religion Posts

Finding Freedom from Religion

More than 70 years President Roosevelt gave his famous “Four Freedoms” speech in which he upheld the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. As we reflect on our freedom as Americans, every follower of Jesus should also reflect on the freedom we have in Christ.
If freedom of religion is one of life’s great freedoms, I would suggest that freedom from religion is much more significant and costly freedom. In fact, it was the apostle Paul who described religion when he referenced “the law” in the Book of Galatians. Any structure, belief, ritual, moral behavior, or action by which we seek to achieve a right standing before God (through human effort) is “religion”. Ironically, many religious people are living in bondage. When we truly understand the difference between religion and biblical Christianity, it impacts everything about our relationship with God. Then, and only then, is true freedom found.
In Galatians 3:1-14 Paul uses the strongest terms possible in exhorting believers to go back to the Gospel as the one and only basis for their Christian lives. The essence of the Christian life is the Gospel. It is what Christ has done on the cross. But this is not only a means toward salvation, it is the means toward our sanctification, the motivation for our obedience, and the power to live our lives in Christ.
It may sound strange to some, but Christ came to set us free from religion. 2,000 years ago God sent His Son to rebel against a religion that He, Himself, began. And by “religion” I do not mean “Church”. The Church is the Body of Christ- the “living out” of our faith is a community project- we do it together AS the Body of Christ. But it all starts as we stop trying to gain God’s approval through our own efforts, give up, and admit our need for a Savior, confess our sin and our inability to set ourselves free.. then, we can escape the bondage of our sin. Jesus said…
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 What did Jesus really mean? Paul answers the question in Galatians. His battle cry is the same as the great reformers of the 1500’s. During the Reformation, the most dramatic shift in Christian history, many protested against the Catholic Church- at the time- with its works-based, religious add-ons to what Christ has done. From these protestors or “protestants”- came many groups forging their own way with the Bible alone as their guide. In fact, a brief history lesson and a look at the theology of the reformers will be helpful for our study of this 3rd chapter. In fact, it was the book of Galatians (along with the book of Romans) that most influenced Martin Luther to post his 95 theses (complaints) on the door of the Wittenburg Church- that sparked the Reformation- protesting the religion of his day. So, quickly…
The 5 Pillars of the Reformation “Solo, soli, sola”, are all Latin for, “alone/only”
1. ‘Sola Scriptura’ – By Scripture Alone
2. ‘Sola Gratia’ – By Grace Alone
3. ‘Solus Christus’ – By Christ Alone
4. ‘Sola Fide’ – By Faith Alone
5. ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ – Glory To God Alone

