March 29, 2022

What Is The Difference Between Religion and Relationship

…he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit…  Titus 3:5

She was not a skeptic or an agnostic…neither was she looking for an argument.  The question came from a cultured, refined woman who asked in sincerity, “Dr. Sala, what is a Christian?”  Strangely enough, if you ask the question of twenty different individuals as I have done, you would probably come up with twenty different answers.  Often when someone answers that question, “What is a Christian?” they describe certain activities that are associated with the Christian life.  Here are a few typical examples:

“A Christian is one who goes to church,” or, “A Christian is one who does not cheat on his taxes or his mate.” In reality, being a Christian has no direct correspondence with the number of hours you may spend in a church, or where you were born, or the habits that govern your life.  These are results, not the root cause of being a Christian.  Incidentally, those who first were called Christians were called that in derision in the city of Antioch in the first century.  The term stuck and followers of Jesus have been called Christians ever since.

The word Christian is a diminutive of the word “Christ” and actually means “a little Christ.”  In simple terms, I think of a Christian as one who has had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, and as the result of receiving Him into his or her life begins to follow Him.  Too simple?  Perhaps it is.  Understanding what really happens may make it easier to comprehend.

The Bible tells us that when man was created, there was a beautiful oneness, and we did not sense that feeling of separation which makes God seem so far away.  The separation which results in estrangement and loneliness was the result of man’s saying, “God, get out of my life and let me choose my way.”  The prophet Isaiah put it like this, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way.”  This wanting to go our own way is the very essence of what the Bible describes as sin.

Over the centuries, man has done his best to prove to God that he is really a pretty good fellow, but someway our very best falls short of what God demands.  This is why Paul said, “We are saved not by works of righteousness or human effort, but completely by God’s grace” (Titus 3:5).  Man’s total failure to be good enough to please God resulted in Christ’s coming from heaven to earth, bridging the separation between us and God.  When Christ died, God was willing to accept His death in place of ours so that we could be forgiven and a new relationship with God could be established.

One more thing: becoming a Christian involves personally accepting by faith what I have just shared with you.  Jesus Christ Himself put it like this, “I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and will open the door, I will come into his heart and have fellowship with him and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).

In the city of London stands one of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals, St. Paul’s, and just off the nave of the church hangs a famous painting of Christ based on the words of Jesus which I quoted.  It shows Christ standing at the door of a home knocking.  On one occasion a visitor stood and observed that the picture had no handle on the outside of the door.  He pointed this out to the painter, Holman Hunt, indicating that the painting was unfinished.  Then Mr. Hunt replied, “No, there is no handle on the outside because only you can open the door from within.”


Resource reading: John 1: 35-51.