The antithesis of the Gospel

Michael Spencer, veteran blogger from that vanguard of online Christian punditry, internetmonk.com, has linked to a great comparison of the Gospel with false religion from the site, The Journey. It was developed from Tim Keller’s material and usefully exhibits the radical disparity between the mentality of a legalistic-orientated religion and the wonderful freedom and hope we have available to us in the Gospel. I’ve reworded it slightly where I thought the theology was perhaps not perspicuous enough and the language slightly pedestrian.

False Religion

The Gospel

I obey – therefore I’m accepted.

I’m accepted – therefore I obey.

The locus of my motivation is uncertainty and fear.

My motivation issues from a grateful joy.

I obey God in order to get things from God

I obey God to know and enjoy God – to delight and resemble Him.

When the storms of misfortune and adversity press upon me, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe, like Job’s friends, that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.

When circumstances in my life go bad, I struggle but know that I am held by God and that my comfort is not ultimate, but my character and relationship with Him is. All the punishment I justly deserved fell on Jesus but through God’s loving discipline I am called to a greater reliance on Him and to the precious reminder that I am his child (Heb 12:8).

When I face criticism I can be furious or devastated because my practice and actions are the principal barometer of my perceived spiritual health. It is fundamental for me to think of myself as a ‘good person’. My positive self-image must be maintained at all costs.

When I face criticism I struggle because I want to live as Christ lived – however criticism does not undo me. I know I am not a good person, and that my identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism. That’s how I became a Christian.

My prayer life consists largely of petition and it only intensifies when I am in a time of need. The main purpose in prayer is to control my life and my environment.

My prayer life is both the fountain and convergence of my praise and adoration for God. The central purpose in prayer is for fellowship and to grow closer to my Shepherd.

My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then it is easier to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel humble, but my confidence decamps – I feel like a failure.

My self-view is not based on a view of my self as a moral achiever. In Christ I am simul iustus et peccator — simultaneously sinful and lost yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me (Heb 12:2). This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. There’s no room for swaggering nor sniveling.

My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work. Or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to ‘the other.’

My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for His enemies, who was excluded from the camp for me (Heb 13:12). I am saved by unmerited, unalloyed grace. So I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. Only by grace I am what I am.

Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, it is easy for my heart to rest in idols of accomplishment. It may be my skills, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them because they serve as my ground of hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance – whatever I may say I believe about God.

I have many good things in my life—family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things are ultimate to me. None of them are things I absolutely have to have. And so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency they can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost. I clutch onto God alone, He is my rock and sole source of hope.

The original can be downloaded (in pdf form) here.

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