Monday, November 17, 2008

Is Christianity a Religion?

(Part 2 - Scroll down for part 1)

There is no religious ritual, ceremony or good thing you can do to make yourself acceptable in God’s eyes in any way because God simply has no need of anything man can do.

God says, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.  If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.” (Psalm 50:10-11)

God is not impressed with any of our religious rituals or ceremonies as if people could control Him by their work.

Acts 17:24-25 says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

The amazing thing is that though God has no need of our religion, He pours out His love on us and helps us and saves us for free, so that we can enjoy Him.

All of true Christianity is about God’s love and His work for you and not about you and or any of your religious efforts for Him, and thus Christianity excludes all pride over others.

But this is not to say that Christians are now perfect and have no pride.

In fact, we should not be surprised to find some nonbelievers who are outwardly nicer, kinder, wiser and even more humble than we are.

Why?  Christian believers are not accepted by God because of their superior moral performance, wisdom or virtue, but because of Christ’s work alone on their behalf.

A big-time sinner changed by God’s work may for a while look a little less polished than a person who has built up long-term habits of outward shows of kindness to others.

Jesus shocked the disciplined religious leaders of his day when he said to them, “I tell you the truth, the (lying and stealing) tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”  (Matthew 21:31)

God is in the business of saving and changing weak and immoral people because He wants all the glory for our salvation.  He alone is God.

Rom. 8:28 is one of my favorite verses.  We are going to look at this passage of Scripture today, so I invite you to open your Bible to Romans 8. 

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good, for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

You might look at that verse and says, “See Mark, after all you do need to do something to have God work all things for your good – you have to love Him.”

You see, Christianity IS a religion.

Order and context is very important here, so let’s keep reading.

“all things work together for good... for those who are called according to His purpose.”

Before anyone chooses to love God, God has already chosen to love that person personally and powerfully and has called them to Himself and into His plan and purpose. 

1 John 4:19 says, “We love because God first loved us.”  Without His love in our hearts, we have no real love to truly love him with, because He IS love!

All of our love will be self-centered or idolatry unless God is first living in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The fruit of His work is love.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

Christians, though far from perfect, love God and love people because they know and have tasted God’s love deep in their hearts.

The next verse says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Some people look at this verse and say, “See, first God foreknew that we would love him and choose him.”

That is why He chooses and predestines certain people to love and to save.  You see, in the end it is really up to us and if we are good enough or not.

We need to look at this verse closely because it is very important.

Who or what does God foreknow in this verse?

Several times we see clearly in the Bible that God clearly knows the future and all future events.  But what is the foreknowing here in this verse about?

This verse says “those he foreknew”.  God here foreknows His people, not just their choices.

The word “foreknew” here in Greek means more than just knowing facts about someone.  God foreknows His people – meaning God foreloves His people, before they have done or chosen anything to merit His love.

He loves His people before they are even born.

As Psalm 139 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

People will not and cannot come to follow God unless God first works in their hearts and draws them to Himself.

Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him up on the last day.”  (John 6:44)  and again in 6:64-65, “’Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’  For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.  He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.’”

Well, how about after the Father draws you by His love and you become a Christian?  Is it then up to you and your religious efforts to stay a Christian?

Someone might say, “Sure to become a Christian may not be religious, but to stay one you need to be very religious!”

You have to go to church every week, you have to give money to poor people, you have to do good things and love God all the time or else He will leave you and send you to hell, right?

That sounds more religious than most religions.

Wrong.  Christians need the gospel of God’s free and powerful grace just as much as we did before we became Christians!

God hates man-centered religion that boasts of man-centered effort and ability.

He hates it just like a doctor would hate it if a patient does not trust him enough to just receive the right medicine given, but tries hopelessly to make his own medicine.

A sick person needs merely to rest in the doctor’s care and let the doctor work to bring healing and wholeness.

As God, the Great Physician, heals our hearts and works on our behalf, we also begin to love God and desire to follow Him.

This is the evidence of the great doctor’s work and of healing, not of superior effort or ability to heal oneself.

Let’s keep reading:  “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

This great linking of words means that from before our birth to the point we are glorified in heaven, all of our success is a work of God or else it is not Christianity.

God justifies you, or declares you not guilty by faith in Jesus, but that faith itself is a work of God.  (Ephesians 2:8-9) And so we kneel and praise God for His unbelievable mercy and grace to save forever such wretches as us!  (Eph. 1)

As Chris said in his message, God imputes his righteousness to us, so as Jer. 23:6 and 33:16 say, “The LORD is our righteousness.”

God does call us to obey him, but that obedience will not happen unless God first works in us to give us His righteousness and then works in us so that we enjoy doing things according to His good pleasure.  (Philippians 2:13)

Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Though far from attaining perfection, a true Christian is powerfully worked on by God’s great scalpel, the Holy Spirit and has been given a new heart transplant in Christ as well as His imputed righteousness.

And one day we will be completely set free from evil and set free into God’s loving presence forever.

v. 31 says, “What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”  If God saved you, who can be more powerful than God to unsave you?

v. 35 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword?"

Do you see what the apostle Paul is saying here?

If God has really called you and loved you and put his seal on you as a Christian bound for glory, there is nothing that will be able to stop you from following Christ.

There is no temptation or hardship that could do it.  There is no demon in hell that is strong enough to do it, not even death can do it.

He goes on in v. 37-39, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers (Satan), nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, (evil spirits) nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Christians are the kind of people that have been so transformed that they can face death with peace (as v. 36 indicates) because God is guarding them for eternal life.

Steve Rohrer, whom most of you know, was once out camping with his then five-year-old daughter Julia.

As they entered their tent to sleep, the wind began to pick up and Julia was quite frightened.

“Daddy,” she said, “what if the wind blows our tent into the lake?  We could drown!”

Steve looked back and said, “Don’t worry, Julia.  I am much heavier than this tent.  It is not going anywhere.”

Julia was soon fast asleep.

There is no greater peace on the planet than to know that your eternity in heaven is secure and you yourself are secure because of God’s work and not because of your own work.

Christians, He is in your tent.

Are you sick of religion?

Are you sick of rituals and ceremonies based on fear or superstition?

Are you tired of having to give a lot of work and time and money that you don’t want to give?

Are you sick of religion that lifts up the pride of men over others?

Religions, even “Christian” religions have led to wars and problems the world over.

The answer is not atheism with its moral subjectivism and utter hopelessness for this life and the next.

The answer is coming back into a love relationship with God, your Creator, for free through Jesus Christ.

This and this faith alone has the power to humble us and inspire us towards great love in all the world.

God and not religion, is our only hope.

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