“Religion vs. The Gospel.” Yes, But…


On the heels of yesterday’s “The Half-Born” comes a similar post on the Acts29 network from Mark Driscoll. I don’t normally quote an entire post, but this one requires it:

Religion says, if I obey, God will love me. Gospel says, because God loves me, I can obey.

Religion has good people and bad people. Gospel has only repentant and unrepentant people.

Religion values a birth family. Gospel values a new birth.

Religion depends on what I do. Gospel depends on what Jesus has done.

Religion claims that sanctification justifies me. Gospel claims that justification enables sanctification.

Religion has the goal to get from God. Gospel has the goal to get God.

Religion sees hardships as punishment for sin. Gospel sees hardship as sanctified affliction.

Religion is about me. Gospel is about Jesus.

Religion believes appearing as a good person is the key. Gospel believes that being honest is the key.

Religion has an uncertainty of standing before God. Gospel has certainty based upon Jesus’ work.

Religion sees Jesus as the means. Gospel sees Jesus as the end.

Religion ends in pride or despair. Gospel ends in humble joy.

I think that’s exactly right.


I also know that nearly every Christian will say that he or she is on the side of Gospel.  You did, didn’t you?

That makes me wonder how useful this truth is. In fact, I think it reiterates the lies we tell ourselves. If you read “The Half-Born,” you’ll know what I mean.

As I see it, we tend to place Religion at the letter A in the alphabet and think that by getting to letter B we’ve somehow attained the Gospel. Yes, we may no longer be at A, but the truth is that B isn’t really the full Gospel, either. The Gospel’s out way past letter Z. We’ve hardly taken a baby step toward Z and yet we’re crowing that we’re no longer at A. Sad to say, for too many of us, we get to B, think we’ve arrived, and therefore never get out beyond Z where the deep well of the Gospel lives.

That failure to get out past Z is what “The Half-Born” is all about.

So yes, we may not be entirely mired in Religion, but neither are we abandoned to the Gospel. We get a good feeling by saying we’ve arrived, but…

8 thoughts on ““Religion vs. The Gospel.” Yes, But…

  1. Speaking of the Gospel being beyond Z, I believe the “meat of the Word” taught in the book of Hebrews goes beyond the list of “the principles of the doctrine of Christ” (Hebrews 6:1 KJV). Those principles are “of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” (6:1-2 KJV). The author of Hebrews wrote this, but then he went on to discuss faith in depth; therefore, did he have an opportunity to go beyond?

    I have attended dozens of churches in my lifetime. None have gone beyond the foundational principles into the “meat of the Word.” All sermons have focused on the above principles. (Of course, plenty would say they are teaching the meat of the Word, but when I listen, their sermons can be pegged safely into one of principles listed above.) Would I even know what the meat sounds like when I feel like I am that babe that needs to be taught again?

    • Michael,

      I’ve always wondered about the same issue. We seem to be rehashing the basics all the time and never moving beyond. It’s almost pathological.

      This tells me that we’re doing a horrible job of listening to the Holy Spirit. Given that many churches treat the Holy Spirit like an outsider or a “force” or a figment of the imagination, why should we be surprised?

  2. Dan,
    I have added a comment on your previous post “The Half Born” that is connected to this.

    I find that I had several queries about some of the formulations. While some are clearly right on, others are awfully polarized so that both religion and gospel are too one sided and mutually exclusive. This, I think, is portrayed in R is about me, G about Jesus, or R sees Jesus as means, G sees Jesus as the end. A both-and in a bibilcal configuration – truth and truth for me, and Jesus as means and end, would be more appropriate in these cases.

    What has arrived is the KOG and all that it comprises until it is brought to completion, and this means we live in-between and in tension, not yet having arrived, but believing that we will one day. In the mean time, this time, there is life in the midst of death.

  3. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27

    Just what is religion, anyways? According to the word used in this verse, it’s that which consists of ceremonies. It’s what people see externally. God is saying that what He considers religion to be is to take care of others and be holy. Which sounds suspiciously like “love God and love others.”

    But we can take it further: If I go to Church for myself, then I am in error. If I help others for what I think is my own good, then I am in error. If I do good with the expectation of reward, then I am in error. If I seek salvation to escape judgement, then I am in error.

    Because all of these things, if I do them for myself, is not glorifying God, but rather myself. The actions that come out of such selfish thinking is empty:

    If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

    Empty religion is self-centered. So the Gospel side of a table like the one Mark presents can be simplified to a single sentence: “It is the Father, living in me, who is doing His work.” The religion side, by it’s very nature, can be summed up in another well known sentence: “What must I do to get eternal life?”

    The response to that, of course, is, “Ye must be born…”

    • David,

      We usually agree on most everything, but I’m not sure we agree here. I can never fully expunge selfish motives in the things I do for the Lord. As long as I’m in the flesh, that will be a constant battle. Yes, sanctification takes care of some of that over time, but it’s never gone completely. Nor do I think that I can constantly examine my motives. Doing so only makes the problem worse, sort of the “Don’t think of pink elephants” kind of thing.

      • Oh, I’m not saying that there can’t be selfish motives in our desire for salvation, it’s just that often they are the only motive. We forget, or simply deny, the reason for our existance: God’s pleasure. I don’t think that we can lead a truly successful life in Christ until we confront and recognize our own selfish motivations. I think this was the difference in the approach of the rich young ruler, who wanted to know what he must do to be saved, and those who only knew “I You are willing, I will be cleansed.”

        But yes, dwelling on it becomes self-defeating, it’s a tool of satan to tell us we are worthless, despicable creatures who cannot be redeemed.

        Contriteness recognises that we often approach our own sinfulness, and our salvation, from the wrong direction. The outward expression of our inward belief will reflect our motivation: Are we seeking to glorify God, or redeem ourselves?

  4. Pingback: Religion vs. Gospel » Two42

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *