Religion or Relationship?
There are two major religions in the world. More than half of the world’s population practice either Christianity or Islam. A third religion that is considered monotheistic or worship of the One True God is Judaism. Other religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism have their origins in India. Confucianism and Taoism began as philosophies or principles of living in China but became religions when people began to worship their human originators.
The word “religion” has two basic definitions.
1. It refers to the faith or belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny.
2. A type of belief system that may be personal or belonging to a religious institution or organization.
Religions are created and devised by man, and are based on trying to reach God through religious institutional concepts, dogmas, rules & regulations. Man-made religions are all based on people's efforts at reaching God and being made right with Him through their own efforts.
Relationship with God through Jesus Christ
The term ‘relationship’ when used in connection with Christianity refers to the believer’s state of affairs, kinship or closeness with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. God's plan for man's salvation and for being right with Him is described throughout the Holy Bible. It is not based on people's efforts and good works, but on His amazing love and grace for us. His plan involved His precious Son Jesus Christ paying the price and cost for our sins on His atoning death on the cross. You need to put ALL your faith and trust in Jesus and in what He did for us on the cross, and not in any religion or in your own efforts. Simply put all of your faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone, and accept His gift of salvation and eternal life, and also experience the joy of having a right RELATIONSHIP of becoming children of our heavenly Father, the One True God.
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (Jn. 1:12)
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:26) “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” (Rom. 8:14)
Jesus prayed to the Father, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the Only True God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (Jn. 17:3)
The way to reach the One True God is to first know Him and love Him. God also wants us to love our fellowmen. Loving God and other people will enable us to have a good relationship with Him and with others. (Mk. 12:28-34)
28 “Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, "Which is the first commandment of all?"
29 Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.
30 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment.
31 And the second, like it, is this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
32 So the scribe said to Him, "Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He.
33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."
34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." But after that no one dared question Him.”
Bad Religion and Bad Relationship
In reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we observe the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees were teaching religion while the Lord Jesus Christ was teaching relationship with the One True God and fellow human beings. Let us look at some examples.
“Then the Scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, ‘Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of God because of your tradition? .” (Mt. 15:1-3) The Scribes and Pharisees were not talking about washing one’s hands before eating for hygienic and health reasons. It was their religion to do so. It was their religious ritual or tradition to not only wash hands before meals but also bowls, cups, pitchers and other utensils. Our Lord Jesus Christ rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees for allowing their religious traditions to actually supercede the expressed commands of God (Mt. 15:3). If washing of hands and other actions before meals have become a religious ritual then we should discard such practices.
“For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother; and, he who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever profit you might have received from me has been dedicated to the temple’ – is released from honoring his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.” (Mt. 15:4-6)
It is a violation of God’s commandments If the offerings taken from the salary, earnings or profits and traditionally (regularly) are given to the temple (church, congregation or ministry) and used as an excuse for not supporting one’s aging parents who are unable to earn money themselves. The Bible teaches. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim. 5:8)
“Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart if far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Mt. 15:7-9)
Jesus Christ mends Broken Relationship with a Samaritan Woman
The Lord Jesus Christ talked with a woman of Samaria that is not an acceptable practice at that time. “Then the woman of Samaria said to Him (Jesus), ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” (Jn. 4:9) Soon after King Solomon’s death the nation of Israel was divided. The Jews are descendants of Israel's southern kingdom of Judah and the Samaritans descended from the northern kingdom of Israel. Both claimed to be true descendants of the nation of Israel. “The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” (Jn. 4:19-20)
The woman brought out the issue of which was the true religion. The Jews believed Jerusalem was the only true place of worship while the Samaritans located the true place of worship at Mount Gerizim. In 128 BC, the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple at Mount Gerizim. While the actual reasons for the hatred between the two religious groups is not known, it is known that the Jews believed the Samaritans were not pure from a religious viewpoint. Religion divides people therefore it is not in the will of God.
Worship the Father in Spirit and Truth
“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worships will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Jn. 4:21-24)
The woman of Samaria thought the difference between the two religions of the Jews and the Samaritans lie in the location of the temple or place of worship. Christian denominational churches and congregations carry this misconception down even to this day. Religion places importance in the physical aspects such as location of chapels, aesthetic quality of buildings, academic qualifications of ministers, oratory prowess of speakers, musical and choir presentations, the list can go on and on.
The Lord Jesus Christ threw religion aside and spoke to the woman about having a real relationship with the One True God. He said to her, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” This means God is not a physical being who is limited to only one place. He is present everywhere and He can be worshipped anywhere, at any time. It is not where we worship that counts, but how we worship. In worshipping our heavenly Father in the “spirit” we can praise and exalt the One True God in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:11; 10:44-46); “pray in the Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:2, 14; Rom. 8:26-27; Eph. 6:18; Jude 20) and “sing in the Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
Keep God’s Commandments to have Good Relationship with Him
In order to have an intimate and loving relationship with our heavenly Father the Lord Jesus Christ said that we must keep His Commandments. “At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My Commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (Jn. 14:20-21)
Worshipping our heavenly Father in truth means worshipping the One and Only True God according to His instructions. In the first four Commandments God has given us four instructions on true worship.
In the First Commandment God instructs us on who to worship. “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Ex. 20:2)
The Second Commandment gives instructions on what not to worship. “You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything . . . you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” (Ex. 20:4-6)
The Third Commandment gives instructions of how to worship. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” (Ex. 20:7)
In the Fourth Commandment God gives us instructions on when to worship Him. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . . For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them. And rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Ex. 20:8-11)
Keeping the Commandments of God enables a Christian to maintain a personal and close relationship with the One True God in the Lord Jesus Christ, “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (1 Jn. 3:24)
The Ten Commandments are divided into two great commandments (Mt. 22:34-40). Observance of the first four commandments keep believers in the proper relationship with the heavenly Father. Observance of the last six commandments keep Christians in good and loving relationship with other fellow-believers. The Lord Jesus Christ said, "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Mt. 22:40)
May God bless you
A sermon based on this article was preached by Paul Wong
to a Congregation in Houston, Texas on December 27, 2003. This article was published on this Website on August 12, 2009
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