving others in humility (Mt 23:11), and walking in personal integrity,
mercy, and justice (Mic 6:8, Jas 1:27). Jesus rebuked the Pharisees
because they tithed their resources flawlessly, yet neglected the greater
principles and commands of the Law, like justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Mt
This does not negate or ignore the fact that we must
deal with, dialogue about, and form convictions on the particular matters of
kingdom life, because they are mentioned in the Scriptures. This simply
means that we do not over-fixate on these to the point of neglecting core
biblical principles or bringing division and polarization to the Body of Christ.
Relationship focuses on the simplicity and power of walking in the greatest
commandments (Mt 23:37-40, Mr 12:29-31) and the larger principles that eternally
unify all born-again believers (Eph 4:1-5).
Separation. Religion tends toward
separation, division, and alienation. It is interesting to note that the
original language meaning for Pharisee is “to separate.” They were
not “set apart” in a good sense (from sin), they separated themselves from the
common people and from “common life” because of their attitude of spiritual
superiority. They based this arrogant attitude on their strict adherence
to outward forms of piety. Religion looks down its nose at other members
of the Body of Christ, and, in extreme cases, won’t even fellowship or worship
joyfully with another brother in Christ who is washed in the same divine blood
as they. Relationship looks for reasons to unify, reconcile, and join, not
separate, alienate, or sectarianize. In 1Co 1:13, Paul asked the
“super-spiritual”, yet separatist, Corinthians, “Is Christ divided?”
Rigidity. Churches and believers in a
religious mindset are often characterized by a rigid and restrictive code of
conduct that frowns upon emotional expressions of spirituality.
Overflowing and sincere expressions like weeping, contrition, exuberance,
shouting, laughter, or the like make religious attitudes uncomfortable.
However, the Bible is full of examples where God’s people overflowed with
emotion and passion as a result of their relationship with Him (Ezr 3:12,13,
9:3-5). The Psalms give us a great picture of genuine communion with God
that deeply penetrates the heart’s affections. Jesus expressed a broad
range of emotional transparency (Mr 3:5, Lu 10:21, Joh 11:35-38, Heb 5:7).
Emotional transparency often makes us in America feel uncomfortable. Our
“educated” society impresses us with continual messages that we must hide our
feelings and focus on intellectual prowess and physical beauty. In many
other nations this is not the case, and emotional transparency is much more
accepted and commonplace. Religion frowns upon emotional transparency,
while relationship expects overflowing expressions from the heart.
Shouldn’t it make us question why we so freely pour out emotion at sporting
events or in other personal hobbies, yet remain reserved and rigid when it comes
to the very God who created our hearts? The greatest commandment says it
all, telling us to love God with all of our hearts first (Mr
12:30), even before loving Him with our mind and strength.
Predictability. A religious attitude clings
to predictability. In this context, predictability is almost synonymous
with control. Religion desires and determines to keep spirituality safe,
familiar, and predictable. It desires to keep God in a jack-in-the-box to
be used at its own convenience or need. Often this is because change and
uncertainty truly reveals who or what we ultimately depend on and trust in.
It is not uncommon for the content of someone’s heart to be seen by their
tendencies and behaviors during unexpected change, when life, familiarity, and
expectations take unforeseen and unusual turns.
Relationship with God, however, puts us in the
follower role, with Him as the leader and guide. We are no longer in
control, and we can no longer keep spirituality and life in a predictable box.
This requires faith, trust, and submission; the righteous live by these (Heb
10:38). This requires self-crucifixion, as Paul put it (Ga 2:20).
When we walk in relationship, God will often lead, move, and work in unexpected
and unpredictable ways. He will often lead us down new paths unfamiliar to
us (Isa 42:16). Even though all of His works are for our own good (Ro
8:28), the unpredictable side of God unsettles some believers enough that they
regress and choose to live in predictable religious routines and familiarities.
They remain in safe waters, in ankle-, knee-, or waist-deep waters. Here
they can touch the bottom and control their own fate, instead of swimming in the
deepest part, letting the Spirit’s river of life carry them whichever way it
will (Eze 47:1-6). Religion clings to predictability within familiar
rituals for stability and safety. Relationship clings to God Himself, His
unchanging nature, and His permanent presence for stability and safety.
These believers are as strong and stable as Mount Zion (Ps 125:1), though the
earth may melt and all the other mountains around them crumble and fall into the
sea (Ps 46:2).