The Book of Galatians focuses on numbers 2 through 4 in particular- “By GRACE through FAITH” alone we are justified, we are sanctified, and we will be glorified. From start to finish it is faith in the finished work of Christ (not religion or “works of the law”).
By Grace Alone
I want you to examine your heart- to see if you have truly been set free in Christ. AND all of us need some freeing- None of us have arrived.. nor will we. I want you to ask yourself a series of questions and do a kind of self-examination (a Holy Spirit investigation). With each point below, ask yourself: How do I know if I think and live this way?) DO YOU FOCUS ON:
Christ’s sacrifice or the Law? (vs. 1-2) Do you live your Christian life on the basis of works or by faith? And here’s what most of us miss: The demand of the Law is perfection. The fallacy of the “What Would Jesus Do?” question is this: Jesus would do it perfectly. And that’s game over for us. The Father is not grooming you to be the replacement for His Son. He is calling us to give up, fall on our knees, and believe that there is shelter through faith in His Son. Do you rest in Christ’s fulfillment of the law and His sacrifice OR do you strive and work to become pleasing to God? It will never happen- not through your works! And this not bad news, this is Good News. Is your life one big “thank you” or are you constantly driven to gain God’s approval? Are you motivated by fear or out of gratitude? Are you striving to win God’s approval or do you rest and revel in the fact that you already have it?
God’s Spirit or human effort? (vs. 3) Having received Christ’s Spirit at salvation, are you now turning away from the Spirit- (the only power to transform you) and going back to your religious ways (thinking that a modification of your behavior will transform your heart?) This is crazy! Are you trying to let Moses finish what Christ has begun? Do you strive to “do the right thing” in your own power or do you constantly go back to the liberating truth of the Gospel -that it is God’s Spirit changes you, not your efforts. Do you pray for His power to move in your life or do simply try harder day in and day out? Are you constantly measuring your performance before God or comparing yourself to others? Are you quick to judge? These are signs you’re focused on human effort, not the Spirit. Are you obsessed with thoughts about your performance or are you obsessed with the Gospel? Because it is the Gospel that is our motivation for obedience. ARE you focused on:
Your faith or your works? (vs. 5-9) Do you live by faith or by works?
Most of us live by works because that puts us in control. The law (or works) puts everything on us- and the truth is, we like that. Because we like to keep score. Faith takes us out of the picture and puts everything on God. Faith makes all of my works and human effort as no consequence and I can no longer keep score- I can’t come before God or others and say, “Look what I’ve done, look how righteous, how kind, how religious I am.” Faith puts us all on the same level so that we cannot boast about how we’re on some higher plane than others. It’s faith FIRST and it’s faith LAST. Faith in what? Faith in Christ- who is and what He’s done for us. Many Christians start out with a simple, focused faith- relying fully on the grace of Christ, but they desert the purity of the Gospel and enter into legalism and works. Here’s a profound truth: It is possible to avoid Jesus as Savior as much by keeping all the biblical rules as by breaking them. Paul says- that kind of life leads to- not a blessing, but a curse.
A blessing or a curse? (vs. 10-14) Again, the demand of the Law is
perfection. If you’re going to keep any of the law, you must keep ALL of the law. “What Would Jesus Do?” Here is the costly answer: Jesus would do it all perfectly. And that’s game over for you. The Father is not grooming you to be a replacement for his Beloved Son. He is announcing that there is blessing for those who take shelter in his Beloved Son. because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). So if you want to measure yourself by the law- you’re under a curse! You’ll never be blessed. In 2 Cor. 1:22, Paul says that God has “set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
Are you living as one blessed? If so, you seek to be a blessing to others. Then in verses 15-22 Paul argues that in every day life people make binding agreements that cannot be nullified just as the covenant was originally given to Abraham. But THEN came the law (after the covenantal promise) to show us that we are prisoners to sin. But the promise of salvation and freedom have finally come to us through Christ- making us sons and daughters of God- not prisoners.
“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” 2 Cor. 1:21-22
A child or a prisoner? (vs. 23-25) The law has become a “tutor”. The Greek word is “pedagogos”- a “child-conductor” or “moral teacher”, a strict disciplinarian” who would train boys (6-16 years old)- a kind of moral guidance counselor- often through harsh methods if they felt it was necessary. The law was a temporary, often harsh, disciplinarian, given to us so that we might see that we cannot measure up to the high and holy demands of God. Christ came to live the perfect life and fulfill the holy requirements of the law (so we wouldn’t have to) and he died on the cross for our sin (because we could not). It is by grace through faith that we are saved. Grace is the most expensive free gift you’ll ever receive.
Joy is found, not in obedience to God’s law, but in surrender to His love. The Gospel frees us from this pressure to perform, this slavish demand to “become”. The liberating declaration of the Gospel is that, in Christ, we already ARE. Here’s the freedom of the Gospel of grace- IF you are a Christian, here’s the Good News: Who you really are has nothing to do with YOU- how much you accomplish, who you become, your behavior (good or bad), your strengths or your weaknesses, your sordid past, family background, your education, your looks, and on and on.. Your identity is firmly anchored in Christ’s accomplishment, not yours, His strength, not yours; His performance, not yours; His victory, not yours. Your identity is steadfastly established in His substitution, not your sin. The Gospel doesn’t just free you from what other people think about you; it frees you from what you think about yourself.
Now you can spend your life giving up your place for others instead of guarding it- because your identity is in Christ, not in your “place”… I am now content with the back of the line, the last place, the role of a servant, you and I can GIVE freely.. because our identity is not found in what we possess.. and all of this is because of Christ’s finished work declared to us in the Gospel. So the final question-focus on
Religion or relationship?
Is your life defined by your religious activity or by your relationship with Jesus Christ? And how would you know? Simple really. What do you think about? Where do you spend your time? Do you seek HIM daily or more activity? Do you focus on what Christ has done or what you must do? Are you experiencing a vibrant relationship with Christ or are you just trying to live a religious life?

