What everybody knows about religion
by J. Randal Matheny, editor
What if what everyone knows about religion is wrong?
Everybody knows that sincerity trumps everything else in religion. As long as you’re sincere, God will save you. Hypocrites are the only ones headed to hell. (And maybe child molesters.) It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you hold to it sincerely.
Except that, in the spiritual realm, as in the virtual, content is king. That is, sincerity doesn’t trump truth. We have to know the truth (John 8:32). Whether Jesus is divine or not, makes a difference. God gives an order, and brooks no changes. Sincerity alone never saved anyone. On the contrary, it can get you killed. Just ask Uzzah (1 Chronicles 13).
Everybody knows that talk is cheap and that you can live or show a sermon better than you can preach one any day of the week. Words are chaff in the wind, but an example is powerful influence.
Except that the gospel, the message of words about Jesus Christ, is God’s power to save (Romans 1:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5). Words have the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). Examples are important, but mere examples can’t tell anyone how to be saved or how to please God. Only words can do that. Verbal communication is the most undervalued activity in modern times.
Everybody knows that religion is a good thing to have, an important aspect to a good life, like a good job, a family, a house, but that you shouldn’t be radical or extreme about it. The world needs fewer fanatics, not more.
Except that Christ bids us fling away everything in order to follow him (Mark 8:34). God’s kingdom has to come first, every time, every day (Matthew 6:32-34), for discipleship is a daily total renunciation (Luke 9:23). Religion is not an accessory, but the main thing and, from an eternal perspective, God’s true religion is the only thing. With the Way of Faith, there is no negotiation, no compromise (Galatians 2:5).
Everybody knows that religion is not a proper topic of discussion anywhere, any time. You have your religion, I have mine, and any attempt at persuasion or comparison is unwelcome.
Except that Christ did not send his people into the world to make friends and influence people. He sent us to proclaim the message of eternal salvation, to speak truth to a world in the power of the father of lies, to change lives by portraying Christ crucified. We do not move the ancient landmarks to please people, but we seek to move people toward the true and living God. To do that, we preach the message, “whether it is convenient or not” (2 Timothy 4:1-3 NET). Or as Marshall Keeble said, “When they like, and when they don’t.”
Most of what people think they know about religion is wrong. And those to whom the truth has been entrusted seek to set them right with God.