Hyper-administration. This concept is
closely related to the previous one (predictability), and is probably seen more
readily in churches than individuals. Because religion depends on
predictability and the maintenance of its own agenda, it requires a great amount
of tedious planning and organization (“hyper-administration”). Fulfilling
the administrative agenda competes with or replaces altogether the fulfillment
of God’s will and purpose in people’s lives, which often times cannot be
administrated. All of a sudden clocks, calendars, deadlines, numbers,
papers, cell phones, pagers, money, materials, management, workers, and so on
become the object of mental energy. All these things must become and
remain the focus for religion to exist, and religion will exist where these
things have become the focus. The simplicity of prayer and the ministry of
the Word (Ac 6:4) among leadership fade into obscurity in this environment.
Even if it doesn’t lose its priority, it loses mental interest and passion.
Sincere and intimate community takes a back seat. Many other of God’s
blessings are forfeited and missed because the church has become more like the
management of a religious machine or business, and less like a spiritual family
participating in a communal effort to live out God’s will.
Relationship recognizes the value and need for administration. It affirms
and commissions those with the “ship captain” gift, those with a supernatural
ability for administration (1Co 12:28). However, it understands that
administration is simply a practical vehicle for implementing God’s will in a
time-space-matter reality. Relationship molds administration flexibly
around God’s will and work, it doesn’t try and force it to fit into a
preconceived iron grid. It should humble us and teach us volumes when we
read how a handful of apostles “administrated” the feeding of several thousand
people in the early church (Ac 6:1-7).
Appearances. Perhaps religion’s greatest
concern is appearance. Herein we see so clearly the spirit of Lucifer.
Religion wants to be seen, recognized, and prized for selfish reasons. It
loves facades, titles, places of honor, and public approval. It shrinks
away from transparency and personal authenticity. Jesus sharply criticized
the Pharisees for their hypocritical religious persona (Mt 23:5-7).
Relationship wants God and others to be seen, recognized, and honored.
When the believer or church walking in relationship is honored, the humble reply
resounds, “I have only done my duty” (Lu 17:10).
Programs over power. Paul tells us that in
the last days serving religion will be commonplace; people will have “a form of
godliness but denying its power” (2Ti 3:5). Religion, a mere external
spiritual “form,” substitutes elaborate programs for the presence and power of
God. Many churches have sold out to the notion that having a “buffet
church with any program you need” will attract people and grow their church
(numerically, at least). Oftentimes this is because of a perceived need
for drawing power and attractiveness to outsiders. Even though programs,
in and of themselves, are not wrong or evil, they can become that when they are
substituted for the power of God in us individually and corporately. Only
sincere prayer, honesty, discernment, and critical evaluation can reveal this.
Anytime we think we need a certain program or production for our churches
to flourish, we are forgetting the simplicity and power of the early church, as
well as the word of 2Pe 1:3, His divine power has given us everything we need
for life and godliness.
When we substitute programs for supernatural power, we also silently encourage
people to become co-dependent on those programs instead of on the Lord Himself
and His sufficient ability. Religion depends completely on highly
elaborate programs for attractiveness and success, while denying, resisting, or
simply ignoring the power of God. Relationship depends on God’s presence
and power that has given us everything we need in every situation, season, and
structure of church life and ministry. We must never allow programs,
however positive they may be, to replace God’s sufficient grace and power.
He is still El-Shaddai.
Programs over people. Religion also
substitutes elaborate programs for genuine relational investment in people and
community. How easy it is to connect people to a program than to a heart!
This has two major backlashes. First, when we connect people to programs
only and instead of people, we are depriving them of a God-given need for
healthy relationships and genuine community. We are not truly loving or
helping them, we are simply sedating their relational needs with the anesthesia
of programs. Secondly, we are encouraging their co-dependency on programs
and the regular “fix” these programs provide, rather than promoting their
emotional growth through interdependent friendships and shepherd-sheep
discipleship relationships. We are likewise forgetting that Jesus’
practical conduit for the restoration of broken humanity was people, not
programs. You and I are saved today because of twelve ordinary men who
were committed, consecrated, and commissioned to a divine purpose. Our
program-savvy culture has doubtless affected many of our churches, making them
more like a corporate business and less like Christ’s body. Religion
over-depends on programs, while neglecting people’s God-given deep relational
needs. Relationship with God overflows into, produces, and restores
relationship with people, resulting in knowing and loving others even as
themselves (Mt 22:37-39).
These earmarks of religion are present to differing degrees in churches and
individual believers. Some have successfully identified religious
tendencies in their own experience and have managed to consistently walk in the
Spirit and in relationship with Christ. These churches and believers are
examples to all of us. Some, however, are less mature in their spiritual
journey, and are still wrestling with the essence of true biblical spirituality.
