TRUE AND FALSE RELIGION
Discerning the Difference
There is a teaching that is currently very popular -- and has been popular for the last century -- that "religion is bad" and "Christ is good", as though they were somehow opposites of one another. But what is the truth of the matter?
The apostle James wrote: "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (Jas.1:27, NKJV). In short, true religion is something to believe and do if it leads us, and others, to the source of salvation, Jesus Christ.
The Bible is full of religious practices. Basically, true religion either (a) points us to God, or (2) provides a channel for expressing our relationship to Him. Both the Old and New Testaments are full of religious law, principle, belief, and ritual. True religion is therefore action or conduct indicating belief in, reverence for, and a desire to please God. True religion in the New Testament is defined as:
- (1) An apostolic pattern of doctrine and belief (Titus 2:1);
- (2) Shared experience (Ac.2:37-47; Heb.10:25);
- (3) Outward show of inner faith (1 Jn.3:17-18).
What, then, is false religion? False religion is worthless religion, and worthless religion is that sort of religion which depends on external actions to make us right with God. Whether before we receive Christ as Saviour, or afterwards, no amount of religious knowledge or action can save us. Knowledge or action can only give us a way of expressing our personal faith in Christ. Thus every true Christian must avoid:
Religion can be dangerous not because it is bad per se but because it is often good enough to turn away our trust away from Christ. Our human tendency is to reject confidence in what Christ can do and replace it with something that we can do for ourselves.
- (1) Attempts to earn salvation (Eph.2:8-10);
- (2) Any thought of perfecting ourselves (Gal.3:1-3);
- (3) Anything that displaces Christ (Col.2:6-8).
The New Covenant Teaching on Religion
Our religion is the outward sign of our inner faith but it can be approached in a right way or a wrong way. Right from the beginning of this work we have warned people of the dangers of "churchiolatry", or the "worship of the church". The New Covenant Church of God is distinguished from many other Christian denominations by its storehouse of spiritual knowledge, its Hebrew traditions, its banner ceremonies, its use of temples in addition to ordinary meeting places, etc.. Because of these things there are some who have said that this is just "religion" and nothing to do with Christ.
But the apostles and prophets of this Church have only ever taught one doctrine concerning Christ and religion: that religion is an outward sign of our faith in Christ, not the object in itself. That some of our people have looked to the Church for salvation instead of Christ, or a mixture of Church and Christ, is not the fault of the Church but of wrong perceptions by men. Go to any Christian denomination and you will always find some people who love religion more than the Lord and trust in religion more than in Christ.
The goal of everything we do in the New Covenant Church of God is Christ. Everything we do and teach points to the complete sufficiency of Christ in salvation. The Church is not the mediator of this salvation -- it is but a divinely revealed and authorised set of pointers.
Qualifications for Salvation
Let us be quite clear, therefore, that the qualifications for salvation are as follows (to cite some of the most important ones):
Let us be quite clear what the qualifications for salvation are not:
- (1) I can cite no merit of my own;
- (2) I have been a sinner from birth with sinful tendencies even though I have not always been conscious of these tendencies;
- (3) I am coming not in my name but in Christ's;
- (4) I believe He is the Son of God and my Saviour;
- (5) I have accepted His sacrifice for my sins;
- (6) I believe He rose from the dead;
- (7) I have put my trust in Him to save me;
- (8) I am daily repenting of my sins and trusting in the atonement of Christ to cleanse me of those sins as the Law, shown to me by the written Scriptures and God's living apostles, prophets, evangelists, etc., illuminate my faults and stimulate a desire within to repent, etc.
None of these things can save me unless I am doing these things in love as a fruit of the saving work of Christ in my soul.
- (1) My belief in God;
- (2) My doctrinal beliefs;
- (3) My good life;
- (4) My baptism;
- (5) My confirmation;
- (6) My partaking of the Lord's Supper;
- (7) My attendance at church meetings;
- (8) My attendance in the temple;
- (9) My paying tithes;
- (10) My good reputation;
- (11) My membership in the truest Church I can find on earth;
- (12) My faithful obedience to the commandments and covenants, etc.
A True Understanding is Essential
Anyone who tries to earn salvation by merit will sooner of later come unstuck. Many false religions like Buddhism, Mormonism, Catholicism, and others teach that good works save. They don't. Christ saves. But it is equally dangerous to say, as some groups do, that there is no need for religious observation at all. The truth is you can't separate the two, because true religious observation is a fruit of true faith in Christ.
This page was created on 9 October 1998
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