Monday, May 31, 2010

Gospel vs. Religion

Religion is a slippery slope that is easy to slip into...much easier than you think. The reason why is because your external actions are probably the same. If you are living out the gospel, you are probably attending church faithfully, giving, serving, seeking to share your faith, etc. If you have slipped into religion, you probably are doing all those things...perhaps begrudgingly and without joy, but you're doing them.

So on the surface, living out the gospel and being religious look very similar. However, underneath the surface, there is HUGE difference.

There is no one better that I now of that explains better the internal difference between the gospel and religion than Tim Keller and he shows us in his new publication, Gospel in Life Study Guide (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), p. 16.


  • Religion: “I obey; therefore, I’m accepted.”
  • Gospel: “I’m accepted; therefore, I obey.”


  • Religion: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.
  • Gospel: Motivation is based on grateful joy.


  • Religion: I obey God in order to get things from God.
  • Gospel: I obey God to get God – to delight in an resemble him.


  • Religion: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.
  • Gospel: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle, but I know my punishment fell on Jesus and that while God may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.


  • Religion: When I am criticized, I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a “good person.” Threats to self-image must be destroyed at all costs.
  • Gospel: When I am criticized, I struggle, but it is not essential for me to think of myself as a “good person.” My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ.


  • Religion: My prayer life consists largely of petition, and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment.
  • Gospel: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God.


  • Religion: My self-view swings things between to poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel humble but not confident – I feel like a failure.
  • Gospel: My self-view is not based on my moral achievement. In Christ I am simul lustus et peccator – simultaneously sinful and lost, yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad that he had to die for me, and I am so loved that he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deep humility and confidence at the same time.


  • Religion: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work, or how moral I am – and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral.
  • Gospel: My identity and self worth are centered on the one who died for me. I am saved by sheer grace and I can’t look down on those who believe or practices something different from me. Only by grace am I what I am.