Christianity: Religion or Relationship?

Luke 9:18-26

Religions, in general, offer their followers a set of values and rules by which to live. Some religions demand total and absolute commitment that may lead to whatever reward they offer, while others are less demanding.

C.S. Lewis once said: “The moment a man seriously accepts a deity, his interest in ‘religion’ is at an end. He’s got something else to think about.” What Lewis meant by “something else” is that when a person encounters finds God, he or she is overwhelmed by His presence, unlike simply adopting a religion with its rules and practices.

When you speak to people about religion, they often think of a set of values, a doctrine, or a system. Many who claim to be practicing Christians will talk about their denomination, their doctrine, their favourite speaker’s set of values or methods, but they are not willing to pay the price it takes to be close to God.

The most important question we face as Christians is not whether we believe in Jesus and the Gospel He preached, but whether we want to follow Him and get involved with Him.

Being a Christian means living in a real relationship with the risen Lord Jesus, and not just doctrines, rules or a code of ethics. When a person finds and accepts Jesus as his or her Lord and Saviour, a total transformation takes place and the person becomes a new creation and God the Holy Spirit comes to live in this person.

This transformation is called being “born again”. When this happens, God asks for unconditional surrender to His leadership. For this relationship to grow, obedience to the Lord is a must. Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Jesus did not ask us to do something He was not willing to do Himself! Remember that He died for us, not because He had to, but because He loved us; all He asks of us is to die to our own selfishness and give Him first place in our lives, not because He demands it, but out of humble gratitude for His love for us.

I know many who are committed to a set of values and will defend those values and beliefs even with their lives, and yet they are not in a personal relationship with Christ and their understanding of God is little more than a mystery or a religious concept. Just because one is committed to Christian values or traditions, it does not mean he or she is a Christian. You may disagree with this statement, but the Bible says that a set of laws or values cannot justify or save a soul!

To be committed to a set of Christian values is to be moralist, but not necessarily a true Christian. The commitment to be a “good” person to the best of one’s ability sadly results in disillusionment and confusion. As hard as we may try to be good, the truth is that we can only be a little better… but not as good as God can make us.

No one can live a moral life in their own power, so we negotiate and renegotiate values and lower the standard. We lower and compromise our values and level of integrity. By compromising and trying to become politically correct, we deceive ourselves and we lose sight of sins in our life. We justify or excuse ourselves by comparing ourselves to the “national average” instead of the standards of the Word of God.

You may ask: “What is the difference? Why does it matter whether we are committed to a set of values or to a Person?” It is not a belief system or even Christ’s teachings that lead us to eternal life, but it is the Person of Christ . It is the Person of Christ that produces a new spiritual life in us—not faith in ourselves and our own efforts.

We may not understand the difference right away when we commit ourselves to Christ but it becomes clear when we focus on the Word of God and on Jesus who said: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

Jesus said, simply, “Follow Me.” He didn’t say “Follow my religion” or “Follow my set of values” or even “Just believe in me.” He said, “Follow Me.” He said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” (John 10:9) And, again, He said: “I am the resurrection and life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25)

It is Jesus’ life that connects us to God—not our efforts to copy His values. We would like to be good, kind, and pure, but we do not have the power to do it. Only Christ in us can do it.

After Jesus had asked Simon Peter three times: “Simon, do you truly love me?” and received the same response every time: “Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” did Jesus say to him: “Follow me.” (John 21:19)

The call to discipleship is very specific and demands a response of total and unconditional commitment to the person of Christ. Jesus said to His disciples: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

To become committed to the Person of Christ, we must, by faith, allow our “self” to be crucified with Christ so that His power may be released in us—that is, the Power of the Holy Spirit. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Today churches are filled with well-meaning people who sincerely want to be Christians. But they are confused. They believe that the Christian life is a commitment to certain principles. However, Jesus very clearly said: “I am the way. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Imitating Christ does not lead to everlasting life; surrendering to Him does. It is not guessing what Christ would do and imitating Him; it is admitting that we cannot imitate Him at all. And because we cannot imitate Him, His blood was spilled on the cross.

We must surrender our will, heart, mind, soul, and strength to the Person who died for us, not to a set of Christian values. It is not what we follow, but who we follow; not a religion or set of rules but a Person: Jesus .

Have you made a commitment and, if you have, to whom or to what have you committed your life? Was that commitment made to Christ, or to a church and a set of values?

Pastor Joseph Hovsepian