In this country many people go to church. What I want to ask today is, “Why do you go to church?”
Many people go because it is what they have always done. Their parents and their grandparents went to church, and so they continue to go.
Others go to church because their friends are there, and they like to hang out with them. It feels good to be with others you like, who want to do the same things you do.
Others go to church because they have come to believe that attending church is one of the activities they need to do in order to gain merit with God. Going to church is one of the “works of righteousness” they think they need to do for their salvation.
The question is, “Is that what God’s Word, the Bible, says about salvation? Is attending church, and doing other religious works, the way that a person receives eternal life, or progresses in their spiritual life?
I think it is important to consider what Jesus said to a group of religious people who read the Scriptures on a regular basis, who gave their tithes to the church, who sometimes gave above and beyond their tithes so that their religion or church could build large, magnificent edifices to God, and who even went on short or long trips in God’s name.
In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” That is amazing; Jesus said their religious work was lawlessness.
Over 90% of the U.S population is religious. I believe it is eternally important that if we are going to be religious that it is not in vain. In other words, your religious focus should gain you an outcome of eternal life with God. How sad it would be to strive to please God your entire life, only to find yourself cast out of His Presence because you were in effect “doing your own thing,” as opposed to putting your faith where it should be placed.
Jesus was speaking to a group of religious people, telling them about eternal life, and so they asked Him what works they needed to do to please God to earn eternal life.
That is what most religious work is — an attempt to “earn” eternal life through our own efforts. Jesus responded to them in a way I am sure they did not expect. He said in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom God sent.” In other words Jesus said you can’t earn eternal life. You can only receive eternal life by putting your faith in Jesus, the one the Father has sent.
Romans 6:23 says that eternal life is a gift; it cannot be earned. The religious people of Jesus’ day did not understand that; they thought they could earn eternal life. How sad that they were eternally wrong.
God speaks about this in Romans 4:4-5. He says, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
The Jews, a very religious people, thought they could attain eternal life through their own efforts, but sadly they failed. Why? God tells us in Romans 9:31-32. “But Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law.”
In other words, they thought that by going to church and obeying religious rules they could earn eternal life, but God makes it clear that eternal life can only be received as a gift by putting your faith in the Person and finished work of Jesus.
Many people think that simply repenting of their sins, and putting their faith totally and only in Jesus is too easy to receive something as wonderful as eternal life. But the truth is you can never ever earn eternal life. That is why the Father sent the Son, so that He could do for you what you could never do for yourself.
Still, many people hesitate to put their faith in Jesus’ work on the cross for their eternal life, and so they don’t submit to God’s righteousness, but instead try to earn their own. That’s what God is pointing to in Romans 10:3-4. “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. But Christ is the completion of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
You may spend your entire life doing religious things that count for nothing in the end. I would encourage you to believe in Jesus. Repent of your sins, and put your faith in Him alone, and receive the gift of eternal life that He alone can give.
Jon McCartney is pastor of First Baptist Church of Tooele.