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| The Reason for God|
Chapter 11: Religion and the Gospel
November 13, 2016
Truly we must be grateful to our good Lord who has given us another day to meet! We continue with our book, The Reason for God – Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by the author Timothy Keller. And we look at chapter 11, Religion and the Gospel.
In the last chapter, we spoke of sin, and specifically from a point of view from Christianity. However, after agreeing and seeing the problem with sin, some would be quick to ask why it had to be Christianity. The question is, “why must the solution for sin be Jesus and Christianity? Why can’t some other religion do as well, or just my own personal faith in God?”
The answer to that, as we have mentioned in the much earlier chapters, is that we all have a different view in the way to seek salvation and the way Jesus is described in the Gospel. All other major faiths have founders who are teachers that show the way to salvation. However, only Jesus Christ is actually the way of salvation in Himself. There is such a great difference between the major religions and Christianity.
In this world, sin and evil are self-centeredness and pride that greatly leads to the oppression of others. However, what many people do not know is that there are two forms of this. One form is the one we all know, the form of being very bad and breaking all the rules. This form usually takes up with the words, “I’m going to do what I want.” The other form, which may surprise you, is being very good and keeping all the rules and becoming self-righteous. This form is, described by Flannery O’Conner as, “he knew that the best way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.”
If anyone of us are attempting to avoid sin and trying to live morally in order for God to bless us and save us, in actually, we’re bringing our own doom on ourselves. This is because this type of thinking leads you to believe that Jesus Christ is simply a teacher, or a model, or even a helper, rather than a Savior. If that is the case, then, we are trying to trust in our own goodness rather than in Jesus for our standing with God.
That type of living, in actuality, is the very rejection of the gospel of Jesus. It is possible to avoid Jesus as Savior by breaking all the Biblical rules as well as keeping them all. Both the idea where you build your identity on your own moral achievements and irreligion, the idea in which you build your identity on some other secular pursuit in life, are sins. Self-salvation may bring about good works in your life, but inside you are filled with self-righteousness, cruelty, and bigotry, and miserable. You are more likely to compare yourself to other people and you are never sure you’re being good enough. You cannot, therefore, deal with your hideousness and self-absorption through the moral law.
This is probably most obviously displayed in the Bible through the Pharisees. It was the Pharisees and Sadducees who were excellent in keeping almost every code of the law, yet they still fell short. The very problem they have is due to the failure to build their identity on God. Instead, Pharisees, and the like, have lives based on their moral achievements and maintenance. But, as we said in the previous chapters, basing our identities on anything other than God would lead to utter destruction of ourselves internally. Likewise, Pharisees built their sense of worth on their moral and spiritual performance, as a kind of resume to present before God comes their time of Judgment.
But not only does this type of mentality damage the inner soul, but also creates social strife. Pharisees need to make themselves look righteous and holy, in order for them to do that, they despise and attack everyone else who doesn’t share their doctrinal beliefs and religious practices. Racism and cultural imperialism results. Churches that are filled with self-righteous, exclusive, insecure, angry, moralistic people are extremely unattractive, for both people inside and outside the church. This is why millions of people raised in or near these kinds of churches reject Christianity at an early age or in college largely because of their experience. And for the rest of their lives, then, they continue to hate on Christianity. Pharisees and their unattractive lives leave many people confused about the real nature of Christianity.
And so, this is where there is a gulf between the understanding that God accepts us because of our efforts and the understanding that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done. Many other religions operate on the idea that as long as I obey God, He will accept me. But real Christian Gospel will tell you that you are accepted by God, not through what you have done, but through what Christ has done, which calls for obedience. Two people living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may sit next to one another in the church one day. They’re both praying, giving money generously, are loyal and faithful to their family and church, trying to live decent lives. However, they do so out of two radically different motivations, spiritual identities, and two different kinds of lives.
The first major difference is the difference in motivation. In viewing ourselves as the savior, we obey the divine standards out of fear. We believe that if we don’t obey we are going to lose our favor with God in this world and the next. In the Gospel of Christ, however, the motivation is out of gratitude for the blessing we have already received through Christ. A Christian is motivated, not out of fear, but by a desire to please and resemble the one who gave his life for us.
Another difference has to do with our identity and the way we identify ourselves. For those that feel that they are living up to God’s standards, they also feel superior and disdainful toward those who are not following their path. This is true in any religion that holds these views. If you aren’t living up to the chosen standards, then you will also be filled with a hate towards yourself. However, when we accept that it was Christ who accepted us through grace, it is humbling. The Christian gospel tells us that we are so flawed that Jesus had to die for us, yet we are also so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for us. This is where the humility and deep confidence comes from. With this view, there is no way I can feel superior to anyone and there is nothing I must prove to anyone either. And instead of feeling superior, the humility allows for us to think about us less and think more about others.
One last difference to mention is the difference in the way these two view holders handle times of trouble and suffering. Those who are in moralistic religions believe that if they live an upstanding life, then God owe them respect and favor. They believe that they deserve a decent, happy life. If, however, one day life turns upside down for them, they will feel anger towards God or the universe because they feel that they should live better than others, they should have a better life. If they don’t, then they feel that they’re not living up to standards and feel alarmed. In the Christian gospel, however, it allows for the person to escape this spiral of bitterness and despair when life goes wrong. And this is due to the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ lived the most upright life and yet he lived a life filled with experience of poverty, rejection, injustice, and even torture.
Now some people may say that this sounds way too good to be true. They say, “Nice deal! All I have to do is get a personal relationship to God and then do anything I want!” While it may appear like this on the surface viewing from the outside, no one from the inside speaks like this.
To put this into perspective, the author tells us of the experience he had with a woman who began to go to his church. She said that she had gone to church growing up and always heard that God accepts us only if we are good enough. And when she heard about salvation through grace, she said something surprising, that it was scary. When asked why it was scary, she replied, “If I was saved by my own good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with “rights” – I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by sheer grace – then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.”
She understood the depth of grace and gratitude. She knew that if when you have lost all fear of punishment you also lose all incentive to live a good, unselfish life, which led to only living a decent life by fear. However, when she heard the teaching of salvation by grace, she knew that she was more subject to the sovereign Lordship of God. She knew that if Jesus really had done all this for her, she would not be her own. She would joyfully, gratefully belong to Jesus, who provided all this for her at infinite cost of herself.
This may sound very harsh at first, like an obligation. However, the author makes an analogy to when you fall in love. At first, your love makes you eager for acceptance from the beloved. You ask, “Do you want to go out?” or maybe further down on the line you ask, “Will you marry me?” If she replies, “Yes!” your thinking won’t be “Great! I’m in! Now I can act any way I want!” That is not the true culmination of love, but a distorted view of it. Rather, now you don’t even wait for the person to directly ask you to do something for them and instead you anticipate whatever pleases and delights them. You want to do things for them, even if they do not request it. There is no sense of obligation, just a change in our behavior to be concentrated on the person you love.
And so now we return to the earlier question. “Why Christianity? Why the Gospel?” Because it is only the grace from Christ that allows us to be free from our wrong belief of living life as we choose. Christianity differs at the root with the assumptions of traditional religion. The message from Jesus is that He came to us to do what we could not do for ourselves, which was salvation. The Christian message is that we are saved not by our record, but by Christ’s record.
This concludes chapter 11, Religion and the Gospel, in which I hope you have been able to properly understand why it is that the Gospel of Christ is so important to our lives. I also hope you have been able to see that a life where we “save” ourselves is, not only impossible, but also a life we don’t want to live. There is misery for those that attempt to save themselves, but with Christ as our Savior, we are able to experience real “life,” a real goodness in Christ.