Religion or Relationship

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“Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”

Have you heard this expression used to describe Christianity? I believe it to be true—even though the word relationship is not found in the Bible. There are a few Bible translations that interject this word in some verses to bring forth the idea of a relationship, but there is no corresponding Greek word for it. Therefore the “translated” word does not belong there. Some hold that the first and second commandments of love is the closest to that of relationship, but I believe true love is just the highest expression in a relationship and does not capture the soul-bonding that may exist between two individuals.

One can have a worldly symbiotic type of relationship in which two partners both benefit in some way from being together. Many marriages exist in which the wife is devoted to serving needs of the husband and the husband cares for the well-being of the wife. This is certainly not God’s highest for marriage. God said, the two (man and wife) shall become one, which is a much higher thought than the two living under one roof. When two parties seek a relationship solely because each may benefit in some way through this interaction, it consigned simply to the carnal nature of man and falls short of its divine intention.

I believe we would all agree that David’s relationship with Jonathan is not at the same level of “love” as David’s relationship with Bathsheba. Compare:

“Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself,” 1 Sam. 18.1 and

”Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.  So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; 2 Sam 11. 2-4

Two relationships involving David, one born out of love and one born out of lust.

The latter third of the book of Genesis relates the complex relationship of the patriarch Jacob, his four wives, and their thirteen children (twelve sons, one daughter). . Jacob worked seven years for his uncle Laban for the hand of Rachael in marriage. (See Gn. 29) He deceptively was given the oldest daughter Leah as a wife and had to work another seven years for Rachael. Jacob did not love Leah, but in their relationship her basic needs were well met and she bore six sons. Jacob’s relationship with Rachael was founded in love, and she only bore two sons, Joseph and Benjamin, who became the dearest to the heart of Jacob. When Leah and Rachael stopped having children they each gave their handmaids to Jacob to be “like a wife.” Each handmaid bore two sons.

In terms of relationships it quite apparent that only the one with Rachael was born out of love. It was special. The one with Leah was born out of deception, and Jacob’s relationship with the two maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah, was merely a matter of culture and procreation. Even through the nature of relationships were quite different, these twelve sons became the heads of their own family groups, later known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel because they all came from the seed of Jcaob.


And so it is love, that force that drives souls into true relationships. Do not be fooled, not all love is love, by which I mean the Bible translates different words as “love.” The lowest level is the Greek word bios, which is actually lustful, sensual, and dominated by physical attractions. Initially David was lustful for Bathsheba. The next word many times translated as love in the Bible is philio, which is an emotional fondness for another—being with another satisfies the longing of the soul. The highest form of love, which is a Godly love, is agape, is an inner passion, a strong desire, for the total well-being of another. Agape love is not sensual, nor is it emotional based on today’s feelings, but is a caring of the heart for another.

Regarding God: “God is love,” 1 Jn. 4.16, and, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jn 3.16

Regarding man: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another,” Jn. 13.34 and, regarding the question of what is the greatest commandment, “Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Mt. 22.37-39 

Quality Attributes of Agape Love in a Relationship

Are there visible signs of this agape love? Yes there are, but they are not weighted by what one does for another. The true measure is what one is to another—and by this I mean a true Godly relationship cannot be measured in deeds done on behalf of another or the strength of an emotional attractions to another but is measured by the response of the soul, the most inner you. Whether it is love in a marriage, a bonding between best friends, or simply the love of God and the brethren, there are qualities or attributes emanating from the soul that truly manifests this Agape love. Following is a discussion of three of those attributes. Each one will be noted on both the behalf of God’s side of the relationship, and on the believer’s side as well.


I experienced something very spiritual a few times in my life. The experiences were so real and so powerful that my life was forever changed. No one could witness anything happening but only observe my reaction to it. I do not wish to go into details at this time, but only to say that these experiences involved crossing that threshold between knowing God, and His Son, from a distance, as from the immeasurable distance or separation between my world and heaven; to knowing them very close and personal. No longer was He the God or the Christ somewhere in heaven, but He became a God of intimacy. A threshold into the Kingdom was crossed, or to put it in another way, a veil of separation between God and myself was torn and I was permitted to pass through..

This intimacy implies a sense of closeness, familiarity, and openness. Jesus actually defines eternal life in this manner:

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Jn. 17.3

To grasp the spiritual significance of this scripture we have to first understand exactly what it means “to know” God and Jesus Christ. The word know, as used here, is the Greek word ginisko, properly understood to mean: to know through personal experience, first hand acquaintance. In the natural realm this is knowing something that can be seen, touched and verified. For example, it is written, “Now Adam knew (ginosko) Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain” Gn. 4.1; This is knowing very experientially. To know experientially in the spirit means to have an inner awareness, a revelation, an enlightenment that cannot be denied. It is to know that you know.

I desire to know Him… experientially …

  • not just know about Him,
  • not just know His ways,
  • not just know His history,
  • not just know His doctrine,
  • and certainly not just to know Him religiously, which is the sum of all of the above plus an additional set of rituals, offices, times and places.

