Good News for the Religious

We love standards to measure our progress. Exceeding the status quo to assure ourselves of our standing before God is our natural inclination. The problem is this is the antithesis of the Gospel. Despite our bent toward works righteousness, there is good news for the religious.

The good news for the religious begins with accepting the bad news. We are sinners. The best we could ever dream of offering to God is refuse in the scrapheap of our striving. “As it is written: there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). There is no righteous Sunday school teacher, preacher, seminary student, choir member, or elder. Neither those with pristine language, finely manicured lives, or exemplary service records are righteous. No, not one.

We religious types like to count the pay of the other laborers and weigh it against our timesheets. Jesus stands perplexed, asking if we begrudge his generosity in lavishing grace (Matthew 20:15). Like the elder brother, we grow angry at the father’s celebration of a returning prodigal. We are Job’s friends who cannot imagine a God who doesn’t execute retributive justice. We are likewise Jonah, mourning God’s mercy to Nineveh and wishing he’d rain down fire and brimstone upon the unrighteous. Such a posture reveals we are more sanctimonious than sanctified.

Jesus came for sinners, and make no mistake; the religious are sinners through and through. Jesus had strong words for the outwardly religious, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27).

God’s steadfast love and desire to save sinners reaches the trenches of depravity, whether that depravity is visible or hidden. No matter if our lives are shattered in public shame or if we are upstanding citizens and church members, Christ is for us. He is for us in his perfect living, atoning death, and resurrection. We must look to him by faith for forgiveness, redemption, and rescue from our “good” works as much as our iniquities.

Our neighbors need our good works. We are called to lives of holiness and service. Yet, these aspects of our Christian lives do not earn God’s favor or assure us of our right standing before him. There is no grounds to boast before God in anything or anyone other than Christ. When we lapse back into a religious mindset of trusting in our service record, we need the bad news of the law to remind us that we fall short of the glory of God and the good news to point us back to the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

I repent of my attitudes of religious condescension and spirit of self-righteousness. I confess I’m a sinner at the peak of my moral performance and in the depths of my depravity. Each of us has a propensity to return to religion, but the good news reminds us that we are saved from that as well. The good news for the religious is the same as the good news for the lost. Christ died to save sinners.

 

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

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