All of us in the Body of Christ are at different points on the
religion-relationship spectrum. The important thing is that each
individual, layperson and leader, honestly and prayerfully evaluate and identify
where they are; and, from this fertile ground of honesty and humility,
intentionally pursue growing in the grace and intimate knowledge of our First
Love, Jesus Christ.
The good news is that God has something better, higher, and much more rewarding
for us. There is something better than religion! 1Corinthians 1:9
tells us that God has called us into fellowship with His Son. We are
divinely called to relationship, intimacy, and communion with Him! Jesus
Himself, the Person, and not religion or religious practices, is the truest
desire of all people (Hag 2:7, Mal 3:1 NIV).
I’m convinced every believer should read and saturate themselves with Psalm 91.
A life and spirituality that centers around communion with God provides amazing
rewards: inner rest (v1,2), supernatural protection (v3,4,9-12,14), freedom from
fear (v5-8), victory over the enemy (v13), answered prayer (v15), God’s presence
and deliverance in trouble (v15), honor (v15), satisfaction and fulfillment
(v16), and divine saving power (v16). What a promise! A lifestyle of
walking in relationship with the Lord provides everything the human spirit longs
for and was created for.
Walking in Relationship with God
Just as there are recognizable signs of religion, there are also recognizable
signs of intimacy with Christ. Individuals and churches that live centered
on the Lord and in communion with Him have the following clearly identifiable
- Heart attitude. The first and foremost sign
of relationship with Christ is a heart attitude that is disposed to intimacy
with and dependence on Him. It is an attitude characterized by an inner
“lean” toward God, the Person, and not away from Him to lesser substitutes.
It is a spirit of intimacy. Attitudes are like food, they can be
“smelled.” In the same way we can smell and identify a certain type of
food we love (or despise) without even seeing it, so also we can often sense and
perceive attitudes, even without an open declaration of what someone feels or
thinks. Just as we are drawn to the pleasant aroma of good food, so also
we are drawn and magnetized to people and churches that are intimate with the
Father. Their attitude and spirit captures something deep within us, and
we simply know that this person or church truly walks intimately with
Christ. Paul said that our inner attitude and tendency needs to be made
new (Ro 12:2, Eph 4:23), so that our automatic instinct is to relate with and
depend on the Lord at all times. The following concepts are simply a
natural evolution of this basic, indispensable foundation.
God’s glory. Those who walk in relationship
long and live for God’s glory, honor, and pre-eminence in everything. They
understand and accept that this is the highest purpose and vision for their
existence (Isa 43:7). They desire this above all else and are conscious of
this in everything, even in the “irrelevant” details of life (1Co 10:31).
All competitors with God’s glory in their life are honestly and specifically
repented of, dealt with, and submitted to the practical sanctification of the
Spirit. Relationship promotes “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mr
12:29), while religion gives self or some other substitute the highest glory and
Openness to the Holy Spirit. Those who walk
intimately with Christ accept and admit their need for the Spirit’s daily
movements in their life (Ga 5:16-18,25). Therefore, they are open, ready,
and willing for Him to speak, move, and act. They are freely available to
Him. They want Him. They long and thirst for Him. They engage
and pursue Him. And, as a result, they continually experience fresh
illuminations and blessings concerning the Lord, His ways, and kingdom life.
Religion resists the Spirit, and more specifically, the Spirit’s movement in
ways that are unfamiliar, unpredictable, or uncontrollable to them (Ac 7:51-53).
Obedience. A relational attitude toward God
obeys His Word and the daily workings of the Spirit. Jesus said that if
someone truly loved Him he would also obey Him (Joh 14:21, 1Jn 5:3). The
two are inseparable in Christ’s eyes! Intimacy with the Lord will
eventually produce sincere obedience and Christlike character, and that because
there is a continual inner motivation and empowering that comes only from
communion with Him. Religion obeys self, tradition, and other things, but
it resists obeying the Lord, His Word, and His subjective workings in our
Prayer. If intimacy with God is
relationship’s primary attitude, then prayer is relationship’s primary activity.
Jesus said His spiritual family would be identified as a House of Prayer
(Mt 21:13). Throughout the book of Acts we see what it means to commune
with the Lord through prayer. A prayerless believer or church has forsaken
its First Love – it is impossible to be intimate with someone you don’t talk to!
