Tag Archives: grace

Christianity versus Religion

In business, the competitors study each other in order to find out how they can improve and win the customer. In football, players use a big book of defensive and offensive plays in hopes of winning the game, and each team would love to know what the other team’s plays are in order to effectively defeat them. Part of my work in this ministry is studying the other religions and the skeptics. I’ve got to know what the enemy or “competitor” is up to.   I have visited pages like www.ex-christian.net and have read other atheist blogs. I’ve listened to the podcasts about atheism and evolution. I want to know what makes people question and leave the faith. What I have found is quite alarming.

The word “religion” probably gives you the image of a bunch of people sitting in an old church adorned with stained glass where everyone is wearing their finest clothes while they hold hymnals and stand up or sit down in unison. “Religious” people are thought of as “goody-good-goods” who do nothing wrong, are always happy, and follow a list of rules. (I’m thinking of Ned Flanders…) Generally speaking, that is what religion is—a list of rules to live by that are given to us by an authority figure who may not even live by them. The Muslims have their 5 Pillars of Faith, the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have several “good works” to do in order to be saved, the Catholics have Mass and good works as well. The list goes on.

One recent blog I read was about a man’s deconversion. He grew up in a Pentecostal church (no offense met at all towards that denomination). In that church, and among his different family members, this man had to live by a lot of rules. Understand that I believe in a set standard of morality, but these rules this man talks about were just unbiblical. For example, he wasn’t allowed to play cards or go to the movies. In his particular church, there was abuse of the spiritual gifts as well (that’s another topic in itself). I’ve experienced “gifts abuse” myself and is it little wonder why anyone would want to avoid religion if it’s full of stuff like that? If I went to a church and everyone was babbling away out loud, swinging from the chandelier, and trying to heal me by slapping me in the head, well I wouldn’t be going back. That stuff is strictly unbiblical.  Where is the gospel in the chaos?

Christianity is considered to be a religion, but it’s quite different from religion. Sure, there are rules, and hypocrites who break the rules, and there are people who have “holier than thou” attitudes. But this is not what Christianity is supposed to be. Christians follow Jesus and His teachings. Jesus taught love. Jesus spent time with the sinners. He cared for the sick and needy. Jesus did show judgment towards the “holy rollers” like the Pharisees. He called them “white washed sepulchers,” which basically is saying they were clean on the outside but full of dead men’s bones. There are many examples of Jesus calling these people out. But overall, Jesus was a loving and caring person, and this is what Christians are supposed to exemplify.

Jesus came to fulfill the law of the Old Testament. During OT times, the Jews had to make a sacrifice in order to atone for their sins. All Jews were sinful because no one was ever able (or will ever be able) to follow each commandment of the law. When Jesus came, there was no longer a need for the law. Nine of the Ten Commandments were reiterated in the New Testament. We do need to follow the law, but in doing so we are not saved from God’s judgment. We follow the Ten Commandments because they are rules set by God for both peaceful living and reverence to Him. They promote overall good behavior to our fellow man.

A quick review of the Big Ten will show that we are allowed to play cards and we are allowed to go to the movies. The commandments say nothing about when to sit and stand, what to wear, or what songs to sing. Because of grace (see my much earlier post about grace and mercy), we are free in Christ. Granted, there are several things that we know not to do. We are to avoid adultery, we are to avoid gambling because it leads to greed and lust for money, we are to avoid pornography for multiple reasons, we are to avoid movies that promote the occult, lust, adultery, and other immoralities. Do we do this because we are goody good good? No, we do this because we want to be like Christ. He saved us from eternal punishment so we should in turn exemplify Him.  This is not a religion.  It’s a way of life, and standard by which we live.

Do Christians fail at this? Yes, a lot. But when we fail, there are two options: continue with the sin or acknowledge that we have sinned and ask for forgiveness. A Christian who continues in sin needs to be helped and/or rebuked. I’ll admit that there are a lot of bad Christians out there, and some of them I wonder if they are even in the faith or just going through the motions. Some of the big names I see on television are teaching heresy, and people are buying into.  That too is another topic for another time.

