I think if I hear these phrases again I’ll spit!
It’s a Relationship, not a Religion.
Christianity doesn’t change a person, Jesus does.
Jesus is my Savior, not my religion.
Religion sets rules. Jesus sets free.
God has no religion.
When I married my husband, I didn’t say “We have love, not a marriage.” The fact is, there are rules within our marriage that we follow to maintain our good relationship. There are certain things I do and don’t do simply because it pleases my sweetheart. It wouldn’t be much of a marriage if I thought there was nothing I needed to improve upon, nothing to strive for after we said our vows. Even when we don’t feel very loving to each other we are still married though, for better or for worse. Is that a marriage? Or a Relationship? It’s both!
I’m so thankful for BOTH concepts of Grace and Holiness in Scripture, that we are saved entirely by God’s grace and mercy through no striving on my own (Eph. 2:8-9). And yet God in his wisdom and love did not leave me in my sinful condition. He desires that we then grow in the Lord, seeking to please God through good works (1 Thess. 4:1, Matthew 5:48). The process we go through in this life following Christ and obeying His commandments found in the Bible is a religion called Christianity. So many are confused by the two concepts of Grace and Holiness, and I suppose that’s understandable given the lack of context given to many verses which deal with these topics. I read an article not long ago that mixed it up by saying,
The message of the gospel—the entire storyline of scripture—is God’s loving pursuit of people who run from him as fast as they can and who live lives unworthy of his love. That’s why it’s called grace. But our Sunday school lessons teach us to be good little boys and girls, and God will love us and use us. It’s the total opposite of the gospel. It’s a counterfeit of the worse kind. (source)
Ok, so are we not to teach the kids to be “good little kids”? That’s a bad thing? Why do my red flags go up here? I first noticed an error in her phrase “the entire storyline of Scripture”. The whole Bible does not teach just the gospel. It also teaches obedience to God’s commands and how to grow in grace. (John 14:15) This author is mixing the two concepts of grace and holiness, and ignoring the Scriptures that teach both. In theological terms, it’s justification (Romans 3:24) and sanctification (Philippians 3:13-15). Justification is when God declares us forgiven of sins, “just as if” we had never sinned. Sanctification is the lifelong process, begun at salvation to transform us into the image of God.
So is Christianity a set of rules? Yes, and in the New Testament there are weightier rules than the Mosaic Law ever had. We have the command to have the mind of Christ, for instance (Philippians 2:5). Doing good works is a big deal in the New Testament. In fact, James says that if you have no good works, no growth, then the validity of your salvation is brought into question (James 2:14-20).
I’m a logical person in many ways, so it helps me to keep the concepts separate in my mind. All the while, we teach both holy living and grace in our home, our songs, our school, and our church. Maybe those of us in the ministry need to be more careful to make the distinctions. I hope this helps you be discerning and sensible.
Romans 8:30 says that God sees you fully forgiven and sinless at the moment of Justification because of Christ’s substitutionary atonement. It’s a done deal that if we are justified by true faith, then we will be glorified in heaven eventually. Along the way, though, we are striving to please God in this life as much as we can. Perfection is not possible until we are glorified, but we still strive because we love our Savior. Scripture sometimes refers to the above chart as a whole as “salvation.” Everything above the line is happening to someone who is saved. So when your Christian friends encourage you to strive for more holiness, it’s not legalism. Legalism is trying to put sanctification below the salvation line in the chart above. We don’t do works to gain salvation or to keep from losing salvation. We do good works because of salvation. It is simply sanctification.
Here is another way I think of it:
Or here is a more scholarly excerpt of Wayne Grudem’s Theology on the subject. “Sanctification by Wayne Grudem” >>>
I religiously study the Bible and continually change my actions to conform to God’s commands. I religiously attend church services and offer service to others in an effort to please God. I also have a relationship with God knowing that He will always be faithful to me. He has promised to lead me, and guide and direct my life. He answers my prayers and calms my fears.
So is my faith a Religion or a Relationship? It’s both.