“The word “relationship” nowhere appears in Scripture”
This is a true but misleading statement. I have heard it said before and it is often said (as it is here) as a reaction against a sort of shallow and emotionally driven faith (i.e., “buddy Jesus”). But even though it is reacting against something which probably ought to be reacted against, it is not a helpful argument. Even though the word “relationship” does not appear in the Bible, it is still correct to describe one’s salvation as a “personal relationship with God.” Why? First, God is a personal and relational being. Second, he interacts with his people in a relational way. Third, one of the key descriptions of salvation, reconciliation, is a relational idea.
God is a personal and relational being.
He is not a “force” or an “energy” but a Person. He is not a person in exactly the same way that we are, of course, but that does not make him less personal, but more. Our personhood is created and derived from his. He is also relational. God is Trinity. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is love and love is a relational quality. It is not something you can have on your own. It is directed toward another. It is only fully realized in relationship and this is a relationship which has been part of God’s very essence from the beginning.
God interacts with his people in a relational way.
Two major metaphors used throughout Scripture which characterize God’s relationship with his people are relational. One is the metaphor of the Father-Child relationship. God is the Father of Israel and Israel is made up of his children (Isaiah 63:16). Jesus directs his disciples to pray “Our Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) One of his most famous parables is the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). In the story the Father (God) is longing for the return of his lost son. When the son returns the Father embraces his child. What a picture of love! What a picture of relationship! Paul, too, defines a Christian’s relationship with his Father as that of an adopted child (Galatians 4:5).
The second major metaphor is that of the Husband-Wife relationship. This is the most intimate of all relationships and it is one of the major ways God describes his relationship with his people, both in the Old Testament and in the New. Israel is God’s spouse (though often unfaithful, never unloved) and Christ is the husband of his wife, the Church (Ephesians 5:25). This is poetic language, of course, but it reveals and reinforces the reality of God’s relational love and his personal love which he has towards his people.
Salvation is described as reconciliation, a relational term.
The problem, ever since the Garden of Eden, is that we are alienated from God. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve lived in perfect relationship with God. When they rebelled, that relationship was broken. They became guilty and therefore alienated from God. God’s task since then has been one of reconciliation. In this context (not like reconciling your bank account) it is a relational term. It’s about making peace. God does that by calling a people to himself and purifying from sin through sacrifice. This reconciliation, prefigured in the Old Testament, is fulfilled in Christ. Jesus came to reconcile us to God through his death on the cross. (see 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 and Ephesians 2:16)
All these truths (and more for which I do not have time) point to the truth that God wants to have a personal relationship with you. He wants, and has, a personal relationship with his people. It is personal because God is a Person and God relates to his people in a personal way. It’s a relationship because salvation means healing a relationship which has been broken through sin.
This realization was an important one for me as a young man. Like many teenagers my brain was learning to think abstractly and, for as much Bible teaching as I had received, I still mostly thought of God in abstract terms. He was a puzzle to figure out, a set of laws to understand. When I doubted him, I doubted him on “intellectual” terms. There were things about him which I could not understand and things in the Bible which troubled me.
The breakthrough for me came when I finally began to address him as a person. I began to pray in line with James 1:5. I started asking God to give me wisdom and understanding. God responded, not by granting me the answers to all my questions, but by showing himself to me in a personal way. He was not an equation to be solved, but a person to be trusted, and he had given me plenty of good reasons to trust Him. If I could trust him, as my heavenly Father, as the one who loved me, then I could rest in his being while I continued to seek for answers. My wrestling didn’t stop (it still hasn’t), but it ceased being restless. It became (slowly) more productive in my life.
When I speak of “personal relationship,” I’m not advocating a sort of religion that finds its center in our personal feelings. God enters into a relationship, but it is one of commitment. To extend the biblical metaphor, it’s a marriage/covenant relationship, not a dating scene. God loves us and his love is faithful and sacrificial. He calls for the same kind of personal, relational, faithful, and sacrificial love from us.
 I most recently came across this argument in an otherwise excellent article which can be found here: https://americanvision.org/11256/damaging-myth-relationship-religion/. The points it makes are valid, though I think somewhat unfair in how it characterizes people who use “religion” in a disparaging way. I will likely interact with this article more in a later post.