When Good Religion Goes Bad (or: Why “Good” Folks Need the Gospel Too)

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Don’t throw away the cross, Supes! For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole (Daily) Planet and yet lose his life?

We Christians may tend to think that there are other “faith systems” out there, other than biblical Christianity, that, while they may miss out on the whole truth, they still contain a lot of good in them, and maybe God will sorta smile and wink at their adherents at the end of the day, because after all, they were just trying to live a good life, and honor God, and what’s so bad about that? Maybe you have friends who are, in general, upstanding and moral people. And maybe you might, sometimes, possibly be tempted with the idea that you don’t really need to tell them about the Gospel–Because after all, you think, They might not know the full truth about Jesus, but they’re such good people! I’m sure they’ll be fine. The Gospel is “good news” for really bad sinners, not good folks like these… right? 

Not according to Jesus. According to Jesus, manmade religion (or “faith systems,” or lifestyles, or worldviews) that purport to show God great honor, while denying the necessity of the cross and resurrection of Jesus–those aren’t some kind of lesser piety. They’re not “Christianity Lite.”

According to Jesus, such systems amount to nothing less than cold, hard, condemnable satanism.
The Devil is fine with us ascribing all kinds of honor to the Lord, as long as we miss the cross, burial and resurrection of Jesus–and our need for the Savior who did all that for us.
“Good” religion goes bad when it substitutes “goodness” for the Gospel. Even Christ-likeness is no substitute for the crucifixion.

The Gospel is the good news, that Jesus came to die for sinners like you and me–so that we could die to our old life (which was really death) and receive His life. Get the Gospel, and you get God’s life. Reject the Gospel, and whatever else you may have–however “good,” you’ll lose your life and miss out on God’s life.

This is serious business–which it would have to be, to make Jesus call one of His top three disciples “Satan.” So if Jesus takes it that seriously, maybe we ought to reconsider how we think about those other “faith systems” (really they should be called works systems, since they deny salvation by grace alone through faith alone). Trying to show God honor, while denying God’s plan (by which He was more incredibly honored than He could have ever been by any scheme moral man could have come up with!) is from Satan.

In the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”
That’s what’s going on in Mark 8:31-38. It’s what Jesus has saved former moralists like me from, and it’s what we have to remember when we’re communicating the Gospel to our religious, well-intentioned, and moral friends. In so doing, we’re giving them the best “good news” we could give them.

Spiritual Progress (An Outline of 2 Peter 1:3-11)

Translation:

3 As His divine power has bestowed to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of the one who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 through which he has bestowed to us the valuable and exceedingly great promise, in order that through these you all may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the ruin that is in the world because of lust. 5 And in the same way, but introducing simultaneously all earnestness, supply in your faith excellence, and in excellence knowledge, 6 and in knowledge temperance, and in temperance endurance, and in endurance godliness, 7 and in godliness brotherly affection, and in brotherly affection love. 8 For these coming into existence for you and increasing, are making you neither useless nor fruitless in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For the one to whom these things are not at hand, he is blind, being nearsighted, being struck with forgetfulness of the cleansing of his former sins. 10 Consequently, brothers, be diligent to make your calling and election stable, for, doing these things, you may by no means ever stumble. 11 For in this way it will be richly supplied to you—the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Outline: 

  1. (3-4) His divine power has bestowed to us all things that pertain to life and godliness
    1. bestowed through the knowledge of the one
      1. who called us to his own glory and excellence.
        1. through which excellence he has bestowed to us the valuable and exceedingly great promises
          1. He has bestowed in order that through these you all may become partakers of the divine nature
            1. become partakers having escaped the ruin
              1. the ruin that is in the world because of lust.
  2. (5-7) And in the same way, but at the same time introducing all earnestness, supply…
    1. supply excellence in your faith
    2. and supply in excellence, knowledge
    3. and supply in knowledge, self-control (temperance)
    4. and supply in self-control, endurance
    5. and supply in endurance, godliness
    6. and supply in godliness, brotherly affection
    7. and supply in brotherly affection, love.
  3. (8) For these things… make you neither useless nor fruitless in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    1. …as they come into existence for you…
    2. …and as they increase…
  4. (9) For the one to whom these things are not at hand, he is blind,
    1. being nearsighted,
    2. being struck with forgetfulness of the cleansing of his former sins.
  5. (10) Doing these things will assure you of your calling and election.
    1. Consequently, brothers, be diligent to make your calling and election stable.
    2. For you may by no means ever stumble.
      1. as you do these things
  6. (11) For in this way it will be richly supplied to you—the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Commentary: 

God has given us everything we need to live a godly life. He is powerful enough to do that. And the means by which He gives us everything we need is the knowledge of himself. He has called us–not just to a “good” life–to his own glory and excellence. His goal is that we actually share in the divine nature. The alternative to this glorious future is being dragged back down into the world and its destruction. The world brings about its own ruin, because of its self-destructive lusts. Christians are called to remember that they have been saved from that destruction. We have been called by God, chosen by Him, and He has set us apart from the world. Because that is true, we may live in a godly way–which, when practically lived out, looks a bit like climbing a ladder–from faith all the way up to spiritual maturity in love. Note that the upward progression is not what saves a person. Rather, it is how a saved person may be assured of his salvation. To fail to live this way is to fall back into sin–how could we forget that God has cleansed us from our sins! Let’s not go back and live like we haven’t been cleansed.

Application: 

Do I really believe that God has given me everything needed to live in a godly way? Am I actively pursuing godliness–striving toward experiencing and manifesting the same love that God has bestowed upon me in His power? Do I hope for the resurrection and the glory that I will share with God? May I seek today to live with humble thankfulness to the Lord, for choosing me, for washing me in Christ Jesus, and for promising me a glorious future. And may I demonstrate to others the love that He has lavished upon me–that others may come to experience God’s salvation, washing, and love for themselves.