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All religions have one thing in common – they are all systems designed to earn God’s favor for man. Though they may differ in particulars, they share the common assumption that some work of man can win the approval of Almighty God.
Christianity, on the other hand, when defined scripturally, is God’s plan to restore rebellious man to Himself. Inherent in this plan is the recognition that, although man is the one who initially severed the relationship, now-fallen man is in and of himself powerless to restore that relationship.
Mankind was originally set here on earth to live and thrive as a companion to and even partner with God. Apart from God man is desperately lost, wandering aimlessly and unaware even of the fact that his gnawing sense of incompleteness is due to the loss of that companionship.
Furthermore, due to the sin that we inherited from Adam, there is no reconciling work that we can offer unto a Holy God. All such attempts on our part are tainted by sin. Even the most noble among us would be consigned to eternal separation from God were it not for His mercy.
But God, in that mercy, gave His son to be our substitute. Rather than abandoning us, which He had every right to do, God Himself made a way of salvation, not of man’s works, but of grace, through believing on Jesus Christ.
What, then, of the Old Testament law? This law (sometimes referred to as “the law of Moses” because it was originally delivered to Israel by Moses) was authored by God and presented as a standard for righteousness. Yet consider what the New Testament tells us about that law:
Acts 13:38, 39
Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins:
And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
These verses and many others clearly state that the Old Testament law was incapable of making man righteous before God. The law itself was righteous and holy, but people are not. Thus, though they may appreciate the Law, and even aspire to it, they cannot keep it.
Why, then, would an all-knowing God give such a law? To show the Children of Israel the absolute impossibility of achieving righteousness by their own works. And why would He desire to make Israel so painfully aware of their powerlessness? So that they would be ready to accept and embrace the redeemer, and then have the privilege of introducing a sin-soaked world to its only help, Jesus Christ.
Included in the Law was a long list of sacrifices which were to be offered on the behalf of both individuals and the whole nation. These sacrifices provided a way for Israel to remain technically righteous before God. But the very need for such sacrifices served as both a continual reminder of sin and as further proof that man fell far short of God’s standard for righteousness.
However, by the time Jesus began his ministry to Israel, there were many who had convinced themselves and others that they were indeed capable of perfectly keeping the law. Primary among these were the scribes and Pharisees. It is perhaps due to this belief of the Pharisees that Jesus said the following:
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
(Please note that much more light can be gained from the study of the context of this verse.)
During one of his frequent “interactions” with the Pharisees, Jesus made a remarkable statement:
But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?
And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Of course Jesus was not suggesting that any of his listeners were righteous, or had no need of repentance. Rather he was making a powerful point: man must recognize his need if he is ever going to be restored to God. A sick man who thinks he is healthy will not go to the doctor. Likewise, a sinner, which we all are by birth, must see himself as such or he will reject God’s offer of salvation by grace, continuing on in the fantasy that he is “good enough” on his own.
So man invents religions. Some of these are “major religions.” Others may be single-member religions, comprised of rules and standards that I make up for myself.
Really, if a law which God Himself instituted cannot bring righteousness, how could some lesser, man-devised law ever hope to do so?
Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is not even like a religion. The work has already been done for us. Due to the willingness of God and the obedience of Jesus Christ, righteousness can now be ours by grace.
TO BE CONTINUED…
For Part II, click here.