I yearn to know Him in the intimacy of relationship, personal, a bonding, a sense of presence.

Meditate on the following portion of scripture.

”I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one— I in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.” Jn. 17.22-23

Ponder the magnitude, the profoundness of Jesus’ prayer on our behalf. Absorb the spiritual significance of Christ bonding as one with the Father, the only true and magnificent God; and the exceedingly greatness of knowing that this Christ is in us and by that we share in His oneness with God. This intimacy is a revelation of His love to you and to me.


I have learned long ago that true commitment cannot be commanded or demanded, expected or anticipated; but may be certainly hoped for as a true blessing in a true relationship. Having a sense of “duty”, as a moral or legal obligation, is not the same. I had a strong sense of responsibility in my profession, to meet all obligations, and to perform at the best of my ability. My “commitment” was to physical or tangible things. Religiously, I was committed to the church, to attend services regularly, and participate in its rites and rituals. I remember once my family driving 20 miles on roads heavily covered with snow only to find the small church so crowded that we had to stand in the rear vestibule. But, we felt at peace because we fulfilled our duty.

Spiritually, commitment must be born in the heart and it is to intangible things. Some churches require a commitment by “joining” the church as a “member.” Such commitments are weak and not enduring. They are easily broken. A true commitment happens when a switch is turned on in the heart, and a bonding of kindred spirits happens. These are everlasting bonds.

At the church level I have been blessed with committed brothers and sisters for many, many years. At home and abroad I am blessed beyond measure with committed families of believers. They have proven to be so, time and again, over many years. To be committed is to be dedicated to a relationship. I like to use the term “faithful” for that is a very strong Biblical word implying the cementing together of a relationship. The strongest marriages are built upon faithfulness. The strongest church fellowships are built upon faithfulness. And the strongest walk of life is built upon a faithfulness to the covenant between God and man. The Old Covenant was based upon the sacrifice of goats and rams and upon keeping the Law. The New Covenant is one sealed in the blood of His Son and living in the Spirit.

God is forever true, forever committed, to this relationship. Consider the following:

So that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm (sustain, establish) you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Cor. 1.7-9

“…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until (as far as, up to) the day of Jesus Christ.” Phil. 1.6

In both of these scriptures God is shown faithful to each and every believer right up to the day of judgment at the second coming of our Lord, when we all must stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” 2 Cor. 5.10 And even then, we will have the Counselor abiding with us: “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” Jn. 14.16 This Helper or Counselor is faithful and will stand by us for all times.

We must never presume upon the faithfulness of God, nor to confuse His faithfulness with our faithfulness. There is a part of our salvation that rests in the faithfulness of Christ, but there remains a faithfulness to be filled in us. I always have a warm sense in my heart when God acknowledges, in His word, individual faithfulness; as when Moses is described as being “a faithful servant” (see Heb. 3.5), or how the risen Christ Himself declared before all the world and for all eternity the faithfulness of one called Antipas (see Rev. 2.13), a member of the Church at Pergamun, who was killed for his faith. He was singled out as a model of faithfulness. God has a special place in His heart, and special blessing, to those who are faithful to the end. He promised those in the Church of Smyrna “the crown of life” if they remain faithful even through times of great tribulation. (see Rev. 2.10)

Our great example, the apostle Paul, at nearing his death stated, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” 2 Tim. 4.7-8

In comparison with Paul’s faithfulness mine is miniscule, but I am what I am—may we ever be found faithful.


In a true relationship there is communication, a two-way exchange of thoughts, ideas, and desires. Every night before bed I hold my wife and tell her, “I love you,” and she always replies, “I love you too.” How great is this two-way communication. The believer does that in worship and prayer; God does that in His word, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, and in the voice of His prophets, teachers, and others by way of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

When I read 1 Cor. 12:2, “You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led,” I am amused at the thoughts of “dumb idols,” statues, icons, animals, celestial bodies, and nature, all unable to speak or to communicate in a relationship. On the other hand there is a strong encouragement to pursue the “word of God.” And this pursuit, brothers and sisters in Christ, must be with all diligence, perseverance, and caution; for things will slip away fast if they do not remain in constant pursuit, or false ideas pop into the mind if the word is misunderstood or mishandled.

The Bible states, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God,” Rm. 8.14 This is our response to the communication of God to us, either personally or corporately in the Church. Let me reiterate…

He speaks to us in the Holy Scriptures, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Tim. 3.16

He speaks to us through the indwelling Holy Spirit, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” Jn. 14.16

He speaks to us through ministries like prophets and teachers, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” Eph. 2.20 and

He speaks to us through the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit, ”There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” 1 Cor. 12.4-11

The apostle Paul was very much encouraged at the response of the Church at Thessalonica. He wrote of them,

“For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” 1 Thes. 2.13

The believers did not receive their word as just the teaching of doctrine, as a history lesson regarding Christ, or even as a creed to confess. They received his words as if God was present speaking those very words to them as a matter of life. All may share in the word of God.

