The other night at work, I was asked a question in the form of a statement, “Jim – you’re a deeply religious person, right?” I told the person for the sake of the argument, I was. The question that was asked then had to do with the Garden of Eden and Adam’s lineage, and that he and Eve supposedly had eight hundred children*. Nevertheless, this isn’t an article on the Garden nor is it about how prolific Adam and Eve were; it’s about a Father/son relationship.
In response to my fellow worker’s question, I told him that for the sake of the argument, he could say I was a religious person. I’m really not, though. Let me clarify – although I adhere to the Christian faith, it’s the term "religious” that I have the problem with. The reason being is that it infers a set of rules to follow in order to obtain favor from some distant deity. God isn’t distance nor is He aloof. I’m also not saying that we don’t need rules; we do need them to function as a family, as a community, as a society, etc., etc. I just want to be clear that I’m NOT preaching anarchy.
Without singling out one religion or denomination, there are certain dos and don’ts in any given religion. Some of the rules are: you must pray five times a day, you must be baptized in order to be saved, you must not eat certain meat on certain days, you must abstain from worldly pleasures and devices, rely on God for medical issues, just to name a few. However, if the practitioner is able to obey these laws, then there is a sense of “goodness” and salvation becomes merely a by-product of works and there is no need for grace. The individual then can rest on his morals knowing that God has to let him into heaven, simply because he has met the requirement set by the throne of God.
However, a few things should be mentioned about rules:
I. In matters of civility, if there are too many laws in a given society, it can break the back of the public for the simple reason of limited personal freedoms. The same logic can be used in religion i.e., too many rules can stunt relational growth with said deity, because the participant is too caught up in worry that any slight deviation from said rules will cause immediate judgment on the person.
II. No matter how many rules you can follow, you will eventually break one. Using the logic of the Jewish law, if you broke one of the laws, you broke all of them. Even by the Jewish standard, it was understood that the laws were never meant to be a way of salvation, but by relying on the merit of morals and actions, they were trying to obtain favor from Jehovah. Thus, righteousness was subjective (This is the nut shell argument of the Epistle to the Romans).
No matter how much good is in you, according to our Lord, it’s not good enough. That’s why Ephesians 2:8-9 is so important to understanding that Christianity is not a works-driven religion.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith;
and that not of yourselves,
it is the gift of God;
not as a result of works,
that no one should boast.”
In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 19:16 ff, the context is that of salvation, to wit, who can be saved. The rich young ruler asks Christ –“What must I do to inherit the Kingdom of God?” The question he asks is implying that there was some task to do to obtain salvation. After a discussion on keeping certain commandments to which the ruler replied, (I suppose that there was a gleam in his eye), “I have kept all of these!” Jesus then tells him to do the hardest thing the ruler could do; sell all he has and give it to the poor and then come follow Jesus. Well, we all know what happened – the youngster couldn’t do it. Thus begins a conversation with the apostles on salvation. Peter subsequently asks Jesus “then who can be saved?” Christ’s answer is – “with men, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
I return to the previous point. If we are being “religious” to gain salvation from God based on the deeds we do and our good morals, we are not going to make it.
This begs Saint Peter’s, “who can be saved?” I think I can best answer this question by approaching the subject with love.
In 1 John 4:19, the reader is told, “we love, because God first loved us.” Let me add to the mix, John 3:16, “for God so loved the world, that He gave His only son…” We are also told in Colossians 1: 22-26 that because of this love, through the sacrifice of Christ, we have been brought back into a right relationship with God. The promise that was made in Garden came true i.e., God’s toe got stubbed, and satan’s head got crushed. This is cause for tremendous celebration! We have been brought back into a proper relationship with our Papa. We are no longer alienated from Him!
Because of this great and loving act, I do not have to rely on my goodness. I merely have to accept His grace and love and His gift of salvation, without doing anything to gain His favor; it’s already there. Furthermore, in returning His love, I don’t have to pray five times a day, but rather pray continuously throughout the day because I’m anxious to hear from my Father. I may want to abstain from certain foods for the sake of digestion or for the sake of health, but God is not going to hold it against me unless I vow it to Him. When I am sick, I will trust the Lord that He is with the doctors trying their best to cure me. Upon which it comes to worldly pleasures and devices, I cite Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians:
All things are lawful for me,
but not all things are profitable.
All things are lawful for me,
but I will not be mastered by anything
All things are lawful,
But not all things are profitable
All things are lawful,
But not all things edify
Since God first loved me, I will not let my world dictate to me my desires. I will let God make the choices for me and enjoy the world that He has given me.
In conclusion, I am not saying that religion is bad. In fact, any religion, at least in the western hemisphere, that has God in its center has given us incredible glimpses into the heavenlies with art and music. It has inspired us to think and come up with some small understanding of the universe and with ways to reason with one another. Religion has offered the world many a pleasant thing and is the preservation of it. I might add, it encourages us to be better than what we are. It’s just that if we are trying to procure favors from God through our deeds, we are just spinning our wheels. We need to call upon His love and then let our actions and deeds reflect that love.
(*I have since learned that in Genesis 5:3-4, there is no mention of the actual size Adam and Eve’s family other than to say that they other children.)