However, more than the act of prayer, it is the attitude of prayer
that makes it a telltale sign of relationship. We all have heard ourselves
and others pray in ways that do not reflect a heart attitude of intimacy with
and dependence on Christ. These prayers are usually fleshly and temporal
in content, me-centered, and tunnel-visioned. They minimize or exclude
altogether the larger purposes of God and the kingdom’s core needs. True
prayer has God’s glory and purposes as the aim, and relationship with and
dependence on Him as the attitude. In this fertile soil, the believer sows
prayer seeds of all kinds and reaps a tremendous harvest. Even the most
personal and seemingly insignificant requests are answered because the prayer
seeds are sown in this soil. True prayer is honest (Lu 18:9-14),
never-ceasing (Lu 18:1-8, 1Th 5:17), passionate (Heb 5:7, Jas 5:17,18), and
two-way (Joh 10:3,4,16,27). Communion produces conversation!
The Word of God. Relationship loves and
cherishes God’s Word, the Bible (Ps 119:72). It doesn’t see the Bible as a
book, it sees it and dives into it as an extension of God Himself. Those
who walk in relationship don’t just “go through” the Bible, they let the Bible
go through them (Eze 2:8-3:3). They don’t just read it, they meditate on
it long after it has been closed (Ps 1:2,3). They don’t just know it, they
experience it (Jas 1:22-25). They don’t just study it, they hear the
Spirit’s voice in it (Ps 119:18, 2Ti 3:16). They have a relationship with
the Word just as they have a relationship with the Author of that Word (Ps
56:10,11). Religion exalts tradition, opinion, and man-made rules above
the Word; relationship places the highest priority on God’s Word and its
authoritative living truth.
Worship. Relationship loves to worship God.
It loves to simply exalt, adore, praise, magnify, bless, revere, give thanks to,
and extol the one true God. This happens most practically through singing
to Him and about Him (Ps 100:2). You’ll never have to force a believer or
church walking in relationship to sing to the Lord. It overflows out of
them. Not only do they sing, they sing joyfully and sincerely. It
means something. The singing has experience to validate its words.
Religion sees worship as keeping commandments, fulfilling spiritual obligations,
and maintaining external forms of piety, but is void of reverent affections from
the heart (Isa 29:13 NIV).
Transparency. Being transparent doesn’t
frighten or threaten those who walk in relationship with God. They don’t
shrink away from being authentic and real before others. They are not
consumed with having to perform or be somebody else to feel adequate. They
have found that their deep personal security and identity are founded in Christ
(1Co 3:11) and rooted in love (Eph 3:17). Because of these things, they
are able to enjoy genuine community and healthy relationships with others.
Most importantly, however, they know they must be transparent before an
omniscient God. They understand the real meaning behind the sea of glass
before God’s throne (Re 4:6) – transparency precedes God’s presence.
Fellowship/Community. Relationship loves the
body of believers because the body of believers is an extension of Christ
Himself. To love and fellowship with Christ is to love and fellowship with
His people. The apostle John tells us that anyone who does not love the
Body of Christ is in darkness (1Jo 2:9)! He or she is definitely not
walking in the light of relationship with Christ. You can always feel the
coldness of a person or church walking in religion, they are absent of that warm
glow of love that invisibly binds together all of God’s people walking
intimately with Him. Anyone experiencing God’s love will desire that same
communion of love with His people (1Jo 4:11).
Evangelism. Those walking in relationship
have a zeal to see the lost experience the same blessing. They may not be
unusually gifted in evangelism, but their hearts long to bring others into that
saving relationship with Christ. You can sense if someone is living in
fellowship with the Lord by their perceptions and value on evangelism.
They may not know how to reach the lost and they may be the worst communicators,
but their conversation, prayers, and desires are for others around them to enter
that saving relationship with Christ. Peter and John, unschooled ordinary
men, were bold in evangelism because “they had been with Jesus” (Ac 4:13).
Those who walk in His presence today experience the same spirit. Religion
is exclusive and separatist, and would rather preserve the communal status quo
than see multitudes come to salvation.
Changed Lives. Finally, those walking in
relationship experience genuinely transformed lives. They themselves are
transformed, and others are transformed by their example. The apostle John
tells us that anyone who genuinely knows God and abides in Him will experience
an obvious and undeniable character metamorphosis (1Jo 1:5-7, 3:4-10). No
one can know and commune with God Almighty without also being significantly
changed forever. God’s children who walk intimately with Him take on their
Father’s nature and attributes.
Which Will it Be?
We will never see a major awakening and revival in our land unless we, the
American church, walk and live in that fresh and ever-deepening intimacy with
our First Love. We must decide, with the grace of the Lord, to walk out of
religion and into relationship. For some, that may mean being saved and
born-again for the first time. For some, that may mean making minor
spiritual adjustments. And for some, that may mean a total deconstruction
of the present spiritual model, and a glorious reconstruction and revival of
authentic biblical spirituality. God’s trumpet still resounds a clear call
to His people – which will it be,
Religion or Relationship?
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