“He’s a good Methodist. He’ll go to heaven for sure.”
“She is a Christian—she belongs to the Baptist church.”
“I know he’s right with God. He’s a good Lutheran.”
These people may be Christians—but not because they are a good Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, or whatever denomination. The Bible tells us none of us are a good anything. Only God is good.
As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one.” . . . “All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.”
(Romans 3:10, 12)
They are only Christians if they have placed their faith in Christ. Christianity is not a human institution. Christianity is a personal choice to accept Jesus.
Earn Your Way?
“Okay, so joining a church doesn’t make me a Christian. I’ll just live a good life, follow all my church’s rules, take part in all the sacraments, give to charities. I will earn my way to heaven.”
“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4-5)
We can easily trust in ourselves and what we have done rather than trust in Christ. The Bible calls this a “stumbling block.” We may think we have done so much or tried so hard or given so generously or sacrificed so often that we are okay with God. But keeping church rules, observing traditions, and practicing good works is not the answer. Infant baptism is not the means to salvation. Attending church and participating in sacraments does not make someone a Christian.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot be perfect, and God requires perfection to spend eternity in heaven with Him. The only perfect one who has ever lived on this earth—or who ever will—is Jesus. Because He is perfect, He could die on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of every person. Your sins and mine. No, we can’t be perfect on our own, but when we receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, He covers us with His perfection, His righteousness.
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Faith in Christ Alone
Religion is a stumbling block. Anyone trying to win God’s approval through any system of good works is deceived. They work hard, join the church, and follow the rules–religiously. They compare themselves with other less religious people and begin to feel good about themselves. Confident that they are Christians and will go to heaven.
But joining a church—any church, Protestant or Catholic—will never make you a Christian. Doing good works is admirable but will never make you a Christian. You must recognize you cannot earn forgiveness or the right to go to heaven—Jesus is the only answer.
Christianity = Faith in Christ + no faith in what I have done
Religion = Faith in Christ + faith in what I have done
False Religion = Faith in anyone but Christ + faith in what I have done
Christ came to set us free from religion and false prophets and leaders. Paul addressed this problem in his letter to the Galatian church. Some Christians in the early Church thought they needed to add religious practices to their faith in Christ. They thought God required them to be circumcised. But Paul told them that was a nonissue. Circumcision or uncircumcision was not the issue. Following church ritual and traditions was not the issue. The real issue? Faith in Christ.
So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.
Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.
But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love. (Galatians 5:1-6)
Christ fulfilled the law so we could be set free from the rules and rituals of religion.
A Relationship—Not a Religion
Christianity is a relationship with God, not a religion. Christianity is about love, not rules. Reconciliation, not ritual. It is a personal matter between you and God.
Christ did not come to start a new religion. He came to end the need for religion, the need to perform a certain way to gain God’s approval. Religion is conditional, dependent on certain behavior. But God’s love is unconditional. He calls it grace—undeserved love. Undeserved favor.
Protestants and Catholics alike have a sin problem. God does not see us through denominational lenses. He sees us in need of a Savior regardless of what church we attend. All of us inherited a sinful nature from Adam and Eve. We are all in the same predicament. We must have that sin removed to be in a right relationship with God. No religious activity can remove that problem. Only faith in Christ will truly set us free.
If our faith is in Christ alone, we can be a Protestant Christian or a Catholic Christian. But if our faith is in the church and how well we follow the church, we risk not being a Christian at all.
What would happen if you poured water or anything but pure gas into your car? If you add a foreign substance the gas, your car will fail. You would need to remove that foreign substance to restore the car to function properly. The human race had a breakdown because of the addition of sin. We can’t function spiritually unless it is removed.
No amount of effort on our part can save us. The only way to remove the foreign contamination is through the forgiveness of sin and the only way for that to happen is through the sacrifice of Christ for all of our sins. He died for us all. There is no favoritism with God. Faith in Christ’s sacrifice alone (apart from any religious sacrament, activity or good behavior) will take away your sin and prepare you for heaven.
There is only one way to find favor with God and spend eternity with Him. It matters not that your church building is impressive, that the images inside are beautiful, that the denomination has been around for hundreds or thousands of years. It matters not that you participate in all the sacraments, follow all your church rules, and try to live a good life. There is only one remedy for your deepest need: the power of God to cleanse all your sins through the blood sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
God our Savior . . . wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For there
is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man
Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. (1 Timothy 2:3-6)
We Have a Choice
We have a choice. Will we try to earn our way to heaven by joining the right church, taking part in the sacraments, doing good deeds . . . being busy for God? If any of those things would work, Jesus would not have had to die for our sins.
By faith in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, you can be saved from sin and sin’s penalty. You can be set free from all the failures of your life—not because of anything you do or don’t do, but because of what Jesus did on the cross.
Becoming a Christian means being restored to a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is a personal transaction between you and God. At the moment you ask Him to save you from your sins, they are canceled and you are free from the penalty of sin, not guilty. You are made righteous through the blood of Jesus and adopted by God into His family.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children[a] of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.
What are you going to say to God when He asks you why He should let you into heaven?
Think about this carefully. If your answer points to anything have done, anything you think you deserve, you are trusting yourself and what you do or don’t do. But if your answer is that you are trusting only in what Christ has done and acknowledge that you do not deserve heaven but that it is a gift apart from your efforts on earth, you are on solid ground.
Are you free from religious thinking? Do you want relationship instead of religion? If so, consider this invitation to invite Christ into your life and save you from your sins. Talk to God. Tell Him you know you are not worthy to be forgiven, to go to heaven. Tell Him you believe Jesus died for your sins and you want to receive His gift of forgiveness. That you want to follow Jesus from now on. Get ready to experience peace and love you never thought possible.
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were
still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:8-11)
Highly Recommended Reading:
God Without Religion: Can It Really Be This Simple? by Andrew Farley