Is Christianity a “Relationship with God”?
We’ve all heard it said that “Christianity is a relationship with God, not a religion.” Is this true? If so, what is the support for it in the Holy Scriptures, God’s blueprint for authentic Christianity?
From beginning to the end, the Bible unveils the story of the Creator’s relationship with humanity: From the creation of people (Genesis 1:26-27 & 2:7) and their habitat—the earth and the physical universe wherein it dwells (Genesis 1-2)—to their directive (1:28) and moral responsibility (2:16-17). From their fall and banishment (Genesis 3) to their redemption (1 Peter 1:18-19 & Ephesians 1:7), the millennial reign of Christ on earth and the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth (2 Peter 3:13 & Revelation 21-22) where the LORD will forever dwell together with redeemed humanity (21:1-5).
As far as personal relationship goes, Adam communed with God in the Garden of Eden, even after his fall (Genesis 3:8-13); Enoch “walked with God” and they were so close that the LORD simply “took him away,” presumably so they could be together in Heaven, but also as a type of the future Rapture (Genesis 5:22-24); Moses communed with God in the Tent of Meeting wherein the LORD dwelt on the mercy seat between the gold-sculptured cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 33:11); Asaph walked with the Creator so closely that they figuratively held hands (Psalm 73:23-25); and David, of course, was “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22).
I’m sharing all this data to show that people have had a relationship with their Creator from the very beginning. In other words, fellowship with God is perfectly normal and is actually the first order of life. This explains Christ’s statement “seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). (Please notice that it says seek first and not seek only).
All of these people from the Old Testament had a relationship with the LORD despite the fact that they had an inferior covenant with God. Today a vastly superior covenant is available to all people through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8:6-7). This is the awesome message of the gospel—we can reconcile with our Creator, be forgiven of sin and receive eternal life & immortality (2 Timothy 1:10).
The “Message of Reconciliation”
The above explains why the gospel is referred to as the “message of reconciliation” in Scripture (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). ‘Reconciliation’ means “to turn from enmity to friendship” and this is the core of the Christian message: We can have an actual relationship with God through spiritual regeneration via the imperishable seed of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:23). I should add that ‘seed’ in the Greek is “sperm” (1 John 3:9) — believers are born-again of the imperishable sperm of Christ, the enduring living Word of God.
Christianity’s all about reconciling with God and literally knowing him. Christianity is a relationship with the awesome Creator of the universe and our works are merely an overflow of this relationship.
But religionists—legalists—reject this simple truth because having an actual relationship with the LORD is something that’s largely done in private and legalists are all about putting on airs of religiosity to impress others. Consequently, they divert to rule-ism and works-oriented religion. This is why the false ministers depicted in Matthew 7:15-23 immediately start boasting of their works when they come face-to-face with the Lord. As is typical with legalists, they thought their great works would secure them God’s favor and eternal salvation, but they were wrong.
Christ’s response to these legalists, “I never knew you,” is a key insight about legalists—they don’t have a relationship with the Lord and therefore don’t really know him despite claims to the contrary. Take the Pharisees, for example. They claimed that God was their father, which implied close kinship, but Jesus frankly told them they were children of the devil (John 8:41-44)! Another good example is the priests of Judah just prior to their forced exile; the LORD spoke of them like so:
“The priests did not ask,
‘Where is the LORD?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me;
the leaders rebelled against me.’ ”
He goes on to point out that they had no awe of God (verse 19). People who really know the LORD develop an overwhelming awe. Legalists lack such awe because they don’t know their Creator, even though they put on airs of veneration to impress others.
I should stress that works have their place. After all, James made it clear that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-24). But works are a result of having a relationship with God and not a means to the relationship. This is why Paul said it is by God’s favor we are saved, through faith, and not by works so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). Unfortunately, legalists choose to concentrate on their works so that they can boast. It’s all about ego and arrogance. We see this in the aforementioned passage from Matthew (7:15-23).
