The Difference Between Christianity and Religion

I’m currently in the midst of watching Mark Driscoll’s “Vintage Jesus” video series in one of my small groups. Nearly every lesson has been extremely profitable, but this week’s particularly hit a cord with me.

In it Driscoll explained the difference between Christianity and religion. Christianity is based on grace, Christ died for my sins, I place my faith in him, thus he is the one who saves me. Religion is salvation by self (I know there are semantic issues here…but the differentiation is interesting).

You see, my personal temptation (which I’m sure none of you struggle with) is to say that Christ is my savior, but live my life in a way which seems to suggest that I’m my own savior.

You see there are religious activities I perform, which are good, such as: praying, regular Scripture reading, giving, serving, church attendance, etc. Often it’s tempting to tie my salvation to the performance of said activities. I might say, “I feel closer to God” now that I’m reading my bible regularly, or praying every morning, or serving in the children’s ministry. But don’t I often mean “I am closer to God” because of what I’ve done?

But when I say that (and I’m so glad I’m the only one who thinks this way), I am flirting with self-salvation, for no amount of right action on my part can narrow the canyon that exists between me and God due to sin. Only Christ can do that.

When I walk down this road of “religiosity” there are only two possible outcomes: despair or pride. Because I (in lonely self-delusion) have convinced myself that I’m actually saving myself in some manner, that I can narrow the canyon, I will either think I am succeeding or think that I am failing. If I feel as though I haven’t measured up the past week or month, then despair is my only option. If I feel as though I’ve done pretty much all I am expected to do to be a good religious Christian, then I will both feel and exude pride.

But what about the crazy mood swings I feel, back and forth between pride and despair (be thankful you don’t struggle with this, too, it’s incredibly frustrating and confusing)?

Countless times in my life I have woken up in the morning nearly paralyzed due to the weight of my sin and the failures to do what is right the previous day (despair). I didn’t accomplish enough, I didn’t read my bible, I didn’t serve my wife much. But fifteen minutes later when I agree to help a friend move that evening I swell with pride, thinking to myself “I’ll probably be the only one there, because there aren’t many friends like me who would drop their own evening plans to serve someone else.”

For years I’ve been befuddled my personal teeter-totter, but when Driscoll defined “religion” and pointed out its only two logical outcomes, it clicked: I often try to save myself. I say that Christ has saved me, but I often think and act as though I’m the one doing the saving.

Thank goodness I’m the only one who has fallen into this trap. Can you imagine how dysfunctional our world and churches would be if we were ALL this way?

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