When we speak of Jesus and Religion or Religion vs. The Gospel, I am not saying that religion is the organized, local church. Jesus died for the church, started the church, loves the church, leads the church, and accomplishes his will for the world through the church. To avoid miscommunication, let me first define what I mean by religion and the gospel.
Religion is any set of principles or rules that if followed correctly and earnestly make you acceptable to God. Religion is essentially advice. It is mankind’s attempt at controlling how God has to deal with him. The Gospel is good news that says our acceptance is not dependent on our performance. Our acceptance is dependent on Jesus’ performance in our place- to take away our sin and to make us righteous- to bring us back to a right standing and a right relationship with our Creator- the God of the Bible. Religion is essentially advice on how to live, whereas the Gospel is essentially good news that life comes from and through Jesus.
Now, In the Church there is the 1) Chief Shepherd- Jesus, who is the Head of the church, then Jesus saves, calls, and appoints 2) Shepherds (Pastors) to oversee, love, lead, and feed- and then Jesus saves and brings 3) Sheep (congregation) to be shepherded by himself and by the shepherds that he has called to be over them. Then there are the Wolves, who either disguise themselves as on of the sheep or as shepherds. They are religious, and love to be praised by the sheep, and they don’t really seek the good of the sheep, but they devour them. Wolves cause division in the church. Wolves teach false doctrines in the church. Wolves lie and spread rumors in the church. Wolves don’t communicate the gospel, but rules and regulations. Wolves need to be shot- meaning they need to be called to repentance and if they refuse to repent of their religion, they need to be expelled from the local church for their good and the good of the church. I want to show you how deadly and repulsive religion truly is. I want you to see religious wolves and the destruction they bring. Let’s take a look at Luke 11:37-52 where Jesus calls out the religious, self-righteous leaders of his day. I am going to point you to 9 things in this text and then end with some personal application.
1. Religious people create their own rules
37 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.
2. Religious people are focussed on the exterior but neglect the heart
39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: Jesus did not come to make bad men better; He came to make dead men alive (Ephesians 2:1-10).
3. Religious people pick and choose what’s important in the Bible
42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
Tithing was important to them because they made sure everyone knew what they gave. It exalted them (they tithed out of their spice rack!) Justice and the love of God were neglected because those things weren’t considered great things in their culture. It was dirty, hard work to do justice. Furthermore, no one can truly tell the posture of your heart- so the Pharisees kept their exterior clean and everyone assumed they loved God.
4. Religious people don’t truly want Jesus to be praised, they want praise for themselves
43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
You will know them by their fruit. Is what people are doing producing praise of a Man? a Church? a Decision? a Good Work? If what’s coming out of a Church or from the ministry of a Pastor is not praise and adoration of Jesus- RUN!
5. Religious people are dead
44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
6. Religious people cry, complain, and say you’re unloving when you point out they are in the wrong
45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.”
“A wolf that cries is still a wolf.” – Mark Driscoll
7. Religious people don’t help others, they hurt others
46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.
Think about your whole life. Think about what you have heard about Jesus, about the Bible, and about Christianity in general. Does it feel like it’s given you weight or wings? Religon= weight, Gospel= wings. If you were to ask people what they don’t like about Christianity, what they don’t like about the church… They would probably be the same things that we don’t like about it!
8. Religious people defend their idols at all costs
47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.
9. Religious people keep others from meeting Jesus
52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”
Paul in Galatians 5:12 says, “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” He is speaking of people who trying to teach others that Jesus + works is what saves them, when the gospel says that only by the works of Christ in our place can we be saved. “It is finished!” The world needs to know that what we proclaim is not Religion, or “you can do better”, “you can try harder!”, “come and follow all of our man-made rules.” When most people hear the word “Church” or “Gospel” or the name “Jesus”, they probably think about what we are defining here as religion. Many people don’t know the true Biblical Gospel- the good news about the finished work of Christ in place of sinners.
Tim Keller has developed this teaching and it is a very good and to-the-point way of assessing yourself. Are you focussed on religion or the Gospel?
• Religion: “I obey; therefore, I’m accepted.”
• Gospel: “I’m accepted; therefore, I obey.”
• Religion: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.
• Gospel: Motivation is based on grateful joy.
• Religion: I obey God in order to get things from God.
• Gospel: I obey God to get God – to delight in an resemble him.
• Religion: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.
• Gospel: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle, but I know my punishment fell on Jesus and that while God may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.
• Religion: When I am criticized, I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a “good person.” Threats to self-image must be destroyed at all costs.
• Gospel: When I am criticized, I struggle, but it is not essential for me to think of myself as a “good person.” My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ.
• Religion: My prayer life consists largely of petition, and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment.
• Gospel: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God.
• Religion: My self-view swings things between to poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel humble but not confident – I feel like a failure.
• Gospel: My self-view is not based on my moral achievement. In Christ I am simul lustus et peccator – simultaneously sinful and lost, yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad that he had to die for me, and I am so loved that he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deep humility and confidence at the same time.
• Religion: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work, or how moral I am – and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral.
• Gospel: My identity and self worth are centered on the one who died for me. I am saved by sheer grace and I can’t look down on those who believe or practices something different from me. Only by grace am I what I am.
Religious people, you need to repent of your religion and come to Jesus. Rebellious people, you need to repent of your rebellion and come to Jesus. Life doesn’t come from religion or rebellion, it comes from and through Jesus Christ and his work in your place to make you righteous and take away your sin.