Christianity and The Battle of Religion vs. Relationship

Friday, January 12, 2018

Disclaimer: This post is a fairly controversial topic within the evangelical Christian world. Keep in mind while reading that this post is not written with any snarkiness, nor is it intended to offend anyone. I simply want to address an issue that doesn't really get addressed very often. We can still be unified as brothers and sisters in Christ without seeing eye-to-eye on this. It's okay if we disagree on the following subject, because it is a non-essential. However, even the non-essentials are good to discuss from time-to-time.


I grew up thinking that the word "religion" meant anything but Christianity. I would silently (or not-so-silently) correct people who would say things like "My religion is Christianity". I would make sure that people knew that Christianity is a relationship- not a religion.

This reaction came from two things: First of all, many people I knew who used the term "religion" to describe Christianity were nominal Christians (meaning they said they were Christians but it was clear that they had no love or passion for Jesus, or for the Christian life). Secondly, a lot of the time, the terms "religion" or "religious" were used to describe rules, living a life that would earn us salvation, or rigid regulation or oppression from a higher power.

It's understandable, then, why so many Christians cringe at those terms. It's understandable that our gut reaction would be to declare that Christianity is none of those things.

However, in the last couple of years, I've come to realize something: Religion is not the antonym of relationship, and equating Christianity with religion is not bad. In fact, it's accurate.

For those of you cringing at my words, please hear me out. I'm pretty sure I'm not saying what you think I'm saying. And I would love a chance to explain.

Is Christianity a Relationship or a Religion? And is "religion" a bad word? #faith #Christianity #religion #bible

What Constitutes as a Religion?

When people talk about Christianity not being a religion, but a relationship, I totally get where they are coming from. As I mentioned earlier, religion has become a word that means rules, regulations, and living to earn salvation. And obviously, that's not an accurate depiction of Christianity. However, those things are not actually what "religion" means. The word that would be more appropriate in such a situation is "legalism". And legalism is a terrible, terrible thing. As Christians, we should cringe at that word.

But a religion is simply a set of beliefs, way of thinking, and/or the worship of a higher power. And that's what we do as Christians. We hold to a set of beliefs, we shape our way of thinking according to Scripture, and we worship the God of the Bible for who He is and all He has done. That means that Christianity is a religion. The difference however, is that it is the only religion that runs on grace, instead of our own works. It is the only religion that says that we can never work our way to heaven, and that it's all going to be okay because someone took our place.

Why Does It Matter?

I can also hear the second set of objections to this post as I type: "But Kristin, why does it matter? Why are you spending time on a post about word-choice?".

My answer? Because I see Christians being judgmental to other Christians who use the term "religion" to describe their faith. They assume that because a person uses the word "religion" as a descriptor of Christianity, they must not really know God and they must not really have a relationship with God.

And in those moments, I just wonder- how is that any better? How is alienating a brother or sister in Christ just because they use the "wrong" phrase any better than living by a rigid set of rules in order to elevate yourself?

A person who uses the term "religion" to describe their faith or their relationship with God does not necessarily have any less of a love for God. They can be just as connected to God as those who never let that word leave their mouth. A term doesn't define a relationship with God- the actual relationship does. Time spent with God shapes us, not the words we use to describe that time.

I realize that not everyone who says "It's a relationship, not a religion" is judging other Christians for using the term "religion". I also recognize that most of the people who have a problem with that term have good intentions. And honestly, we probably agree on the type of life a Christian needs to be committed too. We are simply using different words. But the thing is, if we are going to get mad at someone for the phrases they are using, we need to make sure that we have our definitions correct.

This is especially true because, not only do we not want to be condemning Christians for something that isn't even accurate, but we also want to make sure we aren't confusing non-believers. Can you image being a non-believer and hearing some devout Christians say that they love being a part of their religion, while hearing others loudly proclaiming that Christianity isn't a religion at all? How confusing and dis-unified does that sound? Probably very much so to those who don't know Jesus.

Religion vs. Relationship in the Christian Life. #faith #Christianity #religion

My Conclusion

Brothers and sisters in Christ, keep on hating the idea that we can somehow earn our way to salvation, or that our actions somehow make God like us better than other believers. I'm right there with you. That's a terrible view that diminishes God's grace and keeps us from receiving much of what God has to offer us. But please, stop judging people when they say that Christianity is a religion. Stop saying that "Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship", and stop declaring that religion keeps people from God. That is not accurate. And that inaccuracy actually causes a lot more confusion and judgement than you realize and I doubt very seriously that is your intent. The word I think you are looking for is "legalism", and if you want to shout your disdain for legalism from the rooftops, I will gladly join you.


This post was not meant in a rude tone at all. It wasn't meant to hurt or offend anyone. I only hoped to bring to light something that I used to have backwards too- for the majority of my life.

And if you still disagree with me, and you still hate the word "religion", then that's okay. Just as there is nothing wrong in my eyes with the word "religion", I also don't think there's any reason why you would need to say it. It's just a word. I'm not suggesting it's a superior term- only that people who use it are not inferior. 

And it's totally okay to disagree. We are still siblings in Christ, we are still unified on the most important issues, and we still have the same ultimate purpose. We don't have to agree on this. But I wanted to share my thoughts. And you can too. Comment below and let me know how you feel. I would love to hear from you.

Is Christianity a Religion? #faith #Christianity

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