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3 Ways Jesus Saves (and Religion Can’t)

Religious ritual cannot take away sin. The Jewish people made a tragic mistake. They took the symbols of sacrifice and started to treat them like they were the real thing, like adherence to religious ritual could actually take away sin. People do that today when they think that certain religious rituals (like taking communion, regular church attendance, tithing, or saying a ‘Hail Mary’) can take away their sin. At their very best, they can merely cover sin, like spraying yourself with perfume instead of taking a bath. That may work a few times, but soon enough, the stench permeates the perfume. The blood of Jesus does not cover our sin with some kind of religious cologne; it removes our sin and transforms our hearts. Apart from faith in Christ, religious rituals are dead works. Alive with faith, religious activity becomes loving service.

3. From Dread of God to Longing for Him

As we see in Hebrews 9:28, the gospel replaces the sense of dread we used to have before God with a deep sense of longing. When we fear judgment, the thought of being in God’s presence is dreadful. The sacrifice of Jesus, however, assures us that judgment is gone, and in its place are God’s love and acceptance. When we realize this, God’s presence becomes something we desperately crave.

I see this with my kids. When I come home from a trip, my four children will rush out to meet me at my car. My four-year-old daughter will immediately start to give me the details of everything that happened while I was away. It doesn’t make much sense, since she’s four, but she knows I’ll listen eagerly. They know that I long to be near them, so they long to be near me. When they think I am angry, however, or in a bad mood, they stay away. Many people are like that with God. They dread being around Him because they fear displeasure or judgment.

The gospel gives us the confidence of a beloved child before God. Rather than fearing His judgment, we sense only approval and tenderness. We cry “Abba, Father,” and we begin to long for Him.  

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J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.