February 2, 2021 | 0 comments
Why Religion Doesn’t Work
by Pastor Steve
He cast quite a shadow. He enjoyed great personal standing and was a man with serious influence. His religious credentials were flawless. The right family, the best training, unquestionable character and obvious commitment to the cause as he actively and aggressively enforced the religious rules. As a Pharisee in first century Jerusalem, Paul had a bright future and was certain to rise to the top of the religious leadership of his day. He knew the writings of ancient King Solomon and so he knew that he needed to “Remember his creator in the days of his youth” and that his greatest duty lay in the call to “fear God and keep His commandments”. He took this seriously. It was his only focus. But Paul had a problem. Like Solomon, he found that something was missing.
Paul was used to earning his way forward, to intimidating those who disagreed, to building his resume and his reputation with every act of “righteousness”. This, however, was the problem. It brought attention and glory to himself, not to God. It was all his effort, his achievement, his righteousness. Many people will point out that religion doesn’t work. After all the rituals, routines, and acts of righteousness nothing has changed or truly been accomplished. This observation is correct. Like Paul, we need much more. Paul needed to be right with God on God’s terms; to stand before his creator in true righteousness, not on his own feeble merits – impressive though they may seem at first glance.
This is why Jesus came to die and rise again. At the cross, Jesus became “sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He took God’s judgement for our rebellion. This is why religion cannot work. You and I can never earn or deserve the grace that God offers to us in His Son: forgiveness for our rebellion and true righteousness as we now stand before God on the merits of Jesus and not our own. Impressing each other with our relative goodness is not what we need. Standing before God in true righteousness is.
Paul responded to this news by turning his back on the superficial, self-focused religion he had pursued and instead spent his life pursuing Christ.
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord … I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9 NIV).
This is quite a statement coming from a Pharisee, a religious leader who had spent his life pursuing his own righteousness! Prayer, Bible study, worship services and helping the poor are all important and necessary. These are not done, however, to add to our resume in an effort to impress God or others. Instead, these things flow out of a heart of gratitude to God for His undeserved love and kindness to us. A heart that is thankful for forgiveness and life through Jesus produces a life of service for Him and for others, seeking His glory alone in all things.
Whether you are religious or not, let me ask an important question. What are you pursuing with your life? What are you pouring yourself into? What is your greatest goal? I urge you to join with Solomon and Paul in admitting that meaning cannot be found in what we have, in what we know, or in what we do. Like Paul, make it your goal to pursue Jesus, to search Him out in the pages of the Bible and to live for Him alone. In the end, be found in His righteousness not your own. This is the only way to avoid chasing the wind and ending up with an empty heart and empty hands. Embark this year on the quest that truly matters for now and forever.
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