You have probably heard the idea that “God wants a relationship, not religion.” It’s like saying “God wants communication, not affiliation.” While relationship and religion are not exactly the same thing, they are closely related. Religion involves a relationship. Most people when they think of religion, they “only” think of the externalities of it. Rituals and methods involved in proper outward devotion. However, religion is deeper than that.
Religion – religion in its most comprehensive sense, includes a belief in the being and perfections of God, in the revelation of his will to man, in man’s obligation to obey his commands, in a state of reward and punishment, and in man’s accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practice of all moral duties. It therefore comprehends theology, as a system of doctrines or principles, as well as practical piety; for the practice of moral duties without a belief in a divine lawgiver, and without reference to his will or commands, is not religion. Religion as distinct from theology, is godliness or real piety in practice, consisting in the performance of all known duties to God and our fellow-men, in obedience to divine command, or from love to God and his law. James 1:26.
That last part is important. “Love to God and his law.” True love actually involves externalities as well as an internal commitment to God. I do know that when people say that God wants relationship instead of religion, they are saying that God wants your sincere devotion and love. However, true religion is just that.
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27
My encouragement to everyone is not to trash a perfectly good word for the sake of a cliché. Let’s use better words and terminology to express what we mean. By the way, relationship is defined as the following:
Relationship – noun The state of being related by kindred, affinity or other alliance.
Isn’t religion a type of alliance? Therefore, I have a proposition. Instead of saying that God wants a “Relationship and not religion,” let’s just say that “God wants true religion that involves sincere devotion and a good relationship.” While it is true that people can fake religious devotion, they can also fake a relationship. The Pharisees were good at that in Jesus’s day. They were the ultimate fakers. They not only faked religion well, they also faked a relationship with God well. They were out praying in public and blowing trumpets so that people would observe their contribution to the Temple. They seemed sincere to most people. They were knowledgeable about a great many things. However, Jesus knew it wasn’t genuine and called them on it. Those who fake religion are bound to give up when it serves their purpose. Therefore, this is why Jesus said:
“But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Matthew 24:13
True devotion is exemplified with perseverance, and perseverance takes time to observe. Therefore, instead of mutilating the English language, my encouragement is to use it carefully and thoughtfully.