“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Galatians 2:16 NKJV).
The Lord Jesus Christ did not come into the world to pioneer a new religion; rather, He came into the world to pioneer the new and living way for us to approach God. By His death on the cross the Lord Jesus had opened the way for the sinful men to have an intimate, loving and eternal relationship with the Holy God.
The Scripture states: “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.” (Heb. 10:19-20 RSV).
In a word, what the Lord Jesus came to offer us is “Relationship” with God and not “Religion” about God. The eternal life Jesus gives to those who receive Him is simply intimacy with God.
The Scripture states: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 NKJV).
The Greek word that is translated “know” in this verse is “Ginosko,” which is a verb expressing experiential knowledge or intimacy.
Paul used the same word while praying for the Church in Ephesus, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height– to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:17-19 NKJV).
In the above scriptures, Paul points out that to know or experience the love of Christ is infinitely greater than having mere mental or intellectual knowledge of the love of Christ.
This Greek word (Ginosko) is actually the Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse or intimacy between a man and a woman. It is used in Genesis 4 verse 1.
“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the LORD.” (Gen. 4:1 NKJV).
Apparently, there is so much confusion about religion in the world today, or it is rather better to say that there is so much confusion in the world today because of religion. There is a stiff competition and palpable hatred, enmity or hostility among hundreds of different religions and religion adherents in the world today.
It is obvious that many people in the world today confuse relationship with religion, thereby ignorantly mistaking having or practising a religion for having a loving and intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
It is therefore necessary to point out the profound differences between having a loving and intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ and having or practising a religion.
First, A loving and intimate relationship with God is purely based on Grace, but religion is purely based on Works:
We are sinners by birth, nature or inheritance. We were born dead in sins and alienated from the life of God, not as a result of our individual sinful actions but as a result of the sin or disobedience of the first man (Adam).
Similarly, our redemption or reconciliation to God is not the result of our good works, but the result of the finished work of Jesus on the cross (Eph. 2:8-9).
Apostle Paul aptly presents this truth in Romans 5:
10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (NKJV).
He further explains in Romans 5:
18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.
19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (NKJV).
Intimacy or loving relationship with God is purely a gracious gift of love made available to all men by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. No one can earn, merit or deserve God’s love, acceptance, favour or blessing by his self-righteousness, performance or good works.
The only way to have a loving and intimate relationship with God is through faith in the person and the finished redemptive work of Jesus.
The Scripture states: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9 NKJV).
Unfortunately, the subtle goal or pursuit of every religion is to earn, deserve or merit God’s love, acceptance, favour or blessing by good works, self-righteousness, or strict adherence to some religious rites, rules or regulations.
Religion despises and rejects the righteousness of God as a gift through faith in the person of Jesus and His finished work at the cross. But, it promotes and pursues self-righteousness which is based on the works of the law (Heb. 10:1-4).
Paul said concerning the self-righteous, religious Jews, “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone.” (Rom. 9:30-32 RSV).
Religion is not based on faith alone in Christ and His redemptive work, but on an individual and his good works. It takes pride not in the finished work of Jesus, but in the individual works or acts of holiness of a person.
Second, A loving and intimate relationship with God is Christ-centered, but religion is Self-centered:
Because intimacy with God (eternal life) is God’s gracious gift to all those who put their faith in the person and the finished work of Jesus Christ at the cross, it makes the believers to be primarily Christ-conscious, Christ-focused and Christ-centered.
Understanding that your redemption, reconciliation to God, or adoption as God’s son is not based on your self-righteousness, performance, or good works, but on Christ and His perfect work alone will simply make you to be preoccupied with Christ and His pure love for you (Gal. 4:4-7; 2 Cor. 5:13-15; 1 John 3:1-3).
On the contrary, religion makes you to be self-conscious, self-focused, and self-centered because it is primarily based on your self-righteousness, performance, or good works. Religion sets or focuses your attention on your sins or on your self-righteousness which is like a filthy rag before God, thereby making you to be totally preoccupied with yourself.
When you are truly in a loving and intimate relationship with God, like Apostle Paul, you will count all the things of this world as nothing, dung or rubbish in comparison with the revelation knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Apostle Paul states in Philippians 3:
7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (NKJV).
Third, A loving and intimate relationship with God is Love-driven, but religion is Fear-driven:
Intimacy with God is motivated, propelled, or driven by Agape love. It was because of His great love for us that God sent His Son to die for our sins even while we were still His enemies and thus reconciled us to Himself (Rom. 5:6-8, Eph. 2:4-6).
No one can have a loving and intimate relationship with God without believing, receiving, and experiencing God’s love. It is God’s goodness or kindness that leads men to repentance (Rom. 2:4). At the New Birth, the Holy Spirit pours out God’s love into the believer’s heart, thereby making the believers to be able to respond in love to God.
As a born-again believer, you are not expected to worship or serve God out of fear of punishment or out of a mere desire for rewards, but out of sincere love, admiration and gratitude to God for loving, accepting, saving and blessing you unconditionally, unreservedly and eternally in Christ.
Your good works or acts of holiness are not a means to earn or merit God’s love, acceptance, favour or blessing. Holiness is not the root of relationship with God, but a fruit of relationship with God. God demonstrated His love towards us while we were yet sinners. We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son while we were still the enemies of God (Rom. 5:8-10).
Religion is motivated, propelled, or driven by fear, not a holy reverence for God, but fear of wrath or judgement of God.
Religious folks pray, give tithes and offerings to God, give alms or gifts to the poor, seek to keep God’s laws, and do good works not out of sincere love for God and people, but either out of fear of punishment from God, or out of a selfish desire for rewards, blessings or favour from God.
Although religion is performance or works oriented, yet religious folks cannot have real peace with God because no one can be justified in God’s sight by his self-righteousness, performance or good works (Isa. 64:6).
The Scripture states: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Gal. 2:16 NKJV).
Religious folks are wild, aggressive, or violent because they have no peace with God, being constantly under guilt and condemnation, because their focus is on themselves and their imperfect self-righteousness, performance or good works, and not on Jesus Christ and His finished and perfect work.
It is only those who have put their faith in the person of Jesus Christ and His perfect work on the cross that can have peace with God and be able to approach and stand before God without any fear, guilt or condemnation.
The Scripture states: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1 NKJV).
“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” (Col. 1:21-22 NKJV).
Beloved, no religion in the world can present you holy, blameless and above reproach in God’s sight. Therefore, if you are merely religious, having no loving and intimate relationship with God through faith in Christ, you cannot approach God boldly to obtain mercy and find grace to help in your time of need (Heb. 4:16). Why?
Because the devil and your conscience will always accuse and condemn you!
It is only those in Christ Jesus that are free from any condemnation (Rom. 8:1)!
Find out more about the remarkable differences between Relationship with God and Religion about God in the next piece.
Prayer: My Dear Heavenly Father, I choose not to be merely religious but to have a loving and intimate relationship with You through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, I receive and confess Jesus Christ today as my personal Lord and Saviour, in Jesus’ name. Amen.