The question came to be from one of our church members, "I believe Jesus is the only way to heaven… but even so does all the religion really matter? And isn’t religion just another meaning for tradition?" I could see where the conversation was soon heading as there has been a big misrepresentation of Christianity in the minds of our nation as being a "religion", or something that does something for the sake that "it has always been done that way before" and "since God doesn't care about all the 'religion' stuff aren't we wasting our time with all the 'religious stuff'?" This is a great point and good thought.
Going back to the question; it stated that religion is another word for tradition. If you look up "Religion" in any dictionary you will find multiple definitions for it, but one will mention something to doing certain things "religiously" or out of ritual... tradition. Along with the long list of definitions you will see one that says something to the order of "a faith based system." Looking at these two definitions I find that Christianity fits one definition perfectly, and not so much the other. Biblical Christianity is certainly a faith based system as it is centered around the faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of all, but it is not something that should be believed or practiced simply out of ritual reasons. Thus, yes, you could accurately says Christianity is a "religion" but it may not be the best word to describe it.
There is a common saying amongst Biblical Christians: "Christianity is a relationship, not a religion." This is a true saying. Though Biblical Christianity does fit a portion of the dictionary's definition for religion it does not cover all of them. Relationship however, describes the very basis of Christianity; it is a relationship with Jesus Christ.
In a discussion over this same question it was brought up that we do practice things that may appear to be done in tradition, thus making Christianity appear to be a religion: communion, baptism, modest dress, sexual purity, prohibition of alcohol, support Christian music, etc... "What about these things... aren't we making Christianity a religion? Why are we wasting our time doing them?" was a legitimate question that came up. To answer this question you have to consider a relationship. A relationship, any relationship has expectation within it, and expectation are not all bad. In fact, lets consider some relationship that have no spiritual relevance. In your relationship to a cashier you expect them to give you the correct change and they expect you to put all your items on the belt the be paid for. In your relationship to your mailman you expect him to give you your mail without reading it first, and he expects you to have your mail in your box by the time he comes with the correct postage on it. In your relationship to your boss she expects you to be to work on time and be on task while you expect her to provide the proper wages and a healthy work environment. So far there are no complaints in any of these areas in the expectations we live with every day. Expectations actually create a health relationship. Now, in our relationship to Christ we are equated as being a bride for her husband so, what are some reasonable expectations a husband has for his bride? He expects her to be faithful to him in her love, he expects her to dress in a way that doesn't attract attention from others, he expects her to talk well of him, he expects her to spend time with others in his family, he expects her to read his love letters, he expects her to keep open communication. Etc... All of these are things that are done in a health relationship of a husband and wife and our world is filled with examples of consequence when these things are neglected in a husband wife relationship.
So, does having expectations on a Biblical Christian make it a religion? NO! In fact, it makes it a healthy relationship. In Matthew 15.2-4 the religious leaders were upset at Jesus because they didn't wash their hands so Jesus points out that they are focusing on the entirely wrong thing because they are breaking the Law of God in several areas. It is true, God is concerned about our heart and its intent. The Pharisees were worried about the disciples hands more than they were their own hearts. Yes, we should seek good hygiene, but we can't neglect our heart's condition. Romans 12.1-2 tells us we are to present our bodies a sacrifice to God and that it is our reasonable service. God is concerned our hearts first, but he does have expectations of how we handle our body, dress our body, and conduct our body. Satan will tell us that it is OUR body but God says that it is for his work. This is another healthy expectation; what groom wants a bride that has neglected and abused her body and only wants to give him what is left after she and everyone else is done with it. Preserving our body and living a sanctified life is not a call of religion; it is a dedication of a deep relationship.
I'll close with this. Last week in counseling a man who claims he "believes in God but doesn't care about what God cares about or thinks about him" he said, "I'm not coming to church anymore because I will be a fake a be just one of the 'religious' people who don't believe in their hearts." My response was in two parts: "So why don't you give your life to Christ and make it so you're not a 'fake'," and "Who is more likely to get an understanding of God and become a genuine Christian, the person who believes in God but stays home because they are a fake, or the person who continues attending church and being fed the Word of God?" He admitted that I was right, but still walked away from God.
Religion carries a set of rules that are kept because they have always been kept. A relationship carries a moral code that is kept in order to get to know each other better.