“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 a 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.
18 Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,
21 and having a High Priest over the house of God,
22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (NKJV).
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.
1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You,
2 “as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.
3 “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (NKJV).
The Greek word translated “know” in this verse is “ginosko.” It means to know, understand, perceive, to have knowledge of, or to become acquainted with. It is also a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. It implies intimacy.
Paul used the same word in his prayers for the Church in Ephesus.
14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,
17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height–
19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (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.
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 about God.
First, a loving and intimate relationship with God is purely based on Grace, but religion is purely based on Works:
We all 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 his epistle to the Romans.
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 this truth.
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.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. (NKJV).
On the contrary, 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. However, it promotes and pursues self-righteousness which is based on the works of the law (Heb. 10:1-4).
Paul confronted the self-righteous, religious Jews in Rome with this truth.
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith;
31 but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law.
32 Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,
33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (RSV).
Religion is not based on faith alone in Christ and His redemptive work, but on men and their good works. Religion takes pride not in the finished work of Jesus, but in men’s works or acts of holiness.
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, it makes the believers to be primarily Christ-conscious, Christ-focused, Christ-centered, and Christ-dependent.
Understanding that your justification, 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, self-centered, and self-dependent because it is primarily based on your self-righteousness, performance, or good works.
Religion sets or focuses your attention either on your sins, thereby condemning you, or on your self-righteousness, thereby making you proud. Whichever way, religion makes you to become preoccupied with yourself.
But, 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.
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.
6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
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. (NKJV).
No one can have a loving and intimate relationship with God without 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 (Rom. 5:5).
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 rather 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 punishment, wrath or judgement of God.
Religious folks pray to God, read God’s Word, obey God, worship or serve God, give their tithes and offerings to God, and give alms or gifts to the poor, 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 and praise from men.
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).
16 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. (NKJV).
1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. (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 finished work that can have peace with God and be able to approach and stand before God without any shame, fear, guilt or condemnation.
Paul clearly states this truth in his epistles.
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (NKJV).
21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled
22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight– (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 or stand in God’s presence 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 remarkable differences between Relationship with God and Religion about God in the second part of this 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 believe and confess Jesus Christ today as my personal Lord and Saviour, in Jesus’ name. Amen.