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Gospel vs. Religion

Blog: Gospel VS Religion

 By Scott Thomas, President of Acts 29 Network

If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. – Galatians 1:9

Is your Christianity marked by a deep belief, assurance and dependency on grace through Jesus? Or is your heart bent on man-fearing, self-worshiping religiosity? Religious people are glory thieves – taking from God what is rightfully his. Even worse than resulting in personal corruption, religion spread insidiously in churches; Paul’s fiercest commands throughout his letters were always against the religious people in the church.

Grace is freedom from the curse of works (Gal. 3:10), freedom from condemnation (Gal 2:15), freedom from slavery (Gal. 5:1) and freedom to worship and obey Jesus by the power of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). Religion can never love or honor Jesus – it is ashamed of and offended (Gal. 5:11) by the gospel that declares all as sinners in need of a Savior. Religion says you can save yourself. Religion is “another gospel.”

What gospel are you spreading like a wildfire in your church or life? Grace? Or Religion?

Tim Keller shows the difference between Religion and Gospel in his new publication, Gospel in Life Study Guide (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), p. 16.


  • Religion: “I obey; therefore, I’m accepted.”
  • Gospel: “I’m accepted; therefore, I obey.”


  • Religion: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.
  • Gospel: Motivation is based on grateful joy.


  • Religion: I obey God in order to get things from God.
  • Gospel: I obey God to get God – to delight in an resemble him.


  • Religion: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.
  • Gospel: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle, but I know my punishment fell on Jesus and that while God may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.


  • Religion: When I am criticized, I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a “good person.” Threats to self-image must be destroyed at all costs.
  • Gospel: When I am criticized, I struggle, but it is not essential for me to think of myself as a “good person.” My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ.


  • Religion: My prayer life consists largely of petition, and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment.
  • Gospel: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God.


  • Religion: My self-view swings things between to poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel humble but not confident – I feel like a failure.
  • Gospel: My self-view is not based on my moral achievement. In Christ I am simul lustus et peccator – simultaneously sinful and lost, yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad that he had to die for me, and I am so loved that he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deep humility and confidence at the same time.


  • Religion: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work, or how moral I am – and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral.
  • Gospel: My identity and self worth are centered on the one who died for me. I am saved by sheer grace and I can’t look down on those who believe or practices something different from me. Only by grace am I what I am.


Josue Molina

on May 14, 2010 :: 8:26 am

Really good post.

Kris Van Houten

on May 29, 2010 :: 2:13 pm

I love this. Currently, I'm constantly going back and forth with coworkers who say that Christianity is just another religion and this definitely helps. Thank you!


Scott Thomas has served as the President of Acts 29 Network and a Pastor at Mars Hill Church. Scott has been a pastor for 30 years—first as a youth pastor and then as a lead pastor and church planter/church replanter for 16 years.