It is popular today to decry the word “religion.” And I suppose the goal here is a good one: to show the futility and falseness of a ritualistic, cold, unlively, practices of religious stuff. At the same time the word religion is a biblical word, used in James 1:27. It describes the practice of godliness. In other words, the religion of the Christian is simply Christian living in light of the gospel (Jam. 1:17 ff.)
There are three clarifying aspects of this “true” religion.
1.) It involves hearing- there is an authority here, it is the Word of God. True religion is ordered by the authoritative Word from above. Instead of making up rules and turning preferences into commandments and binding consciences with external practices, true religion rests is the hearing of God. This is why we work to confess sin and receive the truth (Jam. 1.19-21).
2.) It involves doing- the doing here is related to the hearing. After all, if one hears and does not do then he is deceived. One of James’ great burdens in this letter is hearing and doing. The doing flows from the hearing. If there is no doing, or obedience then there is good reason to believe that it is not true religion (Jam 1:27, 2:13ff.).
3.) It is before God- so often religion, in our popular sense of the word, is about the performance of men before men. The Bible places the emphasis upon God as the audience (Jam. 1:27). It is his holiness, grace, and regenerating love that fuel our obedience.
We don’t have to pit religion against relationship because true religion comes from a true relationship. If one has been born again by the word of truth (Jam. 1:17) then they will hear and do, that is practice their godliness before God.