It’s hard for us to realize this today, but when Christianity first arose in the world it was not called a religion. It was the non-religion. Imagine the neighbors of early Christians asking them about their faith. “Where’s your temple?” We don’t have one. “Where are your priests?” We don’t have priests. “Where are the sacrifices made to please your gods?” We don’t do that kind of thing. Jesus himself was the temple to end all temples, the priest to end all priests, and the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. First century Christians were even called atheists. They were the non-religion.
Religion in general is man’s strategic manual for how to reach God. But Christianity is not a religion in this sense. Christianity holds that man, no matter how hard he tries, cannot reach God. Man cannot ascend to God’s level. Therefore there is only one remedy: God must come down to man’s level (that’s what Christmas is all about). Scandalous though it may seem, God must become man and assume the burden of man’s sins (D’Souza, Christianity, 290). Christianity teaches that this was the great sacrifice of Christ – from heaven to amniotic fluid. In religion, man must take the active role. In Christ, God does it all. And religious people generally find this offensive, because it takes away the “tax-payer status” with God. In other words, if I am good and do good things, I have rights to make demands of God.
Tim Keller, a New York City pastor, tells about a conversation he had with a woman. She said that she had gone to a church growing up and she had always heard that God accepts us only if we are sufficiently good and ethical. She had never heard the message of sheer grace through the work of Christ. She commented though on how scary that was for her. She said “If I was saved by my good works –then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace – at God’s infinite cost – then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.” Says Keller: “She could see immediately that the wonderful-beyond-belief teaching of salvation by sheer grace had two edges to it. On the one hand it cut away slavish fear. God loves us freely, despite our flaws and failures. Yet she also knew that if Jesus really had done this for her – she was not her own. She was bought with a price (Keller, Prodigal…).”
God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior. Christianity proclaims that all the things that religion promised but couldn’t deliver have been delivered once and for all by Jesus.
The world has many religions, but there’s no Gospel in them. In all the world religions, man is endeavoring to reach up and somehow find God. Only in Christianity is God reaching down to man. Christianity holds that man, no matter how hard he/she tries, cannot reach God. Therefore, there is only one remedy; God must become man and assume the burden of man’s sins. And that’s what He did at Christmas. Loose your religion. Make room for relationship.