Is Christianity a religion or a relationship? Well, it depends on what you mean. If we take the most literal definitions of “religion,” Christianity would be classified as a religion.
It is very different than other religions, but of course there are some similarities with other religions. The main similarity is that every religion holds to certain beliefs and doctrines that followers must attest to in order to be “in” that religion.
In that sense, Christianity is no different. The differences start when you look at what those doctrines actually are. To cut right to the heart of the differences between Christianity and other religions, we have to see that other religions are about what you must do while Christianity is all about who you must know.
Christianity is based on what Christ has done for the person, not on what the person does for Christ. Other religions are man-centered religions, meaning the whole thing passes or fails based upon the actions of the person. Christianity is the only true God-centered religion because the whole things passes or fails based upon the actions of God.
Additionally, Christianity is different because within its core beliefs is the truth that to be saved you must be “reconciled to God.” Forgiveness is when your sins are cleansed. This is core to Christianity too. But Christianity goes one step further and says not only must you be forgiven, you must be reconciled, which means your relationship with God must be restored.
So yes, Christianity is a religion, but it is a religion that claims you must have a real relationship with God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. In fact, the Bible even uses the word “religion” to describe what God wants:
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:26-27)
Here we can see that religion alone won’t do it. So again, although Christianity really is a religion, if you stop with the system of beliefs and even intellectually accept the doctrines of Christianity, you are still fooling yourself. Religions that do not affect the heart of the human and restore the relationship with God are worthless. All religions are worthless accept Christianity because only Christianity offers the path to a restored relationship with God.
There are many other differences between Christianity and the world’s religions. But Christianity as a religion is unique because it alone says you need a relationship with God and it alone offers the way to that relationship with God through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.