Is the religion you follow a necessary condition for a meaningful relationship with God?
Does God have a preferred religion or denomination? Many religious traditions assert that their religion is the only way to achieve salvation and eternal life.
In contrast, many argue that spirituality is the key to a meaningful relationship with God, and religion is only a tool or a means to achieve that end.
They believe that religious diversity is a positive attribute of humanity and that there are many paths to the divine.
So, does God really care which religion you follow?
Why This Question is Quite Tricky
The question of whether God cares which religion one follows can be tricky. For one, following God is not limited by religion.
God is spirit, and he desires that his creation worship Him in Spirit and truth. Jesus himself said these words while talking to the woman at the well.
The woman was a Samaritan, and according to her people, true worshippers worshiped at Mount Gerizim.
Jesus replied by saying, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks (John 4:23).”
What Jesus was saying is that religion is worthless if it is not practiced in truth.
One can belong to a particular religion, but if they are not worshiping in spirit and in truth, then their religion is futile.
If we take this into consideration, we can conclude that God is looking for worshipers who worship Him not only in sincerity but in truth.
After all, the worship of God does not require one to be a part of any religion.
On the other hand, the statement that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion is ignorant.
In reality, Christianity is a religion. According to the Oxford Dictionary:
Religion is “belief in or acknowledgement of some superhuman power or powers (esp. a god or gods) which is typically manifested in obedience, reverence, and worship; such a belief as part of a system defining a code of living, esp. as a means of achieving spiritual or material improvement.”
That said, to follow Jesus is to be a part of the Christian religion.
If you claim to be a Christian, attend Church every Sunday (worship), pray to God (reverence), and follow his commands as stated in the Bible (obedience), you are practicing the Christian religion.
Jesus Was Religious
Establishing the fact that Jesus was religious is vital to this discussion because if Jesus was not religious, then we can conclude that it doesn’t matter what religion we follow.
Whether you are a Christian or not, as long as you follow the teachings of Jesus, then God will not really care which religion you follow.
However, it cannot be denied that Jesus was religious. He was born to a Jewish mother in Galilee, a region dominated by Jewish culture and tradition.
All his friends, colleagues, and disciples were Jews, and he regularly attended Jewish communal worship in synagogues.
He even preached using Jewish text. He also observed Jewish festivals. And the gospels do not hide this fact.
Does that mean we should become Jews ourselves so that God will accept us? By no means.
We are simply establishing the fact that Jesus was a Jew and was, therefore, religious.
Jesus was born into a religious family. He grew up as a religious boy. He became a religious teacher, and He died a religious man.
Now, many Christians would say that it is not religion that saves but faith in Christ.
That is true, but having faith in Christ also includes becoming a part of a religion—the religion of Christianity.
Jesus Is the Way
So, does God really care which religion you follow? The answer to this question is found in John 14:6.
It says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Prior to this verse, Thomas was asking Jesus how they would know which way to go.
Jesus replied by saying that He was the way. He did not say that He was the way to a religion. After all, he already had a religion—Judaism.
What Jesus was saying was that if we want to reach the Father, the only way is the Son. Religion is man-made.
It was designed by man for one purpose—to bridge the gap between unholy creatures and the Holy Creator.
Religion tells us that we need to do this and do that if we want to be right with God. However, Jesus tells us that we can only be right with God through the Son.
Not only is the Son the Way, but He is also the truth.
We can practice our religion diligently, but if our worship is not done in truth, we are not worshiping the way God wants us to, and that is through Christ.
While the Bible doesn’t directly say God prefers one religion to others, there are many passages showing us that God is very particular about how He wants to be worshiped.
In the case of John 14:6, we are shown that there is only one way to approach and reach God, and that is Jesus.
What about religion? Jesus is a person, so technically, the way to the Father is not a set of rules and rituals.
Despite this, we cannot deny that religion plays a vital role in how we see and worship God.
At best, religious disciplines and practices serve as our guide. While they don’t earn us any favor from God or lead us to salvation, they help us actualize our faith.
But what religion does God accept?
Well, if there is one religion that God cares about, it’s the one described in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
You see, God allowed man to establish religion because it helps direct us to Him.
It provides a structured framework for us to engage in worship, including rituals, prayers, and other religious practices.
Religion also offers a community of like-minded individuals who share the same beliefs and can provide support and guidance in one’s spiritual journey.
However, at the end of the day, religion only becomes practical and acceptable to God if it is practiced along with compassion and empathy.
The story of the Good Samaritan is a perfect example of what useless religion and true religion look like.
In the story, we see two religious leaders ignoring a man on the brink of death after being robbed and beaten by bandits.
These were practitioners of Judaism, a religion people in those days believed to be the one religion accepted by Yahweh.
Yet, they showed no compassion whatsoever to the pitiful man.
In the end, it was a Samaritan whom Jews consider a half-breed who helped the man.
Whose religion do you think God accepted after the incident?
At the end of the day, God is spirit, and his acceptance of us won’t depend on the religion we follow.
However, the Bible is also clear that the only way to the Father is the Son, Jesus. So, it’s not religion per se that God really cares about.
What He cares about the most is whether we have placed our faith in Christ and obey Him as our Lord and Master.