Godliness vs. Religion
Scholar E.W. Bullinger points out the differences between godliness and religion in his lexicon (335). The Greek word for godliness in the Bible is eusebeia (yoo-SEB-ee-ah), which relates to a real & vital relationship with the Almighty, whereas the Greek word for religion is thréskeia (thrays-KIH-ah), which refers to the outward acts of religious works and ceremonies. The latter can be performed by the flesh without knowing God at all, which is why legalists make it their focus, but the former—having a relationship with God—requires the human spirit; and, more precisely, reborn human spirit.
Jesus said, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24); ‘spirit’ in the latter case refers to the human spirit. The point being that true worship is not merely a matter of outward conformity to religious rules, ceremonies, works and places. Authentic worship springs from a regenerated spirit that’s connected with the LORD and involves communion between the individual and the indwelling Holy Spirit, who guides/helps us (John 16:13 & 14:26).
This, by the way, is why Christ & the epistles stressed the necessity of spiritual rebirth (John 3:3, 3:6 & Titus 3:5). This is relationship. ‘Godliness’ means to be like God and being like God naturally proceeds from relationship since we become like those we spend time with the most, which is the Law of Association. In other words, a relationship with God produces godliness. ‘Religion’ by contrast doesn’t refer to godliness, but to outward forms of devotion, which are wonderful as long as they proceed from one’s relationship with the LORD.
New Testament passages on “Relationship with God”
With the understanding of the above, let’s observe a smattering of random New Testament verses that express relationship with God, along with some insightful commentary:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God;
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
Genuine believers can know the Creator due to spiritual regeneration and the indwelling Holy Spirit whereas unbelievers—i.e. “pagans”— cannot. Please don’t take this the wrong way because unsaved people can certainly grasp God’s existence through the general revelation of creation (Psalm 19:1-4 & Romans 1:18-20), conscience (Romans 2:14-15) and the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11). The problem is un-regenerated people don’t have the spiritual software to commune with their Creator as children of God, which is why they need to be born again spiritually of God’s seed (1 John 3:9 & 1 Peter 1:23). Until this happens, they’re a creation of God, but not actually a child of God.
When I was an unbeliever throughout my teens I was an agnostic and desperately seeking truth—ultimate reality—the way it really is. I sensed the Creator’s existence through creation and inner conscience and, no doubt, the work of the Holy Spirit, which eventually led me to salvation through Christ at the age of 20.
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
This passage speaks for itself, but notice how it establishes God as Father/Son/Holy Spirit.
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Paul was a mature believer by this point—high level STAGE FOUR—and, as such, he considered everything a loss compared to knowing the Lord. Anything he had sacrificed in his life for the Lord he considered “garbage,” which means he didn’t consider those things that great a loss compared to gaining Christ and walking with God. When the Spirit moves you to let go of something, don’t desperately hold on to it. As you let it go and get closer to the Lord you will see that that thing you sacrificed was rubbish by comparison.
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,
Philippians 2:1 (NASB)
“Fellowship” refers to peaceful communion and presumes relationship. Regenerated believers have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
This passage quotes Jeremiah 31:34 and unveils the main purpose of the superior New Covenant—to reconcile with God and know the LORD.
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
In this prayer to the Father, the Messiah wasn’t defining eternal life, since eternal life literally means the life of the perpetual age-to-come; He was revealing the most important quality of eternal life, which is knowing the LORD!
Spiritually regenerated believers have eternal life—the life of the age-to-come—in their spirits since the Holy Spirit gives rebirth to the human spirit when a person accepts Christ (John 3:6 & 3:36). As such, we can tap into this abundant life daily (John 10:10), which is called:
- “living by the spirit” aka “walking in the spirit” (Galatians 5:16),
- “clothing yourself in Christ” (Romans 13:14),
- “participating in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) and…
- “putting on the new self” (Colossians 3:10 & Ephesians 4:22-24).
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
1 John 1:3
Again, “fellowship” presumes peaceful communion and therefore relationship.
We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
1 John 5:20
Everything comes down to knowing God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. Spiritual fruit & works will naturally proceed from there.
As you can see, true Christianity is all about reconciling with your Creator and walking in fellowship with the LORD on a daily basis. It’s as normal as breathing: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3 KJV).
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