For many years of my early life I prayed and even worshipped out of a sense of duty or moral obligation. For the most part my communications were rote—in that I used my memory with little intelligence involvement. Oftentimes my acts were mechanical, unthinking routine, repetitious. But all of that changed when my encounter with the Holy Spirit lifted me out of that religious box, and, as is written in Ex. 19.4, “how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.” My communication with God the Father and Lord Jesus Christ came alive.

Jesus expressed this to the Samaritan woman He met at the well in a much better way,

“But a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Jn. 4.23-24

Worship in spirit and truth is communication from our hearts in prayer, praise and adoration. The link between human nature and the divine is in the spirit, which is the shrine of the Holy Spirit. (see 1 Cor. 6.19) It is here that the inner sanctum of man is bonded with the inner sanctum of God (The Most Holy Place.)

Things like being at a certain place or at a certain time, or particular words or posture, or certain sounds such as music or blowing of a ram’s horn, are really not all that important, though they may aid in *abstraction from the visible and tangible world about us, and in elevating the spirit with us.

[* Here abstraction means the quality of dealing with the invisible and intangible realm of God rather than the physical events that surround us.]

The moment they distract, they hinder true worship. Ritualistic modes of worship cannot even be discussed without a risk of spiritual loss. In Kenya I have witnessed women, dressed in their best, spontaneously coming forth and kneeling in the dirt and mud of the tent cover, with tears flowing from their eyes, desiring only a closer walk with the Christ . There was no call to kneel, or particular religious time to do it, but they knelt out of the abundance of the heart. Personally, I have found the blowing of a ram’s horn or the singing of certain songs distracting and could find no release of the spirit in them.

Sincerity, or having some genuine feelings, is not a test of acceptable worship. All forms of worship are not the same and not all acceptable or even pleasing to God. Once at a conference the worship team was leading in a most acceptable and meaningful time of worship when at a point they suddenly broke from that flow of worship into something quite out of place. The songs and prayers suddenly became man focused emphasizing the “I,” “me,” and “my” sentiments and songs appealing to the emotions. Those who were “of the Spirit” stopped singing and began to look around wondering what had happened to cause this sudden change. Others just joined in singing joyfully the supposed songs of praise. The speaker for the evening, a man I greatly respect and admire, went up and spoke to the worship leader and team. Thankfully, they returned to acceptable worship. Sincerity and feelings can be deceptive.

Depending on the particular Bible translation, the words unacceptable and defiled are used interchangeably. Shamefully, some view God as a lapdog, happy to receive anything you throw his way. But, some behavior, modes of worship, sacrifices, etc. are defiled and unacceptable to God. Such may arise as a sweet odor or as a foul odor before God. Having good intentions is not an excuse for a foul odor.

True worship in spirit and truth must be directed solely towards our Lord and our God expounding upon the attributes and character of God in prayer, hymns, and song. This time must be a release of the believer’s heart before the presence of God in adoration and prayer, communicating with his Father and Lord: “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.” Rev. 4.11

Religion or Relationship

” …that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” 1 Jn. 1.3-4

Personally, I desire and seek the reality of this verse of scripture with all my heart. I do not desire, and neither can I tolerate, a religion filled with customs, rituals, symbols, and outward laws and commandments. I desire true fellowship, a spiritual relationship with our Father and Lord, and with other believers. We can use other words like: partnership, communion, and participation with, but to me, no other word describes this fellowship as does relationship. It is a powerful word pointing to a close intimacy between believers, or between believers and God who are committed with a deep sense of bonding to one another, and can communicate on a spiritual level with one another.

I find it amazing that in spite of all my short comings, all my poor behavior, all those things in my life I too regret, that my wife actually loves and accepts me the way she does. I am glad for her patience. But this is but a shadow of the love of God who loves us and desires a relationship with us and is highly patient with us, and who provided a cloak of righteousness for us in the blood of His son. For He knows that in His presence His holiness, His righteousness, the qualities of His divine nature, becomes ours…” But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Cor. 3.18

Picture of Daniel DeVitis

Daniel DeVitis

Daniel P. DeVitis (Dan) has served in ministry for over 50 years. Since 1972 he has overseen a home church, Immanuel Fellowship, Shippensburg, PA, where he currently resides with his wife Petra. He was a professor of Geography and Earth Science at Shippensburg University until his retirement in 2003. He now serves as an elder in Unto Full Stature Ministries where he continues to author newsletters, write articles, and speak at leadership conferences and churches at and abroad.
Picture of Daniel DeVitis

Daniel DeVitis

Daniel P. DeVitis (Dan) has served in ministry for over 50 years. Since 1972 he has overseen a home church, Immanuel Fellowship, Shippensburg, PA, where he currently resides with his wife Petra. He was a professor of Geography and Earth Science at Shippensburg University until his retirement in 2003. He now serves as an elder in Unto Full Stature Ministries where he continues to author newsletters, write articles, and speak at leadership conferences and churches at and abroad.

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