Are you tired of religion? I am. It doesn’t take long in a discussion with other Christians for the religion to show up. I have been in churches that think King James Version is the only proper Bible to read. Sat through a worship set that was as dry as day-old toast followed by a sermon about the evil of playing loud music during worship. I had the experience of enduring concerts complete with theatrics that were supposed to be praise and worship. Watched with a mixture of amusement and disdain as preachers used emotional tactics to get a reaction from the crowd. I’ve heard Catholics and Protestants sling mud at each other. Knocked on doors and passed out tracts because that’s what a good Christian does, just to be told later that tracts don’t work. I have heard claims that speaking in tongues is the only evidence of true salvation while others say it’s heresy. Growing up Baptist, I thought you had to be baptized to seal the deal and make it into heaven. Then there’s the religious fanatics that believe whatever they choose with or without scriptural backing. There is a whole bunch of people walking around carrying guilt and trying to do good things to avoid going to hell. Others think they haven’t a chance because of their past sins. As if there wasn’t enough confusion in my head about what’s right, the Bible talks about a condemned criminal that got to heaven!
Check this out, when Jesus was being crucified there was a criminal on either side of him also being crucified. Look what Luke 23:39-43 says: One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The bad guy never got off that cross alive. That being said, he never attended church, was not baptized, did not talk to others about his faith, nor did he ever support the local ministry… How am I to believe that going to church, getting dunked in a baptismal, sharing the Gospel message, or giving money to the poor is going to help me avoid hell after reading this passage?
Chances are you have some strong opinions about what is and is not acceptable behavior. THAT IS RELIGION IN A NUTSHELL. Simply stated religion is about doing things. On the other hand Christianity is about what is done. Read the passage in Luke again, this post can wait while you read it….Before John 3:16 was written Jesus demonstrated in his final moments what it takes to receive forgiveness. The criminal accepted his own fate as a sinner deserving of death. All he asked was for Jesus to remember him when Christ got to his Kingdom. Nothing profound in this request. The condemned man didn’t even say a prayer. All he did was believed with all his heart that Jesus was the true son of God that could save him. He showed true faith that day by asking Jesus to remember him. As a result Christ assured him of a place in paradise that day. Shortly after that Jesus breathed his last and died for all the sins of mankind. Receiving Jesus as your Lord and savior is called being justified and the criminal on the cross died a justified man.
By the way some of those other things I mentioned about water baptism and such…those are important after receiving Christ. That’s called being sanctified, in other words becoming more like Jesus. Here’s the deal, you can make it to heaven upon your confession of faith in Jesus, that much is true and there is no other way. What you cannot do is continue year after year as if nothing has changed. Growing in faith is a part of a personal relationship between you and God.
Am I confusing you now? If so let me try to better explain. You see forgiveness is not about religious activity. You cannot do enough good things to buy your way into heaven. However, in order to grow and mature as Christians, God gave us some guidelines and a couple of ordinances. The two ordinances are water baptism and communion. All Christians, regardless of denominational preference should observe these ordinances. Beyond that there is some really handy stuff to learn about in order to strengthen your Christian walk. Arguing about traditional hymns verses modern worship songs isn’t on that list.
A true man of God I know likes to say “major on the majors and minor on the minors.” In other words stay focused on what gets you to heaven and not on the things that are just personal preference.
Rev. Burt Schwab