Religion has always been popular. People enjoy the rites, rituals, and recitations. Religion is a performance activity that also produces a hierarchy of competition amongst adherents. There is no game to Christianity, however, and only one Leader who is Lord of all (Mt 23:10; Acts 10:36). Thus, Christians are quick to point out that Christianity is not a religion. In fact, it is a freedom from religion (Gal 5:1–15).
When Adam became estranged from God, he was taught by God that sacrifice was necessary for atonement (Gen 3). Clearly, Cain and Abel were taught by their father to approach God with reverence (Gen 4). Turning God’s demand/man’s need for sacrifice into a religion is commonplace in the world. This is the origin of Judaism and other religions.
Biblical Christianity acknowledges the eternal covenant of grace (Heb 13:20). This is the legal agreement whereby God determines the means of reconciliation for a man to be right before God. Grace means God is the One who works all things to meet the terms He Himself has established (Eph 1:11). In other words, God establishes the covenant and then He executes it. The beneficiary of the covenant is the one who is brought into the agreement and blessed by God willing and doing His good pleasure (Phil 2:12–13).
The promises of God in the covenant of grace tell of God’s sovereign will to redeem a people of His own choosing (Rom 11:5; 1 Thess 1:4) from the slave market of sin (Rom 6:6). Jesus Christ, the Son of God sent from heaven (Jn 3:16), was essential to reestablishing peace between God and man (Rom 5:1). The two have been at enmity since the fall of man and creation (Gen 3). Christ came to mediate between God and man, by representing both parties as the God-man (1 Tim 2:5).
The death of Christ on the Roman cross was the means to justify God’s chosen people (Rom 3:24, 28; 5:9). He then shared the benefits of His shed blood with the ones He came to save (Mt 1:21). The Holy Spirit is sent to apply those benefits by His indwelling presence (Jn 14:17; Rom 8:9, 11). The Christian has the life of God in his soul. The life he now lives is by faith in the Son of God, who gave Himself for us (Gal 2:20).
God does what He requires of His people (Ps 57:2; 138:8; Is 9:7; 26:17; Ezek 36:27; Phil 2:12–13). He is the one who began this good work that He is willing and doing, in order to accomplish salvation (Phil 1:6). He saved us (Titus 3:5), which means we are free from slavery. Sin no longer reigns over the Christian. Grace reigns (Rom 5:21).
Freed from religion means that Christians no longer subject themselves to the idols of religion (1 Thess 1:9). Behind idolatry is the demonic influence that keeps people occupied with something other than Christ Jesus, the only Savior of sinners (Acts 4:12; Rom 9:20).
The threat of the Judaizers in the early church was to occupy the new Christians with the works of the Law instead of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul taught justification by grace, not the Law (Rom 3:28; Gal 5:4). This means that no works of men could spiritually benefit them. Favor with the Almighty was granted entirely by God graciously working according to the counsel of His own will (Eph 1:11). In salvation, God does all His works within the boundaries of the covenant of grace. In this, He is glorified.
We learn from Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians that church members are tempted away from grace by religion. False brethren are those who sneak into the church and lure believers away from the simplicity of devotion to Christ (2 Cor 11:3; Gal 2:4). To fall from grace, however, is for those who were merely play-acting Christianity (see Hebrews). This is where we learn the significance of being loved by God.
God loved His elect before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4–5). Christ Jesus loved this same select group at the cross (Rom 5:8). The Holy Spirit is the very pledge of God’s love poured out in our hearts (Rom 5:5; 2 Cor 5:5; 1 Thess 4:8). Love never fails (1 Cor 13:8). So, with God’s love in us, we are controlled by God from within (2 Cor 5:14). He causes us to walk in His statutes, by His grace (Ezek 36:27). Therefore, the truly born again do indeed stand firm against false teachers promulgating the doctrine of demons (Gal 5:1; 1 Tim 4:1).
Christ Jesus is of no benefit for religious people because He is the one way to God the Father (Jn 14:6; Gal 5:2). He alone is acceptable to God, having accomplished all righteousness in His perfect sinless life (Jn 17:4; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15) and substitutionary death (1 Pet 2:24). Every believer waits for the hope of righteousness, that is, the Lord our righteousness soon coming again (Gal 5:5; 1 Thess 4:13–5:11)…our blessed hope (Titus 2:13).
Believers in Jesus, filled with the Spirit of Christ, know that circumcision is meaningless; for it was only a type of the covenant-securing blood shed on the cross of Calvary (Mt 26:28; Col 2:11–12; Heb 9:22; 1 Pet 1:19). We know we cannot keep the Law in whole, which means we are condemned under the Law (Jn 3:18; Jas 2:10). Therefore, believers reject the Law as a means for right standing before God (Rom 5:20; Gal 3:19). To submit efforts to keep the Law not only fail because of our sinful flesh, but each instance is an act of unbelief and disobedience in doing so.
Trusting in yourself to do anything for God is a train wreck. There is no justification nor sanctification produced by the Law; but those monergistic works come by the Holy Spirit, as manifested by faith. Love is active in us. It highlights faith, which demonstrates the presence of the Word of God in the heart and mind of those who joyfully embrace the stumbling block of the cross (Rom 9:32–33; 1 Cor 1:23; Gal 5:11).
Jesus Christ is nothing to the unbeliever who slavishly labors to control God by his performance at religion. These people are not from God (Gal 5:7–12). They have no love for God in their hearts (Jn 5:42) because they do not belong to Christ (Jn 10:26). By contrast, faithful saints serve Christ’s body in love for God and for their neighbor (Gal 5:13–15). They adopt no other view of religion or irreligion because Jesus is everything to them.
Celebrating freedom in Christ is noble because Christ set us free to live by faith in Him. We trust Him, who is our all in all, to complete the good work He began in us (Acts 10:36; Phil 1:6). Simply put, believers are beneficiaries — being heirs of God with an inheritance reserved for us in heaven (Rom 8:17; 1 Pet 1:4). We trust His will and testament because He who promised is faithful and true to do just as He has told us in His Word.
Spokane Valley, Washington
September 6, 2023