Many Christians emphasize the importance of having an actual relationship with God/Jesus as opposed to merely being religious. The previously asked question What is the origin of the "religion vs. relationship" dichotomy? attests very well to this fact.

How do Christians who subscribe to this distinction make sure that they themselves are having a genuine relationship with the living God, as opposed to a 'religious' illusion of it, a counterfeit relationship with a false deity, or a mere psychological delusion?

Related: How do Christians who emphasize the "religion vs. relationship" dichotomy respond to claims of "relationship with God" in other religions?

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    Even the apostles themselves were willing to doubt their own apprehension of their own experience. Every one of them said 'Lord, is it I ?' when told that one would betray Jesus. Every single one must 'prove their own selves' and 'make their calling and election sure'. How each individual does that will be a very broad spectrum of personal observations. I would suggest more focus is needed.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 7:58
  • The focus is narrow enough that anyone could benefit from answering the question based on their own observations and experiences. Commented Oct 19, 2021 at 15:40

2 Answers 2


The two concepts can be contrasted in this way. Religion is about being seen and admired by men and relationship is about being known and loved by God. God complained about religiosity in Isaiah 29:13.

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. NIV

Jesus elaborated on the concept.

MT 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you

. There is a story in Luke 7 that illustrates the difference between religion and relationship.

36When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” 40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, c and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” 48Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The Pharisee, Simon, may have been a very religious man and even practiced good deeds, but he was concerned about what others thought so he didn’t show much customary hospitality toward Jesus, knowing that his colleagues were not, to say the least, very favorably inclined toward him.

But the woman didn’t care about what anyone thought except for Jesus and she ministered to him with complete love and devotion. She was acutely aware of her need for a Savior and nothing was more important to her than a relationship with a man she could trust who would not despise her or take advantage of her. Jesus accepted her humble heartfelt request for relationship and forgave her sins.

Jesus sent her on her way with these words, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Can you imagine the relief the woman must have felt having been able to pour out her heavy sin-laden heart to a compassionate and loving Savior? Her sins were forgiven and she was saved! What peace! What indescribable joy! That is one way we can know that we are having “a genuine relationship with the living God, as opposed to a 'religious' illusion”. We will experience his love, joy, and peace, the fruit of the Spirit, in our worshipful, grateful hearts.


Jesus taught how to identify a relationship with God. At Matthew 7:22,23, he said:

Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’

Evidently, Jesus expected that some would genuinely believe that they had a relationship with God, but his response to some of them would be "I never knew you", clearly indicating that no relationship existed.

So, how does one know that they are on the right path, and that they have a real relationship with God? Context is always key, and the preceding verses to the ones quoted above show the context for this lesson of Jesus.

Matthew 7:15-20 says:

Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Regarding having the correct form of worship, Jesus said that firstly you would be able to distinguish those teaching falsehoods by their 'fruits', or the results of their work. Of course, in the verses we read first, Jesus indicated that these ones whom he did not know would have prophesied and even performed 'miracles'! So not all 'results' are evidence of a relationship, as the demons can provide power that would appear to be from God and mislead. So what 'fruits' do identify a relationship with God?

In Galatians chapter 5, Paul listed the 'fruits of the spirit' as well as the 'works of the flesh':

...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Only someone working along with the flow and direction of the holy spirit and have a relationship with God, and these 'fruits' grow in a person that does so.

And conversely, someone who practices 'works of the flesh' cannot be in a relationship with God:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

A Christian who resists the works of the flesh and sees the fruits of the spirit in their faith and in their lives has that assurance that they have God's blessing and can have a relationship with him.

  • Great points, although I'm not sure how you arrive at the conclusion that Matthew 7:15-20 is talking about demonic power. Couldn't the power very well come from God?
    – user50422
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 12:36
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator Why would God grant power for individuals to perform miracles such as expelling demons if the individuals had no relationship with him? Numbers 23:23 teaches that God is more powerful than magic spells, power that the Bible associates as coming from the demons. Remember, Matthew 7:15 is talking about "false prophets". Satan not only opposes God, he misleads people by being a "wolf in sheep clothing". A demon expelling himself is apparently a way they mislead people into thinking they have power from God. Also remember Jesus said "I never knew you". Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 13:26
  • Why would God grant power for individuals to perform miracles such as expelling demons if the individuals had no relationship with him? - see these questions to understand why: 1) Who/what is the source of the power behind the miracles, signs and wonders in Matthew 7:22?, 2) Can non-disciples of Jesus cast out demons in Jesus' name or not? Mark 9:38-40 vs. Acts 19:11-16
    – user50422
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 16:31
  • 3) If a "house divided cannot stand" how did non-disciples cast out demons?
    – user50422
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 16:32
  • If a house divided cannot stand, then Jesus could not stand either as he had a differing will to his Father and God… meaning he could not be of one substance with God at all on that basis.
    – steveowen
    Commented Mar 6, 2022 at 7:01

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