Christianity should be about loving others and showing compassion to the less fortunate because this is what Jesus did. It’s not about our clothes, the hymnals, or avoiding card games. We are saved not because of what we do but rather what has already been done for us, when Jesus paid the ultimate price on the cross. He fulfilled the penalty for us breaking the commandments, because none of us could do it ourselves.  Christianity is definitely not about judging others or being holier than thou.  Jesus rebuked people like that during his time on earth.  Christians should be humble as well.

I want to leave with this thought: Do not base your opinion of or belief in of God on His followers—they all (including myself) fall short of being like God. Instead base your opinion on his loving nature and awesome plans for those who accept Him.  Let’s focus on the freedom that is in Christ.  We are free to worship with loud music or Gregorian chant.  We are allowed to wear jeans or an evening gown.  We are allowed to play cards or build a house out of them.  Let’s stop the bickering over these non-essentials and unbiblical rules and go spread the gospel of Freedom!

What is Mercy and Grace?

You hear it talked about in Christian circles…”God’s mercy and grace…”  It sounds good and churchy.  But what does it really mean?

Let’s get to the true meaning of these important terms.  Suppose you are a shopaholic.  You have five credit cards and they are all maxed out to a total of $100,000.  You will never be able to pay that debt—ever.  Now imagine some stranger comes to you and recognizes your debt, and he gives you $100,000 to pay for that debt.  This is mercy—a pardon/forgiveness.  Now imagine that not only does this person pay off your debt, he gives you $1,000,000 for no reason.  This is grace—something we don’t deserve. 

In theology, we all have a debt to pay that we can never pay off.  That debt is sin.  When you read the word “sin,” think of the word “offense” because that is truly what it is—an offense against God.  Those words are interchangeable.

In Old Testament times, a priest had to sacrifice an animal to pay for the sins of the people.  What this amounts to is that whoever brought the animal to be sacrificed on behalf of their family had to lose something.  Animals were an important commodity to the family.  And they couldn’t offer up just any goat or sheep.  It had to be a flawless animal without defects.  Compared to today, it would be like us having to pay a portion of our paycheck each year to atone for our sins.

This animal sacrifice covered the sins of the people for a limited amount of time.  When Jesus came, he offered himself up as a human sacrifice.  Jesus, like the animals without defects, was perfect.  God allowed for the sacrifice.  He lost his Son, just like the family in OT times lost a portion of their wealth.  Jesus is fully human but also fully God and therefore had no sin in his life.  This perfect, human sacrifice atoned for all of the sins of the people then and now.  God’s loss was done for our gain!

Jesus’ death was an act of mercy.  It pardoned the sins of all mankind, which is something none of us would ever be able to do.  How could anyone other than Jesus repay the offense made to an Infinitely Holy God?  Without this ultimate sacrifice, we were all destined for hell, because an offense against God has to be paid for.  Jesus paid for our offense.  He took our place.  This is mercy.  Mercy allowed us a ticket out of hell. 

Grace comes in the form of eternal life in Heaven with our Savior.  We don’t deserve Heaven, but God in his unfailing love has given us Heaven.  We as sinful humans don’t deserve the mercy, and definitely don’t deserve the grace, but God loves us this much. 

The sacrifice of His son is something that a parent can easily relate to.  Parents are typically very protective of their children and would never want anything to happen to them.  For the parents, imagine the sorrow you would have to go through by sacrificing your own child for someone who rebelled against you.  You would have to watch this beating and murder take place.  This is what God had to do for all of us so we could be saved from eternal torment.  He saw His son Jesus endure the mockery, punishment, beatings, and brutal crucifixion for you and me!  For those who don’t have children, think about something you cherish, such as a pet.  Imagine seeing your dog or cat going through a brutal beating all for the sake of people who offended you. 

What God has done for us is True Love.  God is Love.  God loves us so much that he created a way for us to be redeemed instead of having eternal punishment in hell!  And to think, so many billions of people reject this sacrifice.  They reject the One who offers the only hope.  Thank God for the Mercy he gave us—the ticket out of hell—and thank God for the Grace we don’t deserve—the gift of eternal life with Him!