Two challenges: One is to those of you who have never realized that true Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with God- through Jesus Christ. The second challenge is to a group that I call the “religious Christian group”- and before you think that you’re not in this group, most of us are. The religious Christian and the grace-filled disciple live very different lives.

• The religious Christian loves a routine; a grace-filled disciple longs for mission.
• The religious Christian knows the letter of the law; a grace-filled disciple lives the spirit of the law.
• The religious Christian loves tradition; a grace-filled disciple loves a challenge.
• The religious Christian is satisfied with ritual; a grace-filled disciple thrives in mystery.
• The religious Christian desires stability and certainty; a grace-filled disciple seeks a life with Jesus filled with risk and adventure.

How do you want to live your life? In a religion or a relationship?

What is the Gospel?

When Paul wrote his letter to the churches in Galatia, it was in response to one stark reality: the Gospel was in danger. Church leaders need to take a cue from Paul. He was frustrated and furious with anyone who would try to add to or take away from the Gospel of free grace. This Gospel is in danger again in our day. For most people in America, Christianity has become a form of “moralistic therapeutic Deism”. It’s “moralistic”, in that Christianity provides an avenue for moral living. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not the Gospel. It’s “therapeutic”, in that it feels good to live a moral life, in adherence to biblical principles. Again, this is not a bad thing, it’s just not the Gospel. And it’s clearly a form of “Deism”, in that God is certainly in the mix, though not the central focus much of the time. More often, the focus is on our works for God, not His work for us, and on our preferences as oppose to His. The Gospel that Paul defended is in danger and Christ (His heart, His mission, His Person) has been lost in a religion that bears His name.
We must join Paul and confront any altering of the Gospel in any way. He distinguishes between the Law and the Gospel. The Law tells us what God expects from us, the Gospel tells us what God has done for us. The Law is about what we do, the Gospel is about what Christ has done. The Law provides the diagnosis, the Gospel provides the cure. In order to defend the Gospel, we must be clear about what the Gospel is. Herein lies our problem. So, what is the Gospel?

The Absolute Gospel:

1. Christ lived the perfect life, fulfilling the requirements of the law. Just as central to our salvation is Christ’s death on the cross is the fact that He lived the perfect life. This is significant for two reasons: First, He could not have provided the perfect, “once and for all” sacrifice if He had not lived a sinless life. Secondly, He has done for us what we could not do ourselves. We cannot and now- need not- live the perfect life. The Gospel is one-way, descending love. We bring nothing to the Gospel expect our sin that makes it necessary. James reminds us how desperate we are. “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). Jesus did not come to “abolish” the Law but to fulfill the righteous demands of the Law and in so doing, we are set free from the demands of the Law placed on us.

2. He died for us on the cross, paying the price for our sins. We are justified before our Holy God because Christ, who lived the perfect life for us, took our sin upon the cross. The due penalty of our unrighteousness was placed upon Him and we have been set free from the judgment that comes upon sin. Through the Law God makes the demands for holiness and in Christ He fulfills them. Then miraculously, Christ takes on our sin and completely forgives us, “so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). His perfect life was imputed to us and therefore, God’s wrath was taken away from us. Only God acting on our part brings salvation.

3. He rose again, conquering death and hell. By overcoming death, Christ leads all of creation into a triumphant procession into eternity. And all people who receive His amazing grace through faith, join Him in this victorious life. This life begins in the here and now and continues in eternity.

4. He is coming again, to restore all things. The work of Christ and the purposes of God are bigger than our salvation. God does not make mistakes and nothing surprises Him. His purposes do not fail; He always wins. Though all of creation has been effected by the sin of mankind, all things will be restored to God’s original intent. God’s restorative agenda is in effect and will be completed as He comes again to make all things right. Ultimately, He will “make all things new” and a redeemed people will worship God on a redeemed “New Earth” for eternity.

