Religion vs. the gospel
There’s a big difference between religion and the gospel. Religion is designed to give people a list of things to do in order to stay on good terms with whatever deity(s) they profess to worship. The trouble is, no one has ever kept their particular list of rules well enough to be absolutely sure their deity isn’t angry with them. Religion simply isn’t enough. All religion can do is make people feel worse every time they fail. What people really need is good news, not a lot of religious talk about how bad they are.
And that’s what the gospel is – good news. The gospel removed the guilty conscience altogether. It declares you clean and forgiven, and even lets you know that the Holy Spirit is at work healing your mind. Sadly, though, we often try to turn even the gospel into religion, imagining falsely that the good news is just another condemnation of evil instead of God’s declaration of a new creation.
Most of us are so used to having a guilty conscience that when we start believing the gospel about our complete cleansing from sin, we start feeling guilty for not feeling guilty. It’s as though we think God will like us better if we refuse to feel forgiven and clean.
Hebrews 10:19-22 says, “Therefore…since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience....”
Those are words of confidence — confidence to be at home in the presence of God, not crushed down with a load of guilt. It’s confidence in God himself–who loves us so much that he sent his Son to remove our guilt and give us all the privileges of beloved children. It has nothing to do with how good we are or think we are, but instead with having faith in what God has done.
The gospel, thank God, is not religion. It is the end of religion. It’s good news, the good news that God loves you so much that he sent his Son to bear the curse of your sinfulness and rise from the dead so you can be forever at peace with him.