Relationship or Religion?

by Pastor Byron Sarracino

Most newlyweds start out their wedding day with a passionate love for one another. In certain cases, it is interesting to see how a marriage that once thrived with passion, in time, turns into a performance-based relationship. The difference is one is carried out of love and the other out of duty. Which would you prefer? I think most of us would prefer a relationship of love. This is exactly the difference between having a personal relationship with Christ or just having a religion.

In a relationship with God, He loves us in spite of our failures, and He has made a way for us to have an intimate loving relationship with Him through Christ. Religion is man’s attempt or duty to do something in order to have a right standing with God.

Let’s view this from another example: I want you to picture an exercise machine called a treadmill. You can put a lot of energy into using one, by jogging or walking on it, but in the end you have not gone anywhere. The same is true with false religion. There are many people on the treadmill of false religion, putting a lot of time and energy into it, hoping it will take them to an acceptable place with God. People who are sold on false religion will do some extreme things thinking it will appease God.

From the very beginning, man has attempted to make things right between himself and his God (Genesis 4). However, all of man’s attempts will not satisfy. Even our righteousness, which will not measure up to God’s standard, is described as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Why? The reason is simple: God is Holy. All of humanity has committed unholy things or disobeyed God’s laws in some way.

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

When Christ was here on earth, He corrected the religious elders of His day because they had developed man-made traditions, rituals, and ceremonies, thinking this would enable them to have a right standing with God.

“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

It is no different today. Having a relationship with God begins by faith (Hebrews 11:6). The Creator God wants to have a personal relationship with each person that He created in His own image. He has made that possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of His own Son Jesus Christ. He did what we could not do. Christ satisfied a sin payment with His own blood (Romans 3:24, 25). It was a sacrifice that was sacred and sufficient. Christ arose from the dead on the third day, proving He has all power, even to forgive all sin. Further, this work of redemption was done for all people groups, all nations, tribes, and tongue.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

You can spend your entire life trying to do “religious things”, or you can believe and receive what God has done on your behalf. Someone said, “Religion says do, Christianity says done”. Religion requires that we carry out some religious deed or performance in hopes it will make us acceptable to God. In Christianity, God has completed everything needed in order for sin to be forgiven…we simply choose to believe this by faith.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

So what does a relationship with God look like? Having a relationship with God is a life that has experienced a change of heart. It is a life that changes from doing one’s own thing, to that of a life which is yielded to following the teachings of Christ by faith. It is a love relationship that affects the attitude of our heart and also the actions of our choices.

“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15

Keep in mind that there are no perfect Christians. We are all “under construction” as the Creator God does His work of grace in our lives. One thing is for sure, people in a relationship with Christ understand they are not living to appease God so that one day they can go to heaven. Rather we live our lives based on that relationship, and when it is pursued with loving passion instead of duty, then we experience a meaningful and blessed life that God makes possible! Please consider your life today; Do you have a relationship with Christ?

Byron and Tricia have been married for 32 years. They have five children, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren. Byron is from the Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico where he currently resides and serves as pastor in his local church. His story of growing up on the reservation and finding hope while serving in the Armed Forces is one of several stories touching lives through the Native Voices Project.

Byron has written several helpful and engaging articles. We invite you to explore them now!