The Gospel and Religion

Many people object to Christianity not so much on the basis of the Christian message or biblical doctrine, but because it is a religion and religion in general is objectionable. Here are three common reasons people give for rejecting religion.

One, religion is no longer necessary in our modern, scientific world. In the past, when we lived in ignorance, religion played a role in providing man with understanding and meaning. But now that we are ruled by reason, and are served by science and technology, religion has outlived its shelf life. It’s a relic of a bygone era of myth and superstition.

One problem with this objection is that it flies in the face of reality. The truth is, religion is thriving throughout the world. Only in certain sectors of the highly secularized West could one plausibly say that reason and science are making religion less and less relevant. The headlines of any day’s news say otherwise: the vast majority of people take religion quite seriously.

From a biblical perspective, the objection misses the point about religion. In Romans 1, Paul describes how man in his unbelief suppresses the truth of God in unrighteousness (v.18). God reveals himself through creation to every human being (v.19). But rather than responding to that revelation with worship and thanksgiving, we deny the truth of God.

We do more than deny the truth of God, however. We exchange God’s truth for a lie (v.25). And this exchange of the truth of God for falsehood expresses itself in idolatry. So in our sin we don’t merely become non-worshipers, we become false worshipers. Any religion or system of belief (including atheism!) is at heart an idolatrous system of worship that exalts some created thing in the place of the Creator, the true God.

So man is inevitably, ineradicably religious. We are all worshipers. Religion, then, biblically understood, will never become obsolete.

The real question is, will our religion be true or false? That leads to the second objection people make against religion in general, and Christianity in particular:

Two, it is arrogant for any religion to claim exclusive possession of the truth. This objection resonates with us who live in a pluralistic culture that prizes tolerance. What is more contrary to the spirit of the age than to claim one’s religious convictions are true and everybody else’s false?

First, this objection contains within it a fatal logical flaw. You cannot preemptively condemn the idea of one religion or viewpoint having exclusive possession of the truth, without at the same time assuming that your own viewpoint constitutes such a claim to the truth. In other words, to deny the possibility of absolute truth is itself an assertion of universal, absolute truth. So this objection is contradictory and self-defeating.

According to Romans 1, there is a way to respond to God’s revelation that is true, and there is a way to respond to God’s revelation that is false. We will either worship and serve the true and living God as he makes himself known in creation and in Christ, or we will exchange the truth about God for a lie. Therefore, the one true religion is the one which worships Christ as Lord. Every other religion or system of belief that does not worship Christ as Lord falls short of the truth. To believe this is not arrogant; it is simply taking God at his Word.

Three, religion is harmful to humanity. Religion, including Christianity, is bad for the world because it has fostered intolerance, oppression, violence, and war. Now there is much truth to this observation. People have committed horrendous atrocities in the name of religion, including Christianity. Of course, one could argue that atheists, in the form of communistic totalitarian governments, have inflicted far more misery upon the human race than have the religious. But that’s another discussion.

The real problem with this objection is that’s too superficial. The ultimate cause of violence and war in the world isn’t religion or atheism – rather, it’s the sin that lies in the human heart. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1, 2).

The fundamental problem with the world is the sin of which we are all guilty. And the gospel of Jesus Christ is the one and only hope we have to overcome sin, and the conflict it produces. Jesus reconciles us to God, and gives us the resources by which we may be reconciled to one another. Only the Spirit of Christ indwelling the human heart can produce the humility necessary for forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and making peace with one’s enemies.

So far from being a threat to the peace and well-being of the world, the “religion” of Christ is the world’s one and true hope.

The words Peter declared two thousand years ago, in a world that was also filled with religion, are still true today: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor Scott