“Religion is not the answer. Religion is the problem.”
This weekend I had an interesting conversation with a young woman who had a lot to say about “religion.” Though she brought the conversation up, she said, ” I know you are religious, but I have some issues with religion.” I laughed and said, “Nope, I am not religious at all.”
She answered with a curious stare.
You see, my young friend was raised in a tradition that reinforces the idea of religion… faith PLUS good works + rules for the sake of rules + behaviours + activities plus, plus plus. One needs to be a good person…go to church, confession, sacraments etc. etc. otherwise, she cannot be saved. She has fearful questions about what is a mortal sin. She doesn’t understand how she can possibly live up to religious expectations. We talked awhile and I brought up the 10 commandments. I asked her if she had kept all of them. To her surprise she realized she had not kept even one. Neither have I, I admitted.
“If we can’t keep the 10 Commandments, how can we be “good” people?” I asked.
“How will we ever make it into heaven and adjust the scales of justice in our favour? What if we don’t “do” enough to win God’s favour? Isn’t this kind of measurement arbitrary? How can we be good enough or even follow a good God that sets us up for failure?” I continued.
I think I thoroughly confused her. But here is the point – all religions – and indeed even some Christian denominations, get sidetracked to what one must DO TO BE SAVED.
When Jesus was asked this question, He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength and love your neighbour as yourself…”
Hmmm, that seems a formula for disaster…because I don’t necessarily like my neighbour, don’t always feel like loving God, especially when I am cross and frustrated, and don’t even talk to me about strength….I am an exhausted mother of teenage sons! Oy!
But God. He knows this and that is why His grace exists. Grace – getting something you don’t deserve…I don’t deserve. If I got what I really deserved….well that would be a disaster…for me that is. Only His grace can save me now…I told my young friend.
So back to my girl talk – I asked her about the concept of grace…did she understand what Jesus did and why? She said she knew He died on the cross, but that she didn’t really get why He had to die.
Woh – now we get to the complicated stuff!
I answered, “The wage of sin is death. Somebody has to pay. In the Old Testament, God set up the sacrificial system of animals to pay. This was so humans could understand the concept of payment for sins. But with the coming of Messiah, Jesus Christ – the lamb of God – paid the final bill. It is finished. Caput. Done. Over. ”
She responded to me…”Well surely we have to DO something. That doesn’t seem fair at all”. So I led her to the thieves. Remember them? One told Jesus to shove off, but the other thief acknowledged his sin, believed in Jesus’ divinity and asked to be with Jesus in His kingdom…
And Jesus, the Son of God, Master of All, said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Did Jesus tell the thief to first get off that cross and tithe or sing in the choir or go to confession or help the poor or do good works? Did He say you must have faith plus…plus…plus? No, He said “Today, you will be with me in Heaven.” (and He didn’t say purgatory either.)
What was the difference?
Scripture reminds us all to seek the WORD (Jesus is the Word) not WORKS. If our salvation is up to us – through works – then THAT would be arbitrary. More importantly, the heinous, blood sucking, bone crushing death of Jesus Christ would be mute….
“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. Romans 10:8-12
We are called to believe, confess and seek God to come into our lives and change us from the inside out. When we do this, truly do this (as God will be the judge of our intents), it is then and only then that our “works” count for anything…because God prepares in advance in us the works He wants us to accomplish – but for Him, not for us. When we do good things for others as a response to God’s prodding, then we are doing GOOD things FOR GOD and bringing Him closer to others and us on this earth.
Then we CAN actually love our neighbour – through His love – not our own. Then we can love the Lord through His Spirit not our own, and then we will have strength for this world, not through our flesh – but His physical indwelling in us.
I suspect my young friend is still reeling from my download of information to her – but I know this – that conversation wasn’t started by me, so I was supposed to have it. God is working on her and in her. She’s got questions – He’s got answers. He doesn’t need me to finish that conversation – He will do it. After all – I am not the difference in her life.
Ephesians 2:8-11 (NIV)
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.