“Religion” is an attempt to create a ladder to reach God. By observing a list of “dos” and “don’ts”, we attempt to gain favour with Divinity. (I use the word “religion” through this article as a “system” of works rather than a true inner devotion to God through His Son).
The church that I attended during my youth taught that what I needed to do in order to inherit eternal life was to “keep the commandments”. I therefore believed, at least on some level, that if I could prove to God that I could be true to a certain moral code, I would find grace in his sight, and perhaps be granted entrance to heaven.
This is an example of the ladder of religion. All “religions systems” have this in common, in contrast to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I was climbing a ladder with ten rungs (the Ten Commandments). I have friends who are part of the Messianic Jewish movement. Their ladder is much taller – it has 613 rungs (the 613 mitzvot of the Torah).
One of the closest friends of the Saviour penned these words:
“The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17, NKJV, emphasis mine)
Moses was a great man; an intermediate between God and man, and received a moral code which he delivered to a people who did not wish to hear God’s voice. It teaches morality (a good thing), however, it leaves a man in a war with himself to fulfil regulations which he is naturally disinclined. It reveals the weakness of humanity, but can never bring us closer to the divine.
Jesus Christ was a great man, an intermediate between God and man, very God of very God, through whom all things came into existence, and who was life. Grace was not “given” by Christ; it came (literally, came into existence) through Christ. By the Divine Word, grace was introduced to the world, a wonder that had never been fully revealed: not through Moses, not through the Ten Commandments, not through the 613 mitzvot of the Torah.
That is why we call the new covenant a “covenant of grace” and the old covenant a “covenant of works”. The new is really new; it’s not the old repackaged.
The old painfully drills into the honest hearted person the fact that they can never attain holiness before God. One slip, and you’re done, finished. Mercy in this system plays the part of making it tolerable, but it ultimately undermines the whole system: it is a contract based on our obedience, which must be rewritten every time we transgress. Only the self-sufficient and deceived are content under this system. Like the rich young ruler in Mark 10, they sense no lack. They trust in their adherence to the moral code and ritual practices to gain them favour with God, not realizing the spiritual destitution of their soul.
The new covenant is not a contract, based on human strength to fulfill a moral code. It is a covenant whose conditions and terms were fulfilled, accomplished, and finished by God, through his Son. It is something we grow in, by grace. It is not something we do for God to gain his favour, but something God did to restore us to His favour, to make us acceptable to Himself, and restore us to a right relationship with Himself through the righteous life and sacrificial death of His Son.
True religion is not a ladder of human accomplishment, but a divine gift, free to all who will place their faith in the Son, when we trust Him alone (who He is and what He has done) for our salvation. Our faith is not based on data from a book, but actual historical events, of God creating a perfect world, man’s fall from perfection, God entering history to redeem fallen man, and the promise of Christ’s return in final redemption and re-creation.
When the curtain of the temple was torn, God signified an end to old covenant signs, ceremonies and regulations as a basis of human relationship with Him. Those commandments of ritual which were intended to point toward Chist, are now rendered useless, because the end, the purpose, of those things has come. All of our spiritual needs are now found in the Person and work of the Son of God’s love, in whom we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of sins. We are complete in Him, who is the Head of all principality and power.