Religion and the Gospel
by Garrett Edwards
Rom 4:1-15 audio (3MB)
We continue in our series, ‘The Reason for God’.Today we’re looking at the difference between religion and the Gospel.
Basically exploring the difference between the Gospel and the life it calls us to and the requirements of religion, even Christian religion. And to illustrate, I want to look at, ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Give overview of the story.
Towards the end of the story Dr. Jekyll finds that he’s truly helpless in his fight against the evil within him. And he says this,
‘I resolved in my future conduct to redeem the past; and I can say with honesty that my resolve was fruitful and of some good. You know how earnestly, in the last months of the last year, I labored to relieve suffering; you know that much was done for others. But as I smiled, comparing myself with other men, comparing my active goodwill with the lazy cruelty and neglect of others…At that very moment of that vain-glorious thought, a qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most dreadful shuddering…I looked down, I was once more Edward Hyde.’
The story shows that everyone, even the best of people try to cover up what’s inside: that we have an enormous selfishness, that puts ourselves before others!
This is the origin of evil, the reason the powerful and rich are indifferent to the plight of the poor. The reason for crime, warfare, and violence. Dr. Jekyll’s story explores our self-centred capacity for evil!
Like so many of us, Jekyll tries to make up for his sin with good works, but this only makes him worse because he becomes self-righteous. Self-centredeness is the origin of evil and it comes in two forms:
One form is being rebellious, breaking all the rules and the second is being very good and keeping all the rules - self-centred by being self-righteous. The first says I’m going to live my life my way, forget the consequences and who I could hurt.
The other trusts in our own goodness and we get self righteous when we succeed or depressed when we fail. Either way, we lose.
But why am I talking about forms of self-centredness? Because the form that trusts in our own goodness is a characteristic of religion. And what are we talking about today? The difference between religion and the gospel.
And what is that difference? What’s the opposite of a hard earned prize? A free gift - Radical Grace! That’s the difference! Have you ever experienced it? I hope so, cos most here are followers of Jesus! And no one can truly follow Him without it.
Radical Grace - that moment when we understand how fully contaminated we are, and in the gloom of realizing there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves, Jesus’ hand breaks into the shadow in a blinding light and pulls us out!
Radical Grace - those moments when we know that we cannot possibly succeed, we’ve messed up and don’t deserve to and yet surprisingly our goal is achieved because Jesus wills it and he still chooses to use you.
I have experienced that grace many times!
That’s what Gospel Christianity is about, Radical grace. But there are Religious Christians too aren’t there?Those of us who, confess to follow Jesus, but really, we only follow the laws, trying to be good.
Do you know it’s as easy to avoid Jesus by keeping all the rules of the Bible, as it is by breaking them all? That’s why religious Christianity is so dangerous. In our pursuit of perfection and keeping to rules we avoid Jesus who says, ‘I’ve already done it for you!’ We try to deal with our faults and failures through moral laws like Dr. Jekyll did. But what we need is a complete transformation of the very motives of our hearts! The kind that comes from Radical Grace!
Satan probably even prefers those who think they’re better off than unbelievers because of the rules and their good works, when in fact, they do a lot more spiritual damage, leading other potential followers of Jesus to being simply followers of the biblical rules!
And who are we at St Thomas’? Religious Christians or Gospel Christians?
I think we’re a church, who looks outward, and I see that for the majority, we are a people who show the grace of God. God does a lot through our church and we know the grace of God, so this talk isn’t a challenge, it’s an encouragement to us to continue on, to make known the grace we rely on! To invite others to know Jesus for themselves, that their lives will be fulfilled not by the ‘laws and morals’ of Christianity, but by the radical grace they will experience when Jesus turns to them and says, ‘I love you and I forgive you, come follow me!’
They will be changed by the radical grace that we’ll show them cos they see the proof of it in us!
So many people live the attitude that ‘I obey – so I’m accepted.’ But the gospel says, ‘I am accepted through Christ and so I obey.’ We love because Christ first loved us!
Two people sit side by side in church, they both pray, and give their hard-earned money, both are loyal and faithful to family and church, trying to live decent lives. But they do so out of two radically different motivations. One obeys out of fear, believing that if they don’t obey than they’ll lose God’s blessing, the other obeys out of gratitude for this surprising blessing they know is theirs already. Motivated by a desire to please and imitate Jesus!
And what about the outcomes of their lives? The moralist may feel they are living up to the religious standards and feel superior, or if they aren’t measuring up…They feel guilt and hate themselves for constant failures.
But the gospel follower will know they’re accepted, not only despite their flaws, but because they’re willing to admit them.
The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet so loved that Jesus was glad to die. And this should lead to a deep humility as well as a deep, deep confidence! We cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet we don’t have anything to prove!
That’s what Dr. Jekyll didn’t understand cos he hadn’t experienced Radical Grace. This is what other religions don’t understand, cos they don’t know Jesus’ love!
Which one are we, here at St Thomas’…?
But of course, as with any good thing, there is a balance. In hearing that salvation is by faith alone many will say ‘Nice Deal! If that’s Christianity all I have to do is start a relationship with God… and I can do anything I want!’
You can always spot a fake when this attitude is alive in someone! This attitude can only live in those who have never experienced Radical Grace, and in this way, grace can be quite threatening.
Grace then, is the proof of a true follower some will take advantage, others will hold it in awe. If Jesus really did everything for us, we are no longer our own, and we joyfully, gratefully belong to him!
From the outside this may sound coercive and pushy, the catch in an otherwise good deal. But from the inside, its done out of joy! This also is the proof - Are we joyous servants or not?
It is the fate of humanity to have a master, and there are only 2 masters, the master of selfishness and religion or the master of the Gospel of Grace? And only one master can free us of the other.
Grace is a threat, it’s a threat to the illusion that we’re free, living lives that we can choose. Yes, grace has freed us from sin, but has made us slaves to righteousness, as Paul says in Romans. And Jesus says we can’t serve two masters.
Other religions say, ‘Do this, and you will find the divine.’ But Jesus says, ‘I am the divine!’ Wow!
And so Christianity separates itself from religion and we see it as something altogether different, in a league of its own. Not governed by laws and standards and the consequences of our own achievements or failures. But something completely other – Radical Grace! The divine love of a God who has no heavy burdens to place on us.
Here’s my one challenge for us…
I feel that many of us are waiting until we’re worthy. We’ve paused in our personal relationship with Jesus, putting off telling others of him cos we know that we’re not worthy.
Are we able to forget our legalism and religiousness and remember Radical Grace, and then tell others about it?
Cos only those are wholly reliant on Radical Grace can make more disciples for Jesus. And only those who are sold out to him will have no room for themselves!
This is the message we need to be telling unbelievers to set them free like we are free. Free from sin, but slaves to Jesus, and this is a joy, not a burden!
So may our lives be proof of Radical Grace?
May they show the difference between Gospel and religion?