Let me state something that I hope is becoming a deepening conviction. Religion is a monumental waste of time. But it’s actually far worse than that. It’s a futile and tragic enterprise. And yet many of us, whether Christian or not, continue to allow law keeping to shape our lives. It seems as though we can’t evaluate how well we’re doing unless we compare ourselves to some recognisable standard.
This is a current issue for me because I’m in Romans 10 for my quiet times at the moment. In that passage, Paul describes two ways to pursue the righteousness that God requires. He does so in verses 5&6. On the one hand there’s a righteousness based on law. And secondly, there’s a righteousness based on faith. I much prefer the latter (as does Paul). But for many years I was taken up with the former. Like the Jews in the cross hairs of Paul’s well aimed observations, I too was zealous and clueless. Paul doesn’t quite say that about his cherished fellow countryman. But he comes pretty close. He writes in verse 2, ‘I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes’.
I tried to be the kind of bloke that I thought God would accept. I didn’t want to suffer his punishment in hell and, being ignorant of the gospel, assumed that by keeping his law (or at least my modified version of it) he’d find me acceptable. But try as I might, I simply couldn’t do it. And don’t think you’ll do that much better. Because no sinner can attain righteousness through the law. And that’s because it’s not the job of the law to make anyone righteous. It’s the job of the law to show us what righteousness looks like. So that we know we’re not. It’s meant to drive us to despair of ourselves so that it might also drive us to Christ. Israel made the tragic mistake of failing to see that Christ as the end or, as the new NIV puts it, the culmination of all that the law was pointing towards. The righteousness of which the law speak, is found in him. And it can be ours simply through faith in him. All we need to do is give up our pointless exercise in religious rule keeping and put our confidence instead in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?
And yet, everything other than authentic biblical Christianity is achievement based. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and so on; the multiplicity of human religious enterprise says that righteousness comes only through religious rule keeping. God requires righteousness, for sure. And he doesn’t lower the standard for acceptance. But what he requires he also provides. But not to those who work, but to those who have faith. This is the momentous news of the gospel. And anyone who doesn’t get it labours under a tragic tyranny; attempting to pursue a righteousness which is both impossible (because the law can’t give it to you) and unnecessary (because Christ can). Is that not the best news that you have ever, ever heard?