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Have You Given Up On Your New Year's Resolution Yet

Christians often point out that what makes their faith utterly unique among the World’s Religions is its teaching about Grace.  You may have heard this before.  You may even have heard me say this before (I have in previous blogs).  It can be annoying.

But the reason it gets pointed out so much is because it’s absolutely true. 

I had a professor in seminary who put it this way.  There are only two types of religion: up religion and down religion.

Up religion is all about working our way “up” to God.  Up religion involves making ourselves better—more pleasing and acceptable—so that we might find “favor” with “god” (however we understand what that favor and divinity mean).  Bottom line, up religion consists of self-improvement, of fixing ourselves. 

Good examples of what up religion looks like—even though they would consider themselves “down religionists”—are Jimmy Carter and Mother Theresa.  The goodness and holiness they’ve achieved, is, ideally, what up religion looks like.

Conversely, down religion is all about God coming “down” to us and accepting us as we are—warts and all—so that His unconditional love can transform us.  Down religion is all about God fixing us, enabling us to live and love the way He loves us.  Bottom line, down religion is all about Grace which, my professor taught us, is only found in Christianity.

Paul is a great example of what down religion looks like.  As a Pharisee who zealously followed the commandments, he was the Jimmy Carter of his day.  But following the commandments can’t generate genuine love for God.  Instead, it generates perpetual anxiety—as Paul says in his letters, he was acutely aware that, no matter how good he was, he always fell short of the person he knew he should be.  No matter how hard he tried, he could never make the cut and measure up to all that the commandments demanded.  As a result, his feelings toward God weren’t ones of love and gratitude, but of fear and resentment.

What’s worse is that even when Paul was able to achieve some semblance of holiness that, in his mind, would find favor with God, it only inflated his ego.  It only puffed him up and made him boastful.  It only made him look down on others.  Which only drove him further away from being genuinely good, further away from God. 

Trying to fix himself actually made things worse! 

If you think we’re not just like Paul, think again.  We all know people who constantly brag about all the good they do.  Or who do favors for others, but then hold it over them like the Godfather!  It makes you wonder whether they’re doing good out of genuine compassion or just doing it to make themselves look good, to puff themselves up.  It’s easy to see how this taints the good they do. 

But, even if we cleverly disguise it as “humble bragging” or as justified indignation, we are all inclined to do the same.  For instance, after feeling unappreciated by someone, how many times have you got on your high horse and thought: “After all I’ve done for them…”  Me too.  Clearly, we weren’t acting out of the pure goodness of our hearts. 

On top of this, like Paul we’re more apt to dread God than to fall in love with Him.

However, as Paul found, when we admit we can’t fix ourselves—that we are sinners (literally, “fall-shorters”) as he puts it—and trust in the God who loves us anyway, everything changes.  His perfect love casts out all our fear and frees us from all the shame and guilt we feel.  His ridiculously extravagant grace overwhelms us with gratitude and makes us genuinely want to love Him in return.  And His abounding kindness inspires us with the desire to love others in the same gratuitous way He has loved us.

The reason we make New Year’s resolutions is because we are acutely aware that we aren’t living as we should.  The reason they usually end in failure is because we can’t fix ourselves.

However, when we find down religion, when we find what Paul found, that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1), everything changes. 

Only down religion can fix us.

And the only down religion is Christianity. 

Do you think of yourself as a “good person”?  What does that mean anyway?  Let me know what you think or share any other comments or questions you have by going to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website.  Please “Like” our Facebook page and subscribe to our YouTube channel if you haven’t had the chance to yet.  And please keep telling your friends about us.  Your continued support means more than words can say!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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