Have you ever stopped to consider and ponder that Christianity is not the same as Who Jesus Christ is? Christianity as a religion is comprised up of imperfect humans who are gradually being transformed into the image and likeness of Christ. Christ is perfect, Christians are not. Sadly, one of the main stumbling blocks I encounter when witnessing to others is their exposure to a misrepresentation of the Christian Faith. Therefore, as Christians, we should not be placing our faith in fellow Christian brothers and sisters on a micro-level and/or even towards Christianity on a macro-level. We are equally broken–Christian and non-Christian–who are all in as much of need for Jesus as the next person. Yet, we regularly put other Christians on pedestals almost on a daily-basis, commonly without consciously thinking about it. The tragic result is disappointment when they do not fulfill our expectations, but, more significantly, it is a diminishment of the all-sufficiency of God. In turn, we end up idolizing other Christians, rather than placing our unwavering faith in Jesus Alone for our salvation and spiritual growth.
Christianity Cannot Save You, But Jesus Can
Within the West, I believe that we are at a comparative spiritual-disadvantage to that of poorer parts of the world. We have so much material wealth, abundance, and prosperity to the degree that it becomes easy to trust and depend on things other than God Himself. Christian resources are almost too readily accessible, thereby presenting the temptation for us to exchange these Christian supplements in the place of diligent study in God’s Word.
What I believe is one of the leading causes of lukewarmness within the Christian Church in the West today derives itself from the false belief that the Church saves us. The implicitly-held belief among several Christians in the West is that as long I attend weekly church service, partake in helping through various ministries and fulfill the requirements of other rituals, then I am saved.
Church-goers swiftly become enticed by the allure of comfortable Christianity. Even lesser known local churches have such an unparalleled access to ministry resources. It becomes almost too easy to become spiritually-lazy through relying wholeheartedly on the local church to feed us, while we ourselves lack the spiritual disciplines. In doing so, we place too much weight on the pulpit and we begin to ignorantly think that we absolutely need an intermediary between ourselves and God in order to grow in faith of Jesus. Devastatingly, the local church slowly, but surely takes the place of Jesus. Rather than trusting in Jesus and His finished work alone, the mindset of the church-goer shifts to placing their trust in their church instead. Paradoxically, the local church becomes an idol and stifles the spiritual life of the believer which Jesus graciously provided. Rather than being a faith in Jesus by grace alone, it subtly evolves into a religion by self-effort.
Disclaimer: I do believe that all Christians need to actively be apart of a local, Biblically-Rooted Church. However, I also believe that the purpose of the Church is to equip its Saints to boldly go out and point others to Jesus. We need to be cautious to never forget that our foundation is built upon Jesus and that He is the Only One worthy of our full allegiance.
Religion by Self-Effort vs. Salvation by Faith
The major implication for those who idolize their church is that they re-enter into the bondage of law and rule-keeping, the very thing that Jesus has already saved them from. For church-goers, this manifests itself in the form of religion when Jesus Christ by faith is replaced by religion through self-effort. Because it is impossible to earn our salvation or to somehow work our way to heaven, those who place their trust in their own righteousness will perish in the end. The figure below helps illustrate the differences between the two:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1–4).
Those attending the church of Galatia had naively returned to works of the law even after having begun by the Spirit. I think that it is important for us all to do a self-examination to ensure that we have not fallen into the same trap. Paul provides us with instruction on how God desires for His children to live by in verse 11 below:
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith (Galatians 3:11).
Believers must live by faith in Jesus out of reliance in the future grace which He extends to all who trust in Him. This reliance can only come when the believer’s heart is rightly postured before God. No amount of sacrifices, good deeds, and/or religious rituals will ever be enough because God doesn’t delight in external performance. As seen below, God desires a surrendered, repentant, and humble heart from us. It is then and only then that He can provide us with a new nature in order that we can live the resurrected life as His new creation!
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalms 51:16–17)
Forgive us for anytime that we have trusted in anything other than Your perfect righteousness for our salvation and continued spiritual growth. Help us to continue to live by faith in You Alone. Remind us that Your Son, Jesus, has torn the veil between us and You which has provided us with direct access to Your throne of grace. This is something that no religious teacher can ever provide. Provide us with rock-solid confidence in You as we seek journey and grow with you in faith. In Jesus’ All-Sufficient Name, Amen!