I was totally blindsided on Sunday. Hoodwinked. Wool pulled over my eyes. Bamboozled. Shenanniganized.
Editor’s Note: I don’t think that’s a word.
Never mind. My two older sons and I were shopping at that fine bastion of quality consumerism, Dollar Shrub, or something like that. As we were in the checkout line, we decided to grab a quick snack to fuel the rest of the day. I chose a BRAND NEW! product called Hershey’s Drops. They’re just like M&M’s, except NO CANDY SHELL! and NO MESS!
I got to the car, and started popping the Drops. And about halfway through the bag, I came upon this startling truth:
Hey…these are smooshed-down Hershey’s Kisses!
And once I got to really putting on the old thinking cap, I realized that Hershey’s Kisses are just Hershey’s Miniatures, except round and with a pointy head. And Hershey’s Miniatures are really Just Hershey’s Bars, except broken up into bite-sized pieces. The same goes for Hershey’s Sticks, Hershey’s Nuggets, and Hershey’s Diabetickles*.
Somewhere up in Chocolate Heaven, Milton S. Hershey is laughing his chocolate milk mustache off. For decades, his company has been taking the same old chocolate – reshaping and repackaging it – and selling it to a bunch of suckers that are easily distracted by big bright letters that say BRAND NE…
…um, what was I saying?
I’ve noticed that we do the same thing with our religion. We tend to repackage the same old product and dress it up to sell it in a brand new way. I’m not talking here about contextualizing the gospel message to fit the culture we’re in. Nope, I’m talking religion. Pure, unadulterated, man-centered religion. The “guilted-to’s” over the “get-to’s.” The duty over the delight. The law over grace.
- We look down on the New Testament’s Pharisees, yet we adopt our own brand of morality that others around us must adhere to or face our wrath.
- We say that we’re saved by grace alone, yet we continue to live in a mode of making ourself look good before God.
- We wise up and repent of our works righteousness, and then we’re proud because we’ve repented of our works righteousness. (That pride is a sign of righteousness, in case you’re keeping score.)
- We look with pity at religious groups that idolize a statue or a temple or a talisman, and yet we set up our idols of self and sin and addiction.
Recently our staff has been reading through Michael Horton’s incredible book Christless Christianity. In it, he makes this statement:
We are not called to live the gospel but to believe the gospel and to follow the law in view of God’s mercies. Turning the gospel into law is a very easy thing for us to do; it comes naturally. That is why we can never take the Good News for granted.
Any form of doing the gospel is a confusion of categories. The law tells us what to do; the gospel tells us what God has done for us in Christ. When it comes to the question about how we relate to God, doing is the wrong answer.
In a self-centered society, it’s so incredibly easy for us to say we’re presenting the gospel when we’re really just repackaging religion. The cross is a center from which we naturally drift. We forget the gift of Jesus and we rely on the grit of our spirit. We spurn the offer of grace and we run to embrace the law. We overlook that Christianity is about what Jesus has done, not what we do.
If you’re a pastor, a church leader, or simply Joe Believer, I’d encourage you to simply believe the gospel and present the gospel. Trying to live it or turning it into law becomes a sticky mess.
Much like the Hershey’s Drops. I’m going back to the candy shell.
*Coming in 2017. Consult your physician before use.