The Difference Between Religion & the Gospel

Posted: January 19, 2012 by Brett Kunkle in Choosing My Religion, Jesus Changes Everything

While you eagerly await the arrival of my response video to “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” check out this helpful chart defining the differences between religion and the gospel:

RELIGION: I obey, therefore I’m accepted.

THE GOSPEL: I’m accepted, therefore I obey.

RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.

THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy.

RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God.

THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God, to delight and resemble him.

RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.

THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his fatherly love within my trial.

RELIGION: When I am criticized, I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a “good person.” Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.

THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized, I can take it. I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a “good person.” My identity is not built on my record or my performance, but on God’s love for me in Christ.

RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of my environment.

THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God.

RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles: If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure, inadequate, and not confident. I feel like a failure.

THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am “simul iustus et peccator”—simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time, neither swaggering nor sniveling.

RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to “the other.”

THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for his enemies and who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace, so I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. It is only by grace that I am what I am. I have no inner need to win arguments.

RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, regardless of what I say I believe about God.

THE GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life: family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things is an ultimate end for me. None of them is something I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency such things can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

Download a cool PDF poster of this here:  ReligionGospel

(HT: The Resurgence)

  1. Daniel says:

    I think “religion”–at least by itself–is the wrong word to use here.

    • Brett Kunkle says:

      That’s the thing, religion here is not by itself. I think what’s helpful about this is it defines what is meant by religion, unlike the video. It gives us a clear view of what’s in question.

      • Mark says:

        Brett — I enjoy your work here at STR and hope you make it to Missouri sometime soon.

        I’m struck by your reply because the first time I saw Bethke’s video, my impression was that what he was doing WAS contrasting Religion to Jesus, much like this list. But since then I’ve seen the controversy and I had to be honest and question myself: did I get it wrong? I watched it again and took notes: Bethke lists at least 18 examples of what he means by Religion contrasted to Jesus. Yes, many border on pablum and sloganeering and critics can choose to take issue with his examples.

        But it seems to me the one criticism that can’t be accurate is that Bethke failed to define what he meant by religion and what he meant by Jesus. That seems to me to be his whole point, no, to raise that very question, i.e. “Are you, young person watching this video, confusing religion with Jesus?”

        I love Greg’s urging to “put a pebble in their shoe.” Is this short video a comprehensive accounting of Christian theology? No, nor would I argue that it’s meant to be. Is it possibly a pebble in someone’s shoe, using a medium and a delivery that is appealing and effective for its intended audience? I think yes.

      • rockturner says:

        I agreed, Brett. I see the challenge being to artfully present the gospel precisely in plain view.

      • Daniel says:

        I think you’re right as far as that goes. The problem for me is that this redefines and highjacks the word “religion” and therefore steals any real, legitimate content the word may have. Think of what has happened to the word “tolerance.”

        Better to add a modifier such as “false.”

  2. Aaron says:

    In light of this topic, the following verse continues to come to mind:

    James 1

    “26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

    Without doing a word study or reading any commentaries on this verse, it appears that religion is not a right or wrong issue.