Religion or Relationship?
by Joyce Meyer
Did you know that God wants to be your friend? Jesus experienced death
on the cross so that you and I could have a deep intimate, personal relationship
It was never His plan to come and give us a list of rules to follow so that we
could be acceptable to God.
For the most part, that is what religion is all about—following a set of rules
and regulations. When we keep the rules, we feel good about ourselves, and when
we fail to keep them, we feel bad about ourselves. I was a religious person for
a long time. I struggled to keep all the rules I thought I needed to keep so I
could feel good about myself and be accepted by God. I soon discovered that the
biggest problem with being religious was that it kept me from enjoying my life
and my relationship with God.
Unlike religion, relationship is about fellowship, not what we do or
don’t do. It’s about being in love with God and communicating with Him
throughout the day, just like we would with a good friend.
Ephesians 3:12 says, …because of our faith in Him, we dare to have the
boldness (courage and confidence) of free access (an unreserved approach to God
with freedom and without fear). In other words, as a result of our faith
in Jesus, we can enjoy an ongoing relationship with God that is part of our
normal everyday life.
There is a big difference between practicing religion and experiencing
a relationship with God. I would like to share some things with you that God
has taught me about what it means to have an intimate relationship with Him.
God’s Expectations or Man’s
“What does God expect of me?” Many people ask themselves that question, and the
answer has a lot to do with how you view your relationship with God. I’ll never
forget what a woman at one of my conferences shared with me. She said God told
her that religion is man’s idea of God’s expectations, and I think that’s a
very good definition. For example, many people think God expects them to be
good. But the Bible says that there is no one righteous, not even one.(1) God
knew that you and I were not capable of being good apart from Him. That’s why He sent Jesus—so we could become
the righteousness of God in Christ.(2)
The truth is, we need God’s grace to be good, because being good is not just
about our behavior or following certain rules…it’s also about our motives. If
we are in close fellowship with God, the natural result will be that we are
motivated and empowered by our relationship with Him to do the things that He
would like us to do.
Whether it’s helping others, reading the Word, praying or doing any other good
thing, if our relationship with God is priority, then we’re going to be
concerned with what He thinks. In other words, we will be motivated by
wanting to please God and love people, not by our own need for acceptance or
fear of what others may think.
Are You Enjoying Your Life?
Another sign that we are practicing religion instead of experiencing relationship
is that we are not enjoying our life or our relationship with God. The high
call of every believer is to enjoy God. If we don’t enjoy God, we won’t enjoy
life because He is life.(3) If you and I are just practicing religion, then
everything seems to center around following rules and keeping laws.
The truth is, we can make a law out of almost anything! We can make a law out
of exercise, cleaning house, prayer, Bible reading…you name it. I can remember
when I was so religious about cleaning my house that I couldn’t even relax and
enjoy having friends over for a meal. I made such a big deal out of making sure
everything was perfect before the guests came over that by the time they got
there, I was angry and exhausted and wished they would go home.
If we’re just practicing religion, even our relationship with God can become a
burden. Instead of looking forward to being with Him, we feel like we have
to spend time reading His Word, we have to pray, we have to
go to church… and the list goes on. But when you and I are enjoying an intimate
relationship with God, we see things differently. Spending time with Him
becomes a privilege—we get to read the Bible, we get
to pray, and we get to go to church!
Now, I’m not saying that we should never have any rules in our lives. Having
rules is okay because they actually help us live a disciplined life. But having
rules becomes a problem when we feel like we are unacceptable or not good
enough when we fail to keep them. Jesus doesn’t want us to live under guilt and
condemnation. He came to set us free.
Are You Experiencing Freedom?
I believe there’s a world full of people who are living under the bondage
of religious rules and regulations who would love to experience friendship with
God. Jesus paid a great price so we could be made the righteousness of God and
brought into right relationship with Him. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, For
our sake He made Christ [virtually] to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in and
through Him we might become [endued with, viewed as being in, and
examples of] the righteousness of God [what we ought to be,
approved and acceptable and in right relationship with Him,
by His goodness].
You and I should be encouraged to focus on our relationship with the Lord, not
on things such as how many chapters of the Bible we read or praying the “right”
number of hours. We were saved from our sins so we could know God and have fellowship
with Him. God wants us to be relaxed in His presence and be ourselves in our
relationship with Him. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…
(Galatians 5:1 NIV).
My husband, Dave, is my best friend—I fellowship with him all day long. I am free
to relax and be myself and talk to him at any time about anything, no matter
how I am feeling. In the same way, that is how God wants you and me to relate
The choice is yours: You can either practice religion, striving to
keep rules and regulations, or you can enjoy relationship,
experiencing intimacy with God. The God of all creation wants to be your
friend—to talk to you about everything, to share your secrets, your joys and
your tears. I encourage you to seek Him for a personal revelation of His love
so you can relax and enjoy a free and intimate relationship with Him— starting