Religion vs. relationship

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42)

Perhaps you’ve heard the assertion that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. While I suppose the truth of that statement depends upon your definition of religion, the heart behind it this statement is indeed Biblical and essential to embrace. If “religion” conjures up images of rituals and duties, then yes, it is important to recognize that Jesus did not live his life, minister to people, and die on the cross in order to establish a new religion. No, he came to make a way for sinful humans to be restored to a right relationship with God. As Jesus said in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

In Luke 10:38-42, we read about Jesus entering the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. Mary, we are told, sits at Jesus’ feet as a disciple, listening to him teach. Martha, on the other hand, busies herself with all the preparations that had to be made. As Martha voices her aggravation with her sister’s lack of help to Jesus, Jesus replies compassionately to Martha that only one thing is needed, that which Mary has chosen. That thing, it appears, is to be with Jesus.

If salvation is essentially a restoration to a right relationship with God, then discipleship is at its heart living out that relationship in our every day life. It is not living life like Martha, doing many things for God. It is choosing to be like Mary, to heed the words of Jesus that what is needed most is to be with Him.

As a pastor, I have a unique perspective on the Mary/Martha dichotomy. Every day that I enter the church building, I have a choice between taking a right into the sanctuary to spend time with God, or taking a left into my office to get work done. Too often I choose to go left, feeling the weight of all my responsibilities. But invariably, my most productive days come when I choose to go right, to connect with God and to allow Him to direct my day. Only one thing is needed – to be with Jesus.

What would it look like for you to prioritize time with Jesus? How can you give Him the first part of your day and stay in communion with Him as you are able throughout the day? I encourage you to live your life in such a way that your strength and your decisions flow out of your connection with Jesus through His indwelling Holy Spirit.

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