It’s important to remember that the Gospel of the early church, of Paul, of the evangelists, was this: All of the promises of the Jewish Scriptures has come true in the Resurrection of Jesus. And this is the Gospel that we preach, teach, defend, and live out in our day. This is the Gospel.

Do All Roads Lead to God?

On New Year’s Eve, you may have heard Cee Lo Green’s rendition of John Lennon’s, “Imagine” (which apparently has become a tradition just prior to the ball being dropped at Times Square). But this year, instead of listening Lennon’s version of the song, they had Cee Lo sing it. He created a big stir by changing the words- instead of singing, “imagine no religion too”, he sang, “and all religions true”. People debate and ask the question- is there really only one way to God? The classic presentation of this argument ends up with the idea that “all roads lead to heaven”, “all paths lead to the same God”.
But is this true? I’ve changed the way I approach this question. The truth is (and read carefully) there are many roads to God- all roads lead to God but there is ONLY ONE WAY to eternal life with Him- there’s only ONE Way to LIFE and it is through Jesus Christ.

It is true that everyone will end up before God.

“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” Hebrews 9:27

Though we may get through different paths, everyone will stand before God some day. But the idea that all religions are true is not even logical, simply because not all religions teach the same thing- by a long shot. In fact, in many ways, Christianity cannot even be compared to other religions. It is the anti-religion- it’s not a religion (that is, a way to achieve some standing before God through good works, following a certain set of moralistic standards, or follow set of rules). That’s not Christianity. Jesus taught us that we could never achieve God’s approval apart from His grace. If this were not true there would be no reason for the cross- which stands at the center of our faith.

No, all religions DO NOT teach the same thing and not all roads lead to a right relationship with God. And you don’t even have to go to the Bible to see this. Simple Aristotelian logic would say that two contradictory truths cannot be equally valid. It’s “The Law of Non-Contradiction”. This is a basic, fundamental Law of Logic. It states that two contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time; one is true and one is false. Formulaically, it’s presented as, “A equals B and A does not equal B are mutually exclusive statements”. Now, every child knows this, but in America we have become so open-minded our brains have fallen out.
Some people say, “Well, Christianity is so exclusive. How can someone be so prideful as to think that ONE religion has all truth? I’ve talked to people who say, “My approach is to choose the best from all religions. That’s a better way to come to truth.” Really? Let me ask you then, “How do you determine what to chose from each religion that you’re going to then put together as your chosen collective religion?” YOU are going to choose? You’ve just made yourself your own God! You have just formed the religion of YOU; and you are, in the end, worshipping yourself. You have the final word on all things. And think about this: Isn’t it more logical to believe that ONE religion would have the truth within itself? A collective, united, comprehensive and cohesive body of truth- within one religion makes a lot more sense (again, if we want to bring logic into the equation). But alas, logic doesn’t seem to be in the mix when it comes to spiritual conversations these days. Let’s bring it back into the conversation.

All roads lead to God and then judgment based on what we have done with Jesus.

What’s the Gospel?

At the core of our Message, our ministries, our lives, our hope, and life is the Gospel.  The longer I preach the more convinced I am that I (we) have but one message: the Gospel of Grace found only in Christ. Surely all of Scripture is inspired by God and all of the Bible is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness- but it is the Gospel that is central. I’ve heard Christians through the years express a desire to go “deeper” in the Word. Sometimes this is a true desire to get beyond the surface preaching that seems to come from many of our pulpits. But most of the time this is a desire for more knowledge (and not a desire nor evidence of obedience to what is already known- i.e. kindness, compassion, care for the poor, the marginalized, a lack of grace and purity, etc..).

I ask, “What’s deeper than the Gospel?” How can we ever tire of studying, scrutinizing, exploring, and- indeed- applying the Gospel to every aspect of life. The Gospel is the well that never runs dry. Jesus is eternal and the exploration of His majesty is never-ending. Let’s preach, teach, and apply the Gospel. It is (HE is) the Only hope of salvation for those who believe.

Here Tim Keller (who is always Gospel-centered) answers the question: “What is the Gospel?”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0g-s4Qhtyk&feature=youtu.be]

“Is there a God?”

Most people claim to believe in “God” but how can we even know He exists?  According to a survey last month (June 8, 2011) 92% of Americans believe in God- a number that has not changed much at all since 1940- when Gallop Polls started tracking this. As you look over “8 evidences” for God’s existence, I challenge you to pick your top three (in order) and be able to explain why you think those arguments are the strongest.

The definitive word in the Bible regarding atheism is this: “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1.  In Romans 1 we see that God has revealed Himself clearly to us through creation and has made Himself “evident” to us so that we are “without excuse” (1:20).  In fact, He’s made His presence known “within” us (1:19).   

This is why I believe that every atheist is constantly trying to push the thought of God out of his mind.  I liken him to the man who went out and bought himself a new boomerang and he almost killed himself trying to throw away his old one.  Rick Warren recently tweeted, “I don’t believe in atheists. Therefore, there is zero possibility they exist.”

Before we begin our study of theism you must remember that you can’t prove God scientifically- science says that in order for something to be proven it must be repeatable.  Even history, by its nature can’t be repeatable. You can’t prove a lot of things by science.  BUT there is a lot of evidence that points to the clear existence of God.

8 Evidences for the Existence of God

1. The search for something more  There is something within all of us that sense there is something or Someone beyond us.“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” – Blaise Pascal

2. Cause and effect  There can be no effect without a cause. Every effect must have a cause.  All of us (and all of the Universe) are effects and God is the Cause.  Eventually you come to an “Uncaused Cause”- GOD.  Think about it: Can a computer suddenly come out of nowhere? Can matter suddenly exist from non-matter? Can life appear from non-life?  Can something come from nothing?  It is scientifically impossible.

3. Order and design  We see order and intelligent design throughout our world and the Universe.  I could choose a million examples but I’ll offer one.  Did you know that because water has a high specific heat your body is able to remain at a constant temperature?  As a result you r body can better absorb heat.  If water had a low specific heat you would “boil over” with the least amount of activity. 71% of the earth’s surface is covered with water.  The oceans serve as the earth’s thermostat and keeps the planet cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.  The distance of the earth from the sun, the tilt of it’s axis, the speed of it’s orbit, all make life possible on our planet.  The slightest degree of change in any aspect of the position in space would kill us all in no time.

4. Meaning and purpose  All of us are seeking meaning and purpose in life.  Where does this come from?  Consider a few famous people who wrestled with the meaning of life:

“What is life for? To die? To kill myself? To wait till death comes? I fear that even more. Then I must live. But what for? To die? And I could not escape that circle.” Leo Tolstoy

“Life is a dirty trick, a short journey from nothingness to nothingness.” Ernest Hemingway

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” –Solomon, Ecclesiastes 1:2

It was C. S. Lewis who said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  It seems that God Himself has created us with a kind of “homing devise” and our hearts will not rest until we find our rest in Him.

5. The moral argument  If there is no God, where does our sense of right and wrong from?  Is that just an evolved state of consciousness?  Without an ultimate source of morality how do you explain a basic universal sense of right and wrong?

6. Love and emotion  If God does not exist how do explain love?  If it is not from God (the Author of love) then what are your options?  Is love an animal instinct?  Is it an evolved emotion or a chemical reaction?  How can you explain great acts of love, mercy, and compassion apart from a love God?

7. Jesus Christ  Of course the greatest proof of God’s existence is the fact that He actually came here and told us that He exists.  Jesus said that if we have seen Him, we’ve seen God. He said that He and God are One.  To see Him was to see God. To believe in Him was to believe in God and to reject Him was to reject God. Jesus revealed, not only that God exists, but He also showed us Who God is and what He is like.  Read these verses:

  • Hebrews 1:1-3
  • John 1:1-4, 14

8. Changed lives  Billions of lives have been changed by the power of God (including mine).  God has proven His existence by revealing Himself.  He desires to prove His existence and His love for you as well if only you will come to Him by faith.  Believe and then you will receive greater and greater understanding.  Which of the three evidences do you think are the most powerful?  Which one would you choose above the others?  If “changed lives” were used as proof of God’s existence and if you were brought to trial as evidence, would you be found guilty?