Three Common Beliefs that Ruin Christianity
In the first three parts of this series I’ve been considering some very common beliefs that ruin Christianity. These beliefs are held by so many people that they are generally accepted without much thought. Even people who have been followers of Jesus for many years often accept these things as true because they sound good, and they make us feel good. But the problem is, according to the scripture we base our faith on, they are false. Not only that, the wide-spread acceptance of these things has diminished the beauty of the gospel.
I suggest you read the first three parts of this series if you haven’t already, because these things all come together as a package deal. If you believe one, you’ll likely believe the others.
Part one was an introduction to the series.
In part two we considered the commonly held belief that God is a tolerant God, and discovered that in fact he is not tolerant at all, but holy.
Part three asked the question, “Do you think people are basically good, or bad?” There are some exceptions, but for the most part we want to believe that people are basically good. But scripture, and personal experience, both point to the fact that people are basically sinners.
Now we approach the third commonly held belief which ruins Christianity. In order to get a handle on this belief we asked the people on Cincinnati’s Fountain Square at lunch time the following question:
“How does a person get to heaven?”
Take a couple of minutes to listen to their answers…
The widely held view seems to be that, because God is tolerant, and we are basically good, it is possible for us to earn God’s favor. That if we do enough good stuff to offset the bad, then God will look at us, wink and say, “Well done. You’ve done a pretty good job. Welcome to heaven!”
There’s only one problem.
We simply can’t be that good.
In fact, scripture tells us our “good deeds” are like filthy rags in the sight of God. (Isaiah 64:6) It says that all of us have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). In the book of Romans Paul tells us that every single one of us has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), which, by the way, is the standard we must live up to if we are to have any hope at all (1 Peter 1:15-16).
Here’s the deal:
Humans can do absolutely nothing to earn God’s favor.
Our only option is to trust in Christ’s atonement and accept God’s completely undeserved favor.
I mean, it only makes sense. If God is holy and cannot accept imperfection, then any attempt we make is going to fall short. We can’t be good enough. We can’t attend enough church services. We can’t serve enough. We can’t give enough. We can’t do enough good works to cancel out or offset any one of our innumerable sins.
At this point I suppose it’s fair to ask, “What is beautiful about this?” I admit that the outlook seems kind of bleak.
But without that bleakness, we miss the incredible beauty of the gospel.
The apostle Paul describes the situation in a powerful way in Ephesians 2:1-10. You can read it here in the NIV if you like (It’s pretty daggone powerful in any translation!), but I love the way Eugene Peterson has paraphrased it in The Message:
It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
You see, it’s not that we are basically good people who do our best so a tolerant and understanding God allows our little mistakes to slide because He loves us. Not even close!
The situation is that we are sinful, selfish, and rebellious people who have intentionally turned our backs on our Creator. Yet this completely holy and just God did the unthinkable. He took our guilt upon Himself – sacrificing His own life – to offer us a way out of eternal punishment and into eternal life.
Now that’s a love that’s incomprehensible to us.
One more thought for those of you who have been Christians a while:
Do you have a particular sin that you struggle with? Is it anger, or greed, or envy, or lust? If you’re like me, whenever you yield to your particular temptation you carry around this load of guilt for a while. You know you shouldn’t have said or done whatever it was and in fact you knew you had the power to overcome the temptation. God has promised you could. You simply made a wrong choice. Let me ask you something…
If Jesus died for you when you were His enemy, will He not forgive you and love you now that you’re His friend?
Take a look at 1 John 1:8-9:
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
If you assume that God loves you because you are good, you can never know this freedom. If you think God loves because you’re good then you must continue to be good to be loved. Sadly, I realize that this is the very experience many have with their human father. You know the end result of this is a burden of guilt and despair because, as we have seen, you will never be good enough.
But God is not like our human fathers.
God loves us because He is good – not because we are.
See what I mean?
The gospel is way more beautiful than we think.