These two concepts have only one thing in common: they both start with the letter R. The differences are great and vastly opposite each other. While religion is popular, accepted and comes in different forms; relationship with God pleases God and has no limitations. Keep this in mind, as we look at religion vs. relationship in the Word of God.
The Webster's Dictionary definition of religion is: 'An organized system of beliefs and rituals centering on a supernatural being or beings.' Jesus gave us a warning a long time ago to watch out for religion, through the prophet Isaiah. In Matthew 15:6-9 Jesus said, ".... You have made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. You hyprocrites, well did Isaiah prophecy of you saying, this people draws near unto me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Religion says from the pew, "yes, amen, that is the truth." But when it comes time to prove it out in one's life, they are full of excuses or human reasonings. Being a hearer only, without intention to do what one hears - makes one's prayers powerless. Relationship with God brings you to the truth, and the truth will make you free. Where there is no obedience, there's no love of God at work in one's heart. There is no heart of love for God in religion. It keeps one lukewarm and distant from God.
Now turn to Colossians 2:8 amplified. Here it describes religion for what it really is. "See to it that no one carries you off as spoil or makes you yourselves captive by his so called philosophy and intellectualism and vain deceit (idle fancies, and plain nonsense), following human tradition (men's ideas of the material rather the spiritual world), just crude notions following the rudimentary and elemental teachings of the universe and disregarding (the teachings of) Christ (the Messiah)." Religion starts in the mind of man and stays there, never connecting to God. Religion keeps a person trapped in the soulish realm of the mind, will, and emotions. Religion is man-made. Anything made from man has limitations and restrictions. . Relationship with God removes those limitations and restrictions, "But with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26)
The Webster's Dictionary defines relationship as: 'a relation connecting participates together in a relationship or a kinship.' I heard this question asked once, "Why did God make us and for what purpose?" God is a father and He wanted children. God desires to have fellowship with us as His children. God is love, and Love needed someone to give to. He gave His children the world as our inheritance. Turn in your bibles to John 14:23, 'Jesus answered and said unto him, "If a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." This example of divine relationship can happen on the inside of a believer 24/7. Religion knows about God, but relationship knows God personally. In fact stop right now and start praising and thanking God. If you are born again, then talk to God. He is your Father!
There are two keys that this divine relationship is based on - love and obedience.
God is perfect, and has done His part; but we have to participate with Him, by being doers of the Word of God. Remember the greatest commandment is found in Matthew 22:37, 'Jesus said unto him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." Real love activates obedience from the heart. Just to do a bunch of do's and dont's will create a religious robot, and will not produce relationship. On the other hand being born again, is the beginning of a relationship with God. Over time there should be a increase in this sweet, wonderful relationship from year to year. If not, then we are the ones who need to conform our lives more to the Word of God. As you read your Bible in the days ahead, take note to those scriptures that represent religion or relationship. Here is a example, Romans 8:14, 'For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.' (relationship); and Luke 6:46, "And why call me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?" (religion).
The best time is now, to make the change from religion to relationship. Repent and be honest with God, and purpose in your heart to become a doer of the Word today.
This word once struck a great reverential worship towards the Lord's house, His presence, and the believers life. Now holiness is just for those special people in ministry. In Isaiah 35:8,9 it says, 'And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it .... but the redeemed shall walk there ....' The very way that leads to eternal life, is called holiness. This is the way our Heavenly Father speaks and acts from. One needs to locate their position on the highway of holiness; or be relocated.
We see that holiness starts and ends with our Father God. Psalms 99:9 says, 'Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His holy hill; for the Lord our God is holy.' Psalms 47:8 says, '.... God sits upon the throne of His Holiness.' When a king is on his throne, any judgment and decision is going to be deceived; that will affect the whole kingdom. The Lord's judgments are not only just but also holy (Psalms 108:7). Holiness is also mentioned with God's deliverance of His people. Obadiah 1:17 says, 'But your mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall posses their possessions.' In fact holiness is smack down in the middle of salvation, for all through Jesus Christ. Romans 1:4 says, 'And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.' Holiness also carries a calling to all who are born again. 1Thessalonians 4:7 says, 'For God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.'
Holiness means being separated for God. Since the Lord is holy, men of God should have proofs of His holiness in their life. Romans 6:22 says, 'But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.' We see again that the path to eternal life, is a path of holiness. One may ask what is holiness? The bible describes holiness by listing what it is not. In Romans 6:19 it says, 'I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as you have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even now yield your members servants to righteousness and true holiness.' Members is one's body and mind, no longer having fruit unto uncleanness and iniquity. Ephesians 4:24 says, 'And that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.' One's spirit at the new birth is created to walk on this path of holiness, but there is still a individual choice. Either to let the flesh dominate one's future, or the new spirit man in Jesus Christ; forever more. There is a discipline to living holy, that comes from the Father who is holy. Hebrews 12:10 [amp.] says, 'For [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for only a short period of time and chastised us as seemed proper and good to them; but He disciplines us for our certain good, that we may become sharers in His own holiness.' We think of holiness as a consecration or separation. Like following Jesus to the Father, and our back to the unholy world (no turning back).
Every scripture that we have looked at, is written to the believer, not the unbeliever who is unholy. Holiness is not some moral code of ethics. That one has to strive to fulfill with all their might. Holiness is the root of spiritual character, planted in every child of a holy, righteous, loving God. One may be asking why? Hebrews 12:14 says, 'Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.'
Holiness is the only way
To receive one's eternal reward
From the hand of the Lord.