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Religion vs. Relationship: What is the Difference?

Many people today are jaded by religion. They've either had a bad experience or they've witnessed so-called religious people do incredibly horrific things. It's a difficult road to maneuver, especially those who want to know more but simply cannot trust those within the walls of the church. I get that.

Did you know that Jesus unleashed His harshest criticisms towards the religious leaders of His day?

Take for instance Matthew 23:27-28. In this passage, Jesus speaks words of condemnation to the Pharisees and teachers of the law by saying, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

I'm sure that didn't win any friends.

So, how do we sort all of this out? Isn't a person supposed to be religious if they are going to know the Bible or know Christ?

Jesus said, "I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world (John 12:47b)." In other words, the bottom line is that we need a life preserver, not an institution.

Way back in the book of Genesis, we read about sin entering the world. That sin is what separates us from a holy God. The only way to be brought back into fellowship with God is to cling to the heaven-sent life preserver--Jesus.

Our journey to know the Bible; to feel God's presence in our lives; to understand His will for us; etc., begins with a relationship.

You and I cannot understand God's love letter to us (the Bible) until we have surrendered our life to Him. Then, God sends the Holy Spirit to indwell within us. That same Holy Spirit teaches us about God and gives us a new heart that desires to follow Him instead of our own selfish tendencies.

Religion in itself is not a bad thing, but it is not the best thing. Jesus is the best thing.

And, being part of a religious institution is not the be-all, end-all, but God does command us to not forego being a part of an active body of believers.

Matter-of-fact, Hebrews 10:25 tells us to not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but to encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

You see, the church, though sometimes messed up and broken, is also a place where messed up and broken people can go and encourage one another. It is a place where individual believers can come together in a corporate body and use their spiritual gifts to help others on their spiritual walk.

I guess the bottom line is this...religion will fail you. It is not meant to be the catalyst to our salvation. Only a relationship with Jesus can bring true life, peace, meaning, and direction. Only Jesus can save.

YET, if lived out according to the Spirit's direction and God's Word, a religious organization can edify the body, point people to Jesus, glorify God's name, and bring encouragement, learning, and direction to God's people.

So, what do you think? Let me know your thoughts. I'd love to hear your story. How is God speaking to you today about this topic?


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