Relationships can only grow from the inside out. Consider this passage from the book of Hebrews—
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13-14)
Religion is concerned about the outside—how does it look? Relationship with Jesus is concerned about the inside—how does it work?
Religion seeks to work outside in. Relationship works inside out.
Religion is the starting point; relationship is the goal.
When I first met my wife Betsy, I was attracted initially by the outward things—her physical beauty, her actions, her words. But if I only stayed at the outward level, everything would be focused on keeping up appearances. I would be worshiping the idol of physical beauty. Then as soon as I saw someone whom I perceived to have more physical beauty, I would abandon Betsy for the latest fling.
But Betsy’s outside was only the starting point; it drew me deeper inside into a relationship. As I got to know the real Betsy, I fell more and more in love. The inner beauty far exceeded the outward beauty. But then something amazing happened: the inner beauty enhanced her outward beauty.
The outside (religion) is only finite. The inside (relationship) is infinite.
The old religion started on the outside; Jesus Christ works from the inside. He doesn’t ask me to clean up the outside, but He cleanses my conscience so I can clean up the inside. This inner cleansing will eventually show up outside. The inner relationship beautifies and makes more meaningful the outer religion. The inner life (infinite, eternal) overwhelms the outer life (finite, temporal).
Don’t throw out religion and religious practices, but don’t use those as the only means of coming to Christ. Allow Jesus to work inside on your relationship with Him, and then the outside will become more beautiful and even more meaningful.