When you think of Jesus, what word comes to your mind? Many people equate Jesus with religion, which has caused a backlash from many on both sides of the religious divide. Jeff Bethke made a video, "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus," that's been viewed by more than 21 million people, showing just how provocative both Jesus and religion are (especially when they are combined).
It's not surprising that for many people, Jesus represents organized religion. After all, he is the central figure of Christianity, the world's largest religion. And he is recognized as a prophet in the religion of Islam, the world's second largest religion. In fact, Jesus figures in the doctrine of many religions and cults. So, it's reasonable to equate Jesus with religion, but that's not the word Jesus would want to be associated with.
Often times the word religion brings to mind rituals, regulations and man-made rules. Jesus despised the bureaucratic baggage that religious leaders had imposed on the people attemtpting to worship God in his day. It was his position that rules and regulations often distract people from God rather than attract them to him.
When religion becomes a system of "dos and don'ts" in which people worry more about keeping score than knowing God, those who claim to be Christians come off as hypocritical, intolerant and judgmental. Ask anyone who is disenchanted with the church (a synomym for organized religion). He or she will usually complain about the church being filled with a bunch of judgmental, intolerant hypocrites.
If Jesus had been asked, When you think of Jesus, what word comes to mind? he might have answered with the word relationship. In fact, he gave that answer. When asked the world's most important question, "How can I live forever?" Jesus responded, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27). His answer wasn't about religion but about relationships: with God and with other people.
Jesus' admonition to develop a loving relationship with the one true God and with those you encounter in your life has huge implications for our culture. When applied as he taught, his approach has the power to transform bitter enemies into friends; to change domestic strife into harmony; to dissipate the friction between parents and children and replace it with true love and affection; to forge disinterested neighbors into a caring community; and to help embattled nations find peace. It's not easy, but it is possible. Jesus gave us the pattern and the principles to follow. They have proven to be effective when other approaches have failed--especially those offered by religious systems.
And that's why Jesus matters in relationships.