From first to last

Religion is powerful. As human beings, we want to believe that we can be in control and manage our own lives, that we can make our own way to God. Generally speaking, that is the point of a religion: to put in place a series of rules to live by that, by adhering to those rules, we can please God.

I had a similar conversation yesterday with a Muslim man. He started with the suggesting the idea that the most important thing that we can do in our life is to follow our religion. He told me that, whether we are Christian, Muslim, or Jew doesn’t make a difference. What matters is that we follow our religion to come to God.

We read through Jesus’s words to his disciples that he is the way, the truth, and the life. We read that Jesus said that no one can come to the Father except through him. We even read where Jesus said told Philip that if he had seen Jesus, he had seen the Father. Whoa…

My friend was pretty surprised as we read through all of these things. We discussed that there is a way to come to God, but it isn’t through the church, it isn’t through the mosque, and it isn’t through the synagogue. Instead, it is only through Christ. You see, through each of these religions, we effectively say, “I’ll do it – I’ll take care of it”, meaning that we will each be good enough to reach God, to please God.

But this is, of course, completely different from what Jesus says. Jesus essentially says, instead, “I did it – I took care of it”. In other words, it is done. It is already taken care of.

Meaning what?

Meaning that Jesus is the one who was sacrificed by God himself on the cross. That sacrifice was the payment for my sins. There is no more sacrifice required to be right before God. There is no more work that needs to be done. There are no more religious actions that we need to do.

So what is left to do? What is our role?

We are called into a proper relationship with God through repentance and through belief in what Jesus has done for us. He has done it all, he has taken care of everything, and now our job is to live by faith, to have faith that Jesus’s sacrifice has paid for my sins and that I am clean and right before God, and that his resurrection will precede my resurrection. I will live because he lives and I am found in him. I place my faith in Christ to save me from God’s justice and wrath on the day of judgment.

Paul says that we must live by faith:

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed —a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:17

Paul is quoting Habakkuk when he says that the righteous will live by faith, but he is echoing even the beginning of the promise that God gave to Abraham, that through Abraham would come many nations, that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky.

And so Abraham waited…and waited…and waited. And finally, God gave him a son through his wife Sarah that would be a fulfillment of the promise. Abraham and Sarah tried to fulfill God’s promise themselves through Hagar when they had Ishmael. In my estimation, this is similar to the way that religion works: “We’ll take care of it!” But by continuing to have faith, even despite our failings, God will fulfill his promises and we will be saved.

Like my Muslim friend, we each have a choice to make. That is how we ended our conversation yesterday. Do we believe in what Jesus said? Or do we declare him to be a liar? Do we believe that he is truly the way, the truth, and the life? Or do we choose our own path to try to reach God? Do we live by faith from first to the last? Or do we prefer our own religious practices? It is