Religion or Relationship
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. - (John 15:4)
As you put God first in your life, make certain that what you do is rooted in relationship rather than in rules. Too frequently people will confuse structure for surrender. They cross off a list and think that they have put God first. When in actuality, if God is first, you don’t need a list because you will naturally seek Him, His heart, and His way in your own personal surrender out of love. Whenever religious activity trumps relationship, the victory of Christ is no longer experienced in the fullness it ought to be in the believer’s life.
One of the greatest dangers in our churches today is for religion to replace an intimate relationship with the Savior. By religion, I mean the external adherence to exercises, codes, or practices in the name of God yet apart from God. For example, if you go to church because it is the religious, or spiritual, thing to do rather than because you are motivated to spend time worshipping God, learning about Him, and experiencing Him, then that is religion. Religion is anything you do for God that does not stem out of a heart connected to God.
It’s not that there aren’t a lot of people doing a lot of excellent things. A lot of these same people attend church, help the hurting, or say all the correct spiritual platitudes. It’s just that they’ve missed the priority of the kingdom. They’ve missed the relational connection that comes through voluntary surrender. They have not made God first in their hearts. And then they wonder why they aren’t experiencing any victory, power, hope, and authority in their lives.
External observances—the rules of religion—can actually get in the way of a relationship. When you are motivated by relationship, surrender comes naturally.
Reflection: How is the difference in motivation between religion and relationship important? What did Jesus warn religious leaders that they knew the law, but their hearts were far from God (Matthew 15:1–8)? Have you found yourself drifting into a rule-based religion? Read Revelation 2:1–7.