The Gospel, Better than Man-made Religion


As I’ve studied the Gospel of John each week for the last year and a half, I was continually struck by the futility of man-made religion over against the powerful triumph of the gospel.

In John 3, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about being “born again” / “born from above,”  a spiritual birth that needs to take place in the life of anyone who desires to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus did not understand what Jesus was talking about and so Jesus responds, in 3:10, “Aren’t you a Master of Israel, and you don’t know these things?” Nico was a Pharisees, a group that prided themselves in keeping not only the Law down to the very minutiae, but also in observing man-made boundaries imposed around that same Law. Nicodemus was serious about religion, but yet he was unaware of the promises of the New Covenant relating to the new birth. He was religious, but he had missed the gospel!

Jesus heals a man who had been sick for 38 years in John 5. The religious people of the day try to kill Jesus. In the ninth chapter, Jesus heals a man that was born blind. Since these healings occurred on Sabbath Day, the Pharisees were outraged, and so rather than rejoicing, they interrogate the former blind man and his family and shortly thereafter try to kill Jesus. Jesus is in the healing business; man-made religionists are in the interrogation and protest business.

Carson comments,

Is there not something [really wrong] about religion that objects to the healing of long-term paralytics and the curing of someone born blind?

It actually gets worse.

Do you remember the account of Lazarus and his resurrection from the dead, as recorded in John 11? The Pharisees had a strategy meeting shortly after Jesus raised Lazarus.

11:47 “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 48 If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.

Apparently, if news had gotten out that Jesus indeed raised a man from the dead, then his popularity would swirl out of control, thus catching the attention of the Roman authorities. The end result would mean that these religious men could lose their positions of authority almost-authority and almost-freedom under the Roman Empire.

Caiaphas decides that it would be easier for all parties involved to simply kill Jesus, the Messiah, rather than deal with the Romans, so we read in 11:53:Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.”

If seeking to heal the great miracle Worker were not enough, in chapter 12 we see that they even tried to kill Lazarus! What was his crime? Being resurrected? A characteristic of man-made religion is deep anger and hatred for those who have been extended unfathomable grace.

This is the same group of religious folks that took Jesus and tried Him in John 18, trampling and twisting their own legal system in order to murder Him. They tried him at night, which was illegal. They tried him without witnesses, which was illegal. They rendered a verdict and sentence in the same day, which was illegal. They tried him without giving him a formal defense, which was illegal.

And then, they have the audacity to cry out to Pilate in chapter 19:7, “We have a law, and according to our law, He ought to die!”

Really? An appeal to the law after trampling it for your own murderous purposes?

Proponents of Man-made religion could kill their Savior and continue their religiosity. If it were possible for them to execute God, it would change nothing in their day-to-day life. They could have no sheep left to minister to, and this would not bother them for a second, so long as they’ve kept all their man-made rules. For many proponents of man-made religion, it was never ultimately about God and others anyway.

Another author explains that these pseudo-religious people, “build their sense of worth on their moral and spiritual performance, as a kind of resume to present before God and the world.” And in so doing, they believe they can and have earned the grace of God, that they do not and never did stand in need His mercy, and they ultimately miss the gospel.

Man-made religion really boils down to mankind’s attempts to reach up to God with their goodness and efforts in self-righteousness. On the other hand,  the Gospel is about Jesus’ reaching down to rescue mankind from their sin through His work on the cross and resurrection from the grave!

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