I wish I had a dime for every time I've heard some pastor say: "The Christian life is not about religion, it's about relationship." In the pastor's mind these are two polar opposites, mutually exclusive, oil and water. "Religion" is spoken of with contempt. "Religion" is bad, evil, hypocritical, Pharisaical, outward, pretentious, deplorable, detestable and abominable to God. "Relationship" is spoken of in glowing terms as wonderful, happy, pleasing to God, genuine, real, unhypocritical, authentic and good. And that of course is what this ministry, pastor, church is all about. "We're not into religion, we're into relationship." Sounds very good and spiritual. But is it true? This "truism" has always sounded a bit odd to me, and the other day I figured out why. It's simply not true. It's a falsism.
Religion and relationship are not mutually exclusive. To say that they are is to make a false dichotomy. It is both/and- and not either/or. In the Apostle Paul's first letter to Timothy he says: "We know that the law is good if a man uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for good men but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious..."
Here Paul is saying that to not be religious, God-seeking, holy, upright, devout, religious, Christ-honoring, God-pleasing, blameless, religious, humble, kind, gracious,etc.- is bad, not good, not pleasing to God, ungodly, sinful, fill in the blank. In other words, in God's words, it is good to be religious. To be irreligious is to be without relgion, and to be instead impious, undevout, wicked, sinful, evil.
And James the half-brother of our Lord says this: "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." So true religion according to James means control your yapper, help the helpless and keep your nose clean.
Religion is inescapable. Everyone is religious. Everyone worships someone or something. Either the Creator God, or His creation or creatures. Which is why idolatry is so often addressed in both testaments. So the issue is not whether one is religious or not. The issue is whether one is practicing a self-deceptive and worthless religion, or living out a religion that pleases God. And if your religion is of the God-pleasing variety, you'll be walking (by faith) in good "relationship" with your Lord, and with His people. True religion is relationship.