After worship on Easter Sunday morning, a young man approached me about the sermon and told me that I needed to ‘make it hot in here.’ As the conversation went on he told me that ‘good’ preaching needed to make people feel guilty, that I needed to be more clear about sins of our society. He proceeded to name a few thing he thought were wrong. I smiled inwardly. That man has a good dose of ‘religion’ but I I wonder if he grasps the heart of the Gospel of Christ? Do you? Do I?
Jesus was challenged repeatedly by people who thought he needed to be ‘tough on sin.’ The leaders of the predominant religious system of the day roundly condemned Him for healing on the Sabbath because He was ‘working’ and that was forbidden. That He would love and touch lepers offended them because their assumption was that those with leprosy were being condemned by God for some sin and deserved their horrible situation. Jesus’ touch spoke volumes about the worth of those regarded as ‘outcasts.’ He scandalized the religious by spending time with people who were immoral, who drank too much, Samaritans, and tax collectors. When asked about all that, Jesus’ reply – “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Luke 5:31, NIV)
Was Jesus without moral standards or did He think His Father was ‘soft on sin?’ Of course not. He knew that the real way to change was not condemnation or rigid religious rules. People had been trying that and failing for too long. His message was about powerful love and great promise. Knowing Him was the key to pleasing God then, and it still is.
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24, NIV) “Crossed over,” He said. The fullness of the good news is that we are saved from sin and the penalty of death – spiritual and physical – not by doing enough good, but by faith in the One who is Ultimate Good. It’s not a new thought but how quickly we tend to obscure the grace of Jesus with our religious behaviors, somehow thinking that the result of salvation – holiness – is the cause of it.
Those religious leaders really believed that their hope of finding God was found in their scrupulous observation of religious law. “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40, NIV) They studied the Scripture to draw out the finest distinctions in behavior – what was right, what was wrong, thinking that moral perfection would earn them a home in Heaven. What they could not and would not see is that the Scriptures point to God’s Savior, to Jesus.
Religion is not a terrible thing. When we truly know Jesus as Savior, we will become His disciple, living with an aim to love and serve God. The Spirit will bring about changes in our daily behavior. I suppose we might even be described by some as ‘religious.’ The heart of our hope will always remain “Jesus” and in knowing Him we will discover the delight that is found in serving the Lord God.
Before you rush off to other things today, take a few minutes to meditate on this passage. Paul was once scrupulous about religious rule-keeping. Then, he met Jesus. As you read, note the shift of perspective. And, may the joy of God’s grace and favor find you this day.
“The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life.
Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself.” (Philippians 3:7-10, The Message)
That’s a religion worth living and dying for, isn’t it?
All I once held dear built my life upon
All this world reveres and wars to own\
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now compared to this
Knowing You Jesus knowing You
There is no greater thing
You’re my all You’re the best
You’re my joy my righteousness
And I love You Lord love You Lord
Now my heart’s desire is to know You more
To be found in You and known as Yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All surpassing gift of righteousness
Oh to know the pow’r of Your risen life
And to know You in Your sufferings
To become like You in Your death my Lord
So with You to live and never die
Graham Kendrick © 1993 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
CCLI License # 810055