Religion & The Gospel

The Dome of the Rock is a Moslem mosque that sits on the historic site of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock is a Moslem mosque that sits on the historic site of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem

The Problem of Sin affects us all.  Seeking fulfillment, self-worth, and identity in anything or anyone other than God is sin.

  1. Every person is seeking for identity – the sense of being distinct and valuable.  God calls us to love Him supremely and to build or identity upon Him.  Anything other than this is sin!
  2. “Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God.”

Even when we achieve our goals and dreams we will find that they do not bring us fulfillment.  Look at how many successful celebrities, sports stars and successful business people thought they would find happiness and peace with success but found it empty. When we offer excuses by pointing a finger of blame for our problem of sin somewhere else we shut the door for finding a solution to the problem. Until we can admit that we are flawed human beings, i.e. sinners, we will be caught in a hopeless cycle of bondage to sin that ultimately leads to hopeless emptiness of eternity in hell? So how can we be delivered from this cycle of bondage?  How can the emptiness be filled?  How can we be saved? There is a profound fundamental difference between the way that other religions tell us to seek salvation and the way described in the gospel of Jesus.

  • Religion – salvation through moral effort
  • Gospel – salvation through grace

Why must the solution to the problem of sin be Jesus and Christianity?


Irreligion – I will live my life the way I want

  1. One who lives a life of rebellion – moral decadence (Romans 1:18-31)
  2. Breaking all the rules
  3. I’ll be my own god – “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”   (Judges 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.)

Religion – I am going to avoid sin and live morally so that God will have to bless me.

  1. Being good – keeping all the rules (Mt.19:20)
  2. You are trying to save yourself by following Jesus
  3. If you are avoiding sin and living morally so that God will have to bless and save you then you may be looking at Jesus as as a teacher, model, and helper but you are avoiding him as Savior.  You are trusting in your own goodness rather than Jesus for your standing with God.

Self-salvation though good works may produce a great deal of moral behavior in your life, but on the inside you are filled with self-righteousness, cruelty, and bigotry, and you are miserable. You cannot become a good person through an act of will.  You need a complete transformation of the very motives of the heart.


The appeal of Pharisaism (Moralism)

  1. Pharisees build a sense of worth on their moral and spiritual performance.  (Lk 18:9-14). They had a spiritual resume to present to God and others and were quite sure that God approved of their righteousness.’
  2. Pharisees are empty on the inside. Down inside they never knew if they were doing enough, praying enough, giving enough. (Mt. 23:23-28)

Results of Pharisaism

  1. An attitude of self-righteousness that condemns others (Lk. 18:9-11)
  2. Develop an exclusive attitude with little tolerance for those who are not like them. They are insecure & angry.

This kind of Pharisaism is extremely repulsive.  Many people who have been raised in churches with these kinds of people reject Christianity because of their experience.  They become inoculated against Christianity.

Important Clarification:  Pharisaism is a “religion” it is not Christianity!


How can we put things right?

Religion and Grace have very different starting points

  1. Religion says, “I obey – therefore I am accepted by God.” (Moralist)
  2. Grace says, “I am accepted by God through what Christ has done – therefore I obey.” (Genuine Christian)
  3. Religion – if I live up to my standard I then feel superior, if I fail I am filled with self-loathing.
  4. Grace – I know I’m accepted by grace, by Christ and in Christ.  I cannot feel superior to anyone, yet I have nothing to prove to anyone.

The difference between religion and gospel grace is motivation!

Two people sitting next to each other – both pray, give generously, try to live decent lives, but from radically different motivations!

So what is gospel grace?

In the OT the word used is ‘hesed’

This word is most often translated mercy = the outpouring of an unfailing undeserved love.  This is a mercy that flows from love not obligation. Out of His steadfast love God called people where were nothing and had nothing. (Deut.7:6-9)  He delivers them and gives them His law (Ex.20:2-6). This grace calls men to covenant loyalty to God (Num.14:18-19) and graciousness toward one another (Mic.6:8; Ps.109:16). Psalm 136 tells us that the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.

In the NT the word used is ‘charis’

This speaks of God’s un-coerced initiative reaching out to form a people from all nations through God’s appointed agent, Jesus. (EBD) Grace has been called: God’s unmerited favor.  Others have described it as God giving to us what we do not deserve and what we could never earn. God’s grace is inseparable from His love expressed in Jesus Christ (Ro.1:7, I Co.1:3) The Grace of Jesus is through the cross (Gal.2:20; Eph.1:20; Ro.5:9). God freely justifies all who believe. By grace through faith we are rescued from the Problem of Sin and placed into the family of God. (Ro.3:24-25, 5:1). Grace is received by faith (Eph.2:8).  But the grace that is offered is not received because of legalism on our part (Gal.2:21; 5:4) or negligence on God’s part (1 Co.15:2; 2 Co. 6:1) Grace is completely abundant and adequate for every sinner (I Ti.1:15-16). The gospel is a declaration of Grace! (Acts 20:24,32)


  1. Grace & Gratitude – If we receive His grace we will be so grateful that we will be more subject to the sovereign Lord than ever!
  2. The motivation for this is all joy!  ILL: Marriage – you fall in love, eventually ask, “Will you marry me?” and she says yes.  You don’t say:  “Great, I’m in.  Now I can live any way that I want!”  There is no coercion or obligation, yet your behavior has been radically changed by the one you love.
  3. One word of caution:  You may think that if this is true, then people would all jump on board and then go live any way they choose – no one who has received gospel grace thinks like that!  Because of the overwhelming grace poured out upon a person the heart response is to love Him, to desire to obey this lover of our soul!


“The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued and that Jesus was glad to die for me.” – Keller Illustration to summarize Grace:  Jesus healing the lame man by the pool of Beth-‘hesed’a.   Bethesda means “house of mercy.” ( John 5:1-14)

  1. This man was paralyzed.  He was helpless and he knew it.
  2. Jesus came to him, the man did not come seeking Jesus
  3. Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed
  4. Jesus healed him

This is how grace works! You realize that you are hopelessly lost in sin, there is nothing you can do to save yourself.  Jesus comes to you, seeks you out like a lost sheep and pours out upon you His lovingkindness, His unlimited favor! Have you accepted His grace?  Have you turned from your sin and put your faith in Jesus Christ alone to save you? ————————- You download the PDF version of Religion & The Gospel by clicking the link. This Bible Study comes from the book The Reason For God, by Timothy Keller.  This study can be found in Chapter 11.