It’s a question that’s been asked throughout history: what’s the difference between religion and having a relationship with God? The answer can be complicated, but in essence, there is a significant distinction. Religion is about following rules and regulations set forth to appease or gain favor from God. Relationship with God is about opening yourself up to His love and mercy and developing a personal connection with Him. Keep reading to learn more about the differences between religion vs relationship with God.
What Does the Bible Say About Religion vs Relationship with God?
The distinction between religion vs relationship with God is seen throughout scripture in the faith vs works discussion. Here’s what the Bible says about following rules vs having faith–about religion vs relationship with God.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Religion is about following rules and regulations to receive a positive outcome. In Christianity, that would look like trying to do all the “right” things or be a “good” person to get to heaven. But the Bible clearly states that the way to heaven is through faith in Jesus, not works. Only by accepting Jesus into our hearts can we have a relationship with God and spend eternity with Him.
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
Many people respond religiously to God because they want His acceptance and love. However, it is by our faith that we please Him. And it is by our faith that He rewards His children and offers eternal life. Someone could do all the “right” things–go to church, be kind and generous, serve people–but if they don’t have faith in God and a relationship with Him, God is not pleased.
“‘If you love me, keep my commands.’”
Choosing relationship with God over religion doesn’t mean that we don’t follow God’s commands. We still need to do what is right. The difference is the posture of our heart and the reason for doing it. People who live religiously follow God’s commands because they’re trying to prove themselves and their worth. People who live in relationship with God follow His commands because they love Him. Loving someone comes from knowing them, and knowing them comes from being in an intimate relationship with them. That’s the type of relationship God wants with each one of us.
“‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
This passage of scripture is likely the most significant difference between religion vs relationship with God. Jesus makes it very clear that solely doing the works of God will not get you into heaven. You must have a relationship with Him and, out of that relationship, live according to His Word.
So, What’s the Difference Between Religion vs Relationship?
Religion says you must do certain things and follow legalistic practices to get right with God. Relationship says you must believe in Jesus and have a relationship with Him. From that relationship, you receive grace, forgiveness, and justification. Relationship with God isn’t an excuse to sin–it’s a reason not to sin and instead do what God has called you to do. While our works do not save us, it is by our works we profess and live out our faith.
James 2:18-23 says, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.”
So, what is the difference between religion vs relationship with God? Religion focuses on good works as the way to reach God. However, through faith in Jesus Christ, we can have a personal relationship with Him. Our actions then come out of our love for Him and fulfill His will in our lives. If you’re looking for more ways to connect with Jesus and find hope and encouragement, be sure to check out the All Things By Faith blog!