I walked into a Religious Education classroom in a public school in Australia and with tongue-in-cheek wrote in large letters across the blackboard:
I hate religion
"Man, in this class, you'll get shot," gasped one student in amazement.
"But I'm sold on real Christianity," I responded.
"Well, what's the difference?" several chorused.
"Let me explain," I replied.
1. God's Purpose
True, Christianity is a religion, but people can be religious without being Christians. Christ condemned the religious Pharisees of his day because they hid their real selves behind a facade of religion and external morality.
It may sound odd, but God isn't into religion or external morality. He's into relationships and reality. That is, he wants us not only to have a right relationship with him, but also with each other and with ourselves. And he wants us to be realto see and admit what we truly are so he can help us.
Neither is it God's goal to make us good. It's to make us whole, for only to the degree that we are made whole will our actions, lifestyle, and relationships be wholesome!
Religion tends to want to fix us from the outside in. God wants to fix us from the inside out. The first can become an impossible burden. The latter is what brings freedom. Christianity is not a set of rules and regulations. It is experiencing divine love, divine acceptance and divine forgiveness.
It helps to realize that God isn't out to zap us for the wrongs we've done. In fact, no matter what we have ever done or have failed to do, he loves us with an everlasting love and has a wonderful purpose for our livesfor this life as well as the next! As Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."1 And again, "My purpose is to give life in all its fullness."2
2. Man's Problem
On the outside we may look like we are doing very well, but on the inside everyone of us has a major issue. Seneca, the ancient Roman philosopher, put it bluntly when he said, "We have all sinned. Some more. Some less." God's Word, the Bible agrees. It reads, "We have all sinned and fallen short of God's standard."3 Sin, however, is not only doing harmful acts. It is anything that falls short of the standard of perfection that God envisioned for us. This includes nursing grudges and other negative emotions, pride, jealousy, mixed motives, etc. Most of us, too, are guilty of sins of omission; that is, not doing what we know we should and could do.4
Another misconception about God is that he is out to get us or to punish us for our sins. We bring sin's punishment on ourselves because sin has its own natural consequences. If we try to break the universal law of gravity, for instance, we can't. It will break us. Neither can we break God's universal moral law. When we do, it breaks us, and besides its painful effects in this lifesuffering, sorrow, sickness and spiritual deathits ultimate and tragic consequence is eternal death or separation from God.5
We are like a burned out or "dead" electric light bulb that cannot respond to its power source. And because we are spiritually dead, we cannot respond to God's love and power either, without his first "fixing" us. Furthermore, because of our spiritual deadness, it is impossible for anyone to save him or herself. Only God can do this. This is why all the "good works" in the world cannot make us alive to God. Only when we see and admit this, is God able to "fix" us!
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