I am not religious. It seems like a strange statement for a Christian to say, perhaps, but I realized long ago that there are key differences between Christianity and religion. Religion is a set of observances, statutes, ways that must be followed in order to obtain new life either in this life or in the next (whatever that means according to one’s personal beliefs). Religion involves adherence to a personal code of ethics and morals in order to appease God (or a god), often hoping that you have done enough, prayed the right words, shared your faith with enough people, performed the right rituals in the right way. Religion can be subjective and it often involves the fear of not measuring up to God’s standards in some way, shape or form and what the consequences are to the individual as a result. Christianity is different. Christianity is about a living, loving God who first reached out to us, not to force us into His presence, but to enfold us in it. God is altogether incomprehensible and yet still knowable. He draws us to Himself and calls us into an intimate, abiding relationship rooted in His Love. This is a distinct difference between religion and Christianity. Relationship in love.
If I were to ask you what your relationship with Jesus is like, how would you answer? “I pray” you may say, or “I meditate on the Word of God” or “I worship Him on Sundays.” These are all really good and really important things and we need to be doing each one of them both individually and corporately. But I wonder if we can dig further into the meaning of relationship itself? When I looked up the definition of the word “relationship,” Mirriam-Webster offered the word “kinship” and Google dictionary talked about a connection by blood. I love these looks at relationship when it comes to Christ. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ in this large family of believers through the blood of Christ.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:13).
Relationship. Kin. Blood.
“So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (Rom 7:4).
Christianity is about belonging. Belonging to Christ so that we might bear fruit for God. Belonging to Christ isn’t a feel-good pre-requisite for the good life in His company. When we belong to someone we become a part of them and they of us. So it is with Christ, we cannot grow or shrink back in belonging. We are the beloved of God, we are no more or less than that. And as His beloved, we are to bear fruit for God. We don’t bear fruit in order to measure up to a standard or as a pre-requisite to entering into heaven, but because we love God and a tangible way to show our love for him is by bearing fruit, doing good works, building others up, taking care of the temple of our own body.
Christianity is not about adherence to the law. Jesus came to fulfill the law. Christianity is about a relationship of belonging with God who loved us so much that He took our place unto death, out of pure love. Jesus wasn’t coerced, His Father didn’t force Him to walk the road to Calvary, or talk Him into it, or reason with Him. The relationship of Jesus and His Father was so personal and so intimate that Jesus willingly stepped forward into suffering because he knew and set His eyes on the ultimate goal. Why? Because of His love for us. His beloved. Because He knew that it was the only way for intimacy like that which He has with His Father to be available to us too. Relationship in love.
“I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”1
This quote by C.S. Lewis is stirring, timeless and full of truth. On the surface it sounds like a quote about happiness and comfort in life and faith, but take a look deeper and you will find relationship and love hidden beneath the words. You see, relationships aren’t comfortable. They’re not always happy…even the good ones. They’re messy, topsy-turvy, loving one minute and despising the next some days. Relationships take time, take grit and take devotion to each other. Relationships rooted in love, even more so. It’s easy to follow a religion, but less so to maintain a vibrant relationship with the living God, with Christ. God is not in the business of cushioning, coddling and entering us into the comfortable and the good places of life. If you want comfort, grab a seat in a recliner and lean back. Or grab hold of religion. Where the rules are all laid out for you and all you need to do is follow. No, God is in the business of loving, redeeming, purifying and regenerating us. Although God Himself never changes, He takes our lives and if we are willing, He will change, transform and conform us more and more into His own image. It’s not always a comfortable place to be.
Do you want to live a life of religion, or of Christ? A life of comfort and measuring up or a life of devotion to relationship and abiding love? I’ll choose love over comfort in order to know and be known by Christ.
- Wax, Trevin, “C.S. Lewis on Happy Religion,” April 28, 2007. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/cs-lewis-on-happy-religion/
Jennifer Heidinga is a first-year MDiv distance student. She’s a wife and mom to two wonderful children in Ontario, Canada. She loves to sing and enjoys spending time with her family and springer spaniel in the great outdoors, including weeklong backcountry canoe trips in the summer.