Does Having a Spiritual Relationship with God Require Following some Religious Denomination?
It is a historical fact that when a crises takes place, such as the tragedy of 9-11, denominated buildings experience an increase in attendance, bible sales increase, books on "so called prophecy" fly off the shelves as preachers avail of the opportunity to attribute the tragedy to God's judgement and try to scare the hell out of people to get them to join their particular brand of religion. Yet when the crisis is over, people revert to the way it was before the crises and religion plugs along in it's religious stupor.
Is this going to religion the same as going to God? Not by a long shot.
"And all those who expect to be justified by keeping the law are doomed to destruction, as it is written in the Scriptures, Cursed is everyone who does not perfectly observe all that is written in the law [Deut. 27:26]. It is clear that no one can be brought into right standing with God by observing the law, those in right standing with God will live by faith. And make no mistake; the law is not the same as faith, for even the law itself tells us that the one who does the things prescribed by the law will live by them and not by faith [Lev.18:5]."
Though religious people today recognize that people in the Old Testament were under the law, and people in the New Testament are under grace, they fail to see that the law as it was given in the Old Testament became the basis for most religious denominations that exists in the western world today including the "Christian Religion". The law was, first and foremost, a moral code (thou shalt not do this, thou shalt not do that). Then it was also a ritual code that symbolically illustrated spiritual principles that could be understood by observing or participating in the rituals. However, neither the moral code nor the ritual code ever produced salvation for anyone because that was not the purpose of the law.
Why do I equate the law with religion with the various forms of the Christian religion as they exist today? We live in what we call a Judeo-Christian culture, meaning the basic principles that we believe in and live by started with Old Testament Judaism and then continued into what is known by the religious masses as New Testament Christianity and have been carried on since then to this present time. Today's religious systems are a direct result of what evolved from those original Old Testament moral and ritual codes. It was never God’s intention that we pursue morality or symbolic ritual (both of which represent the foundation of all religious systems). He has always wanted to develop a spiritual relationship with us through the reality of Jesus Christ brought about by His death and resurrection. But religion's history is clear, it has always promoted morality, ritualism and the keeping of rules and regulations as a sign of being godly.
Therefore, in my humble opinion religion represents the moral, ritual side that was prevalent in the pre-cross era. And as Paul says in the text above, those who follow the moral, ritual path (the law or what it became...religion) are doomed to destruction regarding their spiritual relationship with Christ. He further explains that no one was ever brought into right standing with God by following the path of the law.
Now people involved in religion will quickly point out that they agree with Paul when he says that those who are in right standing with God must live by faith; because that’s exactly what they think they are doing! But are they?
A genuine relationship with God has very little to do with what you know about God, what you’ve learned in your religious institution, what you’ve read in the books you buy at your favorite denominated bookstore or what you’ve rationalized in your mind and have decided is right or wrong. Faith is not based on your perceived ability to predict what God will do in any given situation in your life (I have faith, or I just believe that God will do this or that). Faith is not based on a set of denominational doctrinal statements (this is what we believe or this is what we practice). True faith has nothing to do with either the moral or ritual codes, and that is exactly what Paul is expressing above in verse 12. The law (and what came out of it) and faith are two completely different things.
Faith describes the real experiences you have with God. Faith is always a result of your personal, individual submission and relationship with God. Faith is what happens because Christ is in you and you are in Him and from that union He works His works through you as you allow God to participate in your life so He can do what He wants to do. It has nothing to do with what you have already accepted or decided.
An example drawn from the Old Testament is Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. When God told Abraham to take Isaac up the mountain and sacrifice him as a burnt offering, was God testing Abraham’s faith? Of course He was. But could there have been anything in Abraham’s past that could have prepared him for this. Was there anything in any code of conduct or ritual that told Abraham this would be required of Him? Absolutely not! This was a test of his faith (his willingness to submit to God and trust Him) and as in any real test of faith, it was personal. It was between Abraham and God. Abraham didn’t find out about this from his pastor when he went to a Sunday-programmed meeting. And, of course, Isaac was involved as well. In spite of the misleading religious children’s books that show Isaac as a helpless little boy doing only what his father told him, he was actually a young man who both understood and submitted to this test. Isaac trust was in God, which shows me the influence that His father had in teaching him to trust in God.
When we continue on to Galatians 3:19, Paul tells us why the law was given. This is what he says. "Then what was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions…"
In other words, the law was given to point out the fact that men could not measure up to God’s standards of righteousness and holiness. Men violate those standards. We sin; and not just some of us, all of us (Romans 3:23). The law represented a standard that could not be met, a moral code that could not be kept. It was meant to illustrate the futility and impossibility of man achieving his own righteousness by trying to follow a set of standards. To fail in one area of the law was to be guilty of failing in every area of the law (Deut. 27:26, James 2:10).
And the irony of all this is that today men and women all over the world are trusting in the religious systems that have come out of the law to gain God’s approval and develop a salvation relationship with God, even when the Scriptures tell us plainly that this is impossible! And every religion in the world (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, you name it) follows the same form; adhere to the prescribed moral code, follow the traditional, symbolic rituals and achieve your own self-righteousness (or some kind of god-like status) through your own efforts.
BUT IT CANNOT BE DONE!