It’s Not About Religion. It’s About A Relationship. Really?

On the sign of a local church: It’s not about religion. ?It’s about a relationship with Jesus.

When I first saw the sign I thought, that’s great, they’re trying to reach people ? and I know what they’re saying. Christianity isn’t drudgery; it’s not a bunch of tedious rules and regulations we slog through; it’s a joy-filled relationship with God through Jesus. ?I commend that church for reaching out to our community.

But the more I thought about it the more it bothered me. Bear with with me here ? remember, I’m an old guy and I’m entitled to these kinds of musings. ?If you want you can blast me afterwards but hear me out for a second.

The sign bothered me because being a Christian IS about religion. ?Religion and relationship with Jesus aren’t mutually exclusive. ?Being a Christian is about religion AND a relationship.

Religion is a specific set of beliefs about God and the practices those beliefs require. If we don’t believe Jesus is God, who became a man, lived a life of perfect obedience to his Father, died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead, we won’t be saved and can have no relationship with the Father or Jesus Christ. Without religion there is no relationship.

James certainly saw religion as important:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. ?Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:26-27

If one can think he is religious yet not be, then it must be possible to actually be. If there is a religion that is worthless, then there is a religion that is true and worth having. ?James says true religion will lead us to bridle our tongues, visit afflicted orphans and widows ?and live holy, unstained lives.

In other words, it IS about religion – which affects how we live. It affects our speech. It makes us loving and holy.

The problem with the statement “It’s not about religion. ?It’s about a relationship with Jesus” is that it’s vague. ?It’s undefined, warm and fuzzy. ?But it can say the wrong thing.

If taken the wrong way people might think they don’t need to believe specific truths or be a committed member of a church. That they need not gather with others to hear the word preached or learn sound doctrine or serve others or speak the truth in love, confront sin or repent. It’s just me and Jesus; I don’t need all that religion stuff.

Yes, it is about relationship with Jesus which we receive as a free gift of God. But we cultivate that relationship by abiding in his word, prayer, worship, exercising faith, obedience and loving others – by our religion.

So what would I put on our sign? Maybe something like ? It’s not about religion ? if you think religion means boring drudgery and meaningless rules. It’s about a religion that leads to and fuels a satisfying saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Of course that’s too much for a sign you have 1.2 seconds to read as you drive by. But you know what I mean. ?Ok, old man’s musings are done. ?Fire away.

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Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.


  • Thanks for the great article! “Religion” is a great word that we need to preserve. It is linked to several different words in Latin which I think may contribute to some of the confusion. The first one is “relegere” which means the virtue of religion makes man ponder over the things related to God’s worship. The second is “Re-eligere” meaning to choose again. The third, “Religare” , means to bind together expressing the way religion binds us to the service of God. One of the early church fathers, Lactantius, in his ‘Divine Institutes’, IV, xxviii. derives religion from religare: We are tied to God and bound to Him [religati] by the bond of piety, and it is from this, and not, as Cicero holds (Cicero used relegere), from careful consideration, that religion has received its name. Augustine evolved on his idea of what religion meant. Shortly after he was saved he wrote ‘On the True Religion’ (389) , where he says: ‘Religion binds us [religat] to the one Almighty God.’   In ‘City of God'(written 413), X, iii, he derives religion from re-eligere in the sense of recovering: having lost God through neglect [negligentes], we recover Him [religentes] and are drawn to Him. Augustine himself was not satisfied with this thought, for in his ‘Retractions'(427), (How humble is that? – he writes a book at the end of his life about all the things he got wrong!) I, xiii, he abandoned re-eligere going back to his initial definition religare. Aquinas in ‘Summa Theologica’ defined all three uses but didn’t favor one. My take is that all three definitions have value but religare is where it’s at. “I am the vine you are the branches, apart from (being bound to) me you can do nothing”. The story of the Bible is that we were once far off and now we are bound.

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