Despite the prevailing story line of our secularized society, humankind is hopelessly religious. Or at least intrinsically spiritual. There’s something within most of us that screams out, “This can’t be all there is! There’s got to be something more, something beyond all of this!”
In fact, the Bible asserts, “…He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). There in one sentence we have two basic truths: The vast majority of people all around the world will agree with the suspicion that this life can’t be all there is. But since we can’t comprehend what God has done, how He has done it, or why, we resort to a construct we call religion.
And consistent with the modern mantra, “I have my truth,” there’s a smorgasbord of religions to suit just about every taste, style and preference. Many folks reject the idea that one size fits all, so humankind has developed many belief systems, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and a host of others.
I intentionally omitted Christianity from this list because on several points it differs from all other belief systems, major or minor. We could delve into those, but that’s the domain of theologians far more astute than me. So, I’ll focus instead on perhaps the most profound, yet simplest, difference.
For lots of people, the fundamental teaching of religion can be summed up in the word, “Do.” You have to do this, or that, or these things, to be accepted by God and be rewarded with some kind of life after death. What these “do’s” actually are depends largely upon which religion you select.
Others believe the fundamental religious instruction centers around the word, “Don’t.” These consist of the things we shouldn’t do, whether it’s murder, stealing, lying, or even enjoying the material pleasures of everyday living. To experience life beyond this one, various religions dictate stuff you shouldn’t do.
Yes, in the Bible we have both “do’s” and “don’ts.” The Ten Commandments come immediately to mind. But at its essence, Christianity isn’t about deeds – or misdeeds. It’s about one thing. Actually, one person: Jesus Christ and what He has already done, for everyone willing to receive the priceless, undeserved gift that He offers: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Think about it – when Jesus willingly surrendered His life on a cross outside of Jerusalem, 2,000 years ago, how many sins had you committed? That’s right, none. Zero. Zilch. So, from God’s perspective all the sins we’re guilty of – and every sin we will ever commit – have already been atoned for.
With one caveat: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). We must each be willing to receive this gift He offers.
What about the do’s and don’ts? Isn’t it necessary to demonstrate that we’re deserving of God’s love and acceptance, His mercy and grace? Nope: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Another verse, Titus 3:5, underscores this biblical truth: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
What about things we do, things we say, things we think about? Don’t they matter? Yes, certainly they do. However, God desires them to be our response to what He’s already done for us. We can’t earn His favor, His unconditional love, but as it says in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.”
An expected reaction then, is what the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14 affirms: “For Christ’s love compels [constrains] us….” Several verses later the apostle Paul writes, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
No other religion – or belief system – offers this perspective, or worldview. Christianity doesn’t rest on what we do or don’t do. Because through Jesus Christ, what matters most has already been done – long before any of us took our first breath or caught the first glimmer of sunlight. Our doing, and not doing, then becomes a natural, heartfelt response to God’s love, graciousness, and merciful forgiveness. And that, in the proverbial nutshell, is why it’s called the Gospel – the Good News.