Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Judaism… there are so many options. Which one shall I choose?
In college I took a comparative religions course from a self-professing atheist. I really appreciated his style and the class he taught. He was exceedingly objective - probably because he had no attachments to any of them. After poring over texts and pondering class discussions, I began to get a sense for something that I knew to be true, but just didn’t realize its magnitude. There is one characteristic of Christianity that sets itself apart from any other religion or worldview: grace.
Every other religion and worldview, once you boil away the jargon and idiosyncrasies, operates under the mantra of: “I obey therefore, I’m accepted.” Whether its karma, the eightfold path, the four noble truths, the five pillars, etc., all of them basically exhort the religious adherent to perform. And if the performance is good enough, “life as it should be” will be reached.
As I began to realize this is the fundamental operation of them all, I grew fatigued under the weight of a single question: “How do I know I’ve performed well enough?” None of them seem to provide a satisfactory answer.
Of course, the problem is, many people think this is what Christianity is as well. “Obey the Ten Commandments and you’ll be saved.” But the Bible doesn’t teach that. In fact, the Bible insists on our inability to perform well enough. We all fall short (Rom. 3:23). This is where Jesus’ entrance onto the human stage is such a relief!
Jesus came to live the perfect life I could never live.
Jesus came to die in my place the death my imperfect life deserved.
By faith, I am “awarded” his accomplishments.
You know what you call receiving an exceptionally good thing based on someone else's merits? GRACE!
The Ten Commandments have received a bad rap in modern culture. Frankly, they've been mistreated by a wide-array of worldview persuasions. So I'd like to offer just two brief reasons we ought to hold The Ten Commandments in high regard.
First, they tell us what matters to God. God didn't play a game the day he wrote these. He didn't arbitrarily pull them out of a hat and say, "Good luck trying to obey these!" There is careful, divine intent behind them. They originate from the very heart and being of God. They tell us what God values. They tell us what God prizes. If he is the object of our love, what matters to him should matter to us.
Second, they show us what a saved life ought to look like. Keep in mind the context for The Ten. God didn't say to his people, Israel, "If you can obey these, I'll get you out of captivity in Egypt." No! God saved them first. He rescued them first. He redeemed them first and THEN gave them the commands. Salvation first, obedience second; grace first, then holiness. If you are a Christian, you have been saved to live a holy life.
Remembering these two reflections can help restore a dignified treatment of these words from our Lord.
The created things of this world typically fall into one of three categories, according to Steve Hoppe. They are: god, garbage, or gift. Here’s the deal: God created us in a such a way that we are shaped by what we worship and serve as ‘god’.
For example, if we say “Aaron’s ‘god’ is sports.” What kind of comment are we making? We’re probably saying Aaron really, really, really likes sports. He probably watches a ton of it. Maybe he plays just as much. Very likely underneath the visible behavior are strong intellectual and emotional connections. He probably thinks and talks about sport frequently and gets irritated if life causes him to miss out on them. And then, consider the effects of this on his relationships with people. Perhaps there are friends in his life who get neglected or become the objects of his testiness due to missed sporting opportunities. Very likely his euphoric celebrations aren’t reserved for the accomplishments of loved ones, but rather are directed towards the achievements of his favorite teams.
So once we get done fleshing out what Aaron’s behavior is like with sports serving as his functional god, what kind of person has Aaron become? There comes a point when we are no longer describing isolated behavior, but concentrated character. Sports, as god, have shaped Aaron.
I don’t mean to pick on sports. We could use sex, money, politics, causes, or any number of examples. When good things become ultimate things, they have become ‘god’. And our ‘gods’ always affect us.
Whatever you worship, will form you.
Whatever receives your best thinking and emoting, will influence you.
Whatever gets your loyal attention, will mold you.
Don’t believe me?
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them. - Psalm 115:4-8
We become like what we worship.
There is a call to action here. What ‘gods’ are you serving? How are they shaping you? Take a look at your behavior, thoughts, and emotions - whom do they seem to be employed in the service of?
Before the day is done, get your nose in God’s Word. Lift up your face to the heavens and pray to the Lord. Encourage a loved one.
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. - Ephesians 5:15-16