Our main problem is sin (building our identity on anything but God). But why must the solution be Christianity? All religions teach us to do good and if I live a better life, isn’t that good enough?
The Christian faith is much more radical than that. The problem is not that we don’t know stealing, lust, hatred, attachment to worldly things, selfishness, cruelty is wrong or sinful. The problem is we already know it but we still do it. We want to do good but at the same time, we also find another desire to do exactly the opposite. So just getting religious advice and teachings, laws and regulations, do’s and don’ts is not the solution. The diagnosis has to be much deeper than that. All other religions have founders who show the way to salvation, but only Jesus claims to actually be the way of salvation himself.
The story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? When Dr Jekyll realizes that he is this living contradiction of good and evil, he decided to do all he can to get rid of selfishness and pride from his heart. He devoted himself to charity and good works, to drown his selfish nature with acts of kindness and sacrifice and pay for the wrongs he had done before. And it worked! He became the most moral and kind person, and stopped taking the potion at night to become Mr Hyde. Then one fine day Dr Jekyll thinks of all the good that he has achieved, and how much better a person he was compared to others. He says, “I can say with total honesty that my decision to do good has produced great results. You know how much hard work I spent to help suffering people… But as I smiled, comparing myself with others, comparing my acts of goodness with their lazy, cruel neglect to do good… at that very moment, a horrible feeling came over me and I looked down… I was once again Mr Hyde”.
At that moment, just when he has achieved his standard of being good and righteous, Jekyll transformed into Hyde again, this time without drinking any potion at all. Unable to control his transformations any longer, Jekyll killed himself. The moral of the story is this: Covering up our selfishness and pride with lots of good works and kind deeds won’t make us less self centered. Instead they only feed into our pride and self righteousness. Jekyll becomes Hyde, not because he is bad, but precisely because he is good.
If you define the purpose of your existence in terms of performance, you do good deeds motivated by self-interest (in order to get to heaven, escape from hell or to feel good about yourself, to meet expectation of others). In the end, the ultimate motive is still ‘yourself”. If you achieve it, you end up with self righteousness and pride. If you fail to achieve it, you will end up with despair and fear. Either way you still end up becoming Mr or Miss Hyde. There are two ways to run away from God and be your own Savior: Be bad and break all the rules and be good and keep all the rules. Religion says: “Do good, obey the rules – then I will be accepted by God”. The Good News: “I am accepted by God because of what Jesus has done – therefore I obey”.
What is the Difference?
Motive: Religion operates out of fear, of consequences if we break the rules. The gospel operates out of a desire to please and resemble the One who gave his life for us. Identity: In a religious framework, you become self righteous when you perform up to the standards or despair when you do not measure up. The gospel is that I am so sinful that Jesus had to die for me yet I am so loved that Jesus was glad to die for me. It leads to humility and confidence at the same time. How we treat the other: In ‘religion’, group identity is formed through exclusion of those who are different. A Christian’s worth and identity is through the Lord who was excluded for me. Since I am not saved by my moral practices, then I would expect to find those who are different are superior to me in many ways. Suffering: Moralistic religion leads people to believe they deserve a happy life and rage when things go wrong. The gospel frees us from the spiral of bitterness when life goes wrong because Jesus the Righteous One also experienced suffering and rejection. It’s simply not true that if we live a good life, things will go well for you.
The Threat of Grace
The gospel sounds too easy: “All I have to do is get a personal relationship with God and then do anything I want!” But you can only say that if you have not experienced it. “If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with ‘rights’ – I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by sheer grace – then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me”. If Jesus had really bought us with His sacrifice, then we are not our own. We now belong to the One who gave up everything for us. There is no coercion or unwilling obligation; yet your behavior has been radically changed by the mind and heart of the Person you live. Analogy of Les Miserables: The paradox is that unconditional grace demands that the recipient give up control of his or her life. Actually we are not in control but enslaved by what ever we are living for. Grace is only a threat to the illusion tat we are free, autonomous and living life as we choose. The Christian faith is not religion or irreligion. It is something else altogether. PS: Why is it important to make this distinction clear?