Last night at Graduate Christian Fellowship (GCF) we spent some time discussing the distinction between “gospel” and “religion” outlined by Tim Keller in The Reason for God. It’s in chapter 12 if you’re interested.
There are two competing ways of approaching God: Gospel and religion.
The essence of the Gospel is salvation through grace–God restores our relationship with Him on the basis of the sacrifice of His Son. Reconciliation comes in the admission of our faults and brokenness and in the believing that God will be true to His Word and will rescue us if we approach Him in faith. Read more about the Gospel here (from R.C. Sproul) and here (from the Gospel Coalition).
The alternative is religion. Religion (this may be Christianity or other belief systems) is about demonstrating merit or worthiness by performance. We approach God and point to our record of achievement, niceness, goodness, or generosity as the basis for re-establishing the relationship with Him that was sundered by the Fall.
Of these two approaches only the Gospel is effective in achieving its goal and only the Gospel produces the by-products of reconciliation with God–freedom. peace, humility, joy, etc.
As we discussed, I observed: “Ours is a culture that makes it difficult to believe the Gospel.”
There are at least three cultural realities that I think are barriers to deeply contemplating God’s grace extended to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
- Our litigiousness. Ours is a culture that is quick to blame and slow to forgive. It’s difficult to deeply understand grace when society places a high value on apportioning blame rather than forgiving.
- Consumerism. Consumerism affirms what we as fallen humanity are already prone to: the belief that we stand at the center of it all. We are entitled to choices, deals, sales, customer service. Consumerism reduces almost all of life to a series of cost/benefit analyses and transactions. We look for a good deal…all the time…because we are entitled to it as consumers. This mitigates against grace because when we encounter grace we can only receive it in relinquishing our centrality and moving aside to allow God to occupy the central position.
- Instant gratification. Technology has altered the way we relate to time. We are conditioned to receive instant feedback and instant gratification. Growing in grace, really drinking deeply of the Gospel, requires meditation on God’s Word and time in prayer–things that require intentional time over years rather than days.