Many Christians talk about sin as if it were merely a relational tiff between God and man, and what is needed is for us simply to apologize and accept God’s forgiveness. That image of sin as lovers’ quarrel, though, distorts the relationship in which we stand to God. In communicates that there is no broken law, no violated justice, no righteous wrath, no holy judgment— and therefore, ultimately, no need for a substitute to bear that judgment either.
You likely have heard it said, possibly by some very hip-looking dude, that “Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship.” It’s a very attractive notion.Religion sounds formal and cold, while relationship sounds warm and personal. It’s all in how you understand the words, I suppose. James speaks of “pure and undefiled religion.” True religion, that which is pure and undefiled, is good. False religion is pure evil. Likewise, relationship can be good, but we all know of bad relationships. Many relationships are as destructive as an airliner colliding with a skyscraper. Furthermore, as we will see, there are different kinds of good relationships. So let’s do away with the religion vs. relationship language, shall we?
Christianity is a religion; it’s a religion of relationship. The major failing (I think) of those who preach religion vs. relationship is, as Greg Gilbert writes, reducing sin to broken relationship. That confusion reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of the Christian relationship with God.
Relationship is an important category in the Bible. Human beings were made to live in fellowship with God. What we must remember, however, is that it was a specifickind of relationship in which they were to live—not the relationship between two equals, where law, judgment, and punishment are out of view, but the relationship between a King and his subjects.