Why go to Church to hear someone tell me how to live and believe?

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This is the response that we should and do expect from someone resisting attending Church. “Why do I need to go to Church? I’m a good person.” This is probably the most honest question of all of these questions, because it comes from the heart of an unredeemed man. This is the basic struggle we all have, Christians or not, but it is its most bare when asked by a non-believer. For Christians, the question takes on different forms, like, “I like my own interpretation of God and my own beliefs and my relationship with God.” But it’s the same question. It is the question of rebellion and submission. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Pro 14:12; 16:25 ESV, also Romans 3:9-18)

When Cain and Abel presented their offerings to God in Genesis 4, Abel brought a lamb, freshly killed, to be burned upon the altar. Cain brought the produce of his fields. God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Many scholars have weighed in on the story, saying that Abel’s sacrifice was offering the life of the lamb in place of himself, a pre-Mosaic understanding that only blood is an acceptable offering for atonement for one’s own sins. These same scholars then turn to Cain’s sacrifice saying that because it was not blood, it was not acceptable. While certainly possible, I think it goes deeper than this.

In every other religion in the world, aside from Christianity, a man was earn his salvation, doing more good than bad, tipping the scales in his favor. Somehow, every man’s heart knows that if there is to be an afterlife, he must account for his actions today. Therefore, every man who does more good than bad, or even those who are saintly in this life have certainly “earned” their way to heaven and earned God’s favor by doing such good. This is the essence of Cain’s sacrifice and all human religions. We have just enough truth in us to know that there is an accounting that must take place. Like Cain, We invest in ourselves, in our work, producing the very best crops, the best life we can, and at the end present the very best of our own efforts to the Lord to gain His favor. Yet God isn’t impressed.

Rather what impresses God is the understanding that we are insufficient to save ourselves. We cannot, in whatever fashion we create, invent or perform anything that will gain His favor. God made the universe. We cannot top that. What God sees is the submitted heart. He sees the sacrifice of Abel, the “I can’t do this on my own” of his offering. God isn’t looking for pride, but brokenness.

In Steven Spielberg’s movie “Ready Player One” this is illustrated beautifully. In the challenge of the movie’s premise, everyone must run a course with the very best car they can afford and win the race. Time after time, defeat after defeat, no one can win the race. It is unwinnable. It is finally discovered by the hero that the only way to win the race is to run backwards. Instead of racing forwards with all the other players and going as fast as you can, you put your car in reverse, and suddenly you are the winner, because it is the way the game Designer built it to win. In the movie, it is the only way to win the race, by not racing.

Like those characters, everybody is trying to win by putting their own best efforts into it. They are piling up their good works and trying to impress God. In truth, the only way to gain His favor is by admitting you have no good works, and you depend on Him for salvation. He has freely provided this in the Person of His Son Jesus Christ. The only way to win is to lose.

Again, prayer is an appropriate response. The Spirit of God convicts a man of his pride and sinfulness (John 16:8-11) and we must pray for that, for their defenses to be softened by prayer. He will not care who died for him. All he wants is his freedom to sin. If you have answered the objections above, then you can lovingly confront him with the gospel and God’s Word. An ongoing, loving relationship will bring the rebellious to the foot of the Cross. A caring relationship with you will establish a caring relationship with your church, because a Christian without a Church is like a sailor without a ship.

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Does Religion Matter?

One of the first objections to Church and organized religion is this question; does religion really matter? Does it really matter what you believe? Does it make a difference? This question stems from our modern sensibilities regarding faith and tolerance. Tolerance simply means to allow others to practice as they please, without interference. But more recently, acceptance has been masquerading as tolerance. Now tolerance means that you accept, if not embrace, the beliefs of another person, because to resist such acceptance labels you as “intolerant” and a “bigot.” Take for example the homosexual agenda. The Homosexuals, their associations of political groups and so on, demand tolerance of their lifestyle, when in reality they demand acceptance. They don’t want straight people merely to tolerate their behavior, but to accept them as equals, with as much right to practice their brand of affection in the public square as heterosexuals. They demand celebration by those that don’t share their “beliefs” in allowing them to celebrate their “weddings” and their victory over the traditional family and decency.

But let me step back to the position of one who would just as soon have nothing to do with religion, thinking that all religions are bunk and worthless, if not dangerous. Remember 9/11? That wasn’t an inside job, it was a religious job. Remember Waco? That was a religious nut making trouble, and an angry government response. Remember 12/31/1999? A lot of people were afraid because they thought that was going to be the end of the world! Why? Because of their religion. How can religion be so dangerous? Because religion is about beliefs, and beliefs matter.

Organized religion is defined as a system of beliefs organized for the practice of its believers. Every religion has one. And anyone who tells you that he doesn’t do organized religion, but goes off to a mountaintop or hillside to pray is lying to you. If a person doesn’t buy in to a “organized” religion, he will make up one of his own. Religions inherently follow rules. It is built in to them. Even a person that says his religion doesn’t have rules just made a rule. “No rules!” is a rule unto itself. Why does the person who eschews organized religion have to go to the hillside to pray? Hmmm? Sounds like a rule to me. And it sounds like an organized religion.

Back to our original question: does religion matter? Using our above definition, let me re-ask the question. Do beliefs matter? Does what you believe about how the world works and how people act and react matter? A belief is anything that cannot be proven absolutely with evidence. I believe that the chair I’m sitting on will not collapse from under me. I can’t prove it, despite all the evidence of sitting down, because I know all things wear out (2nd law of thermodynamics), and one day, this chair will collapse. Therefore, I believe that this chair will not collapse as I am sitting on it.

I believe the world will always spin, that I will always be held to the earth, that my wife and my children love me, and that the sun will come up in the morning. Is that religion? You can make a religion out of anything. All religion requires is someone to put it all together into an organized structure. Atheism is a religion, just as any other system of beliefs is. But there’s one element I forgot that make the real difference between mere beliefs, and religion, and that is Faith. Faith is a devotion to your beliefs that is so strong, you cannot be shaken from them. And Faith usually finds the strongest belief and clings to it.

For the most part, when a person says, religion doesn’t matter, what they are really saying is, “I refuse to believe in Christianity” because Christianity demands change. Why is Christianity always the one that stands in everybody’s way? Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He makes the difference between mere beliefs, an organized philosophy, and Truth.

Religion does too matter. Don’t kid yourself. We define ourselves by our beliefs. We are who we because of our beliefs. If you choose to ground your self in loose and broken beliefs, that’s your own business, I suppose. But if you choose to ground your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will not be disappointed.