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 draweth near unto me with their mouth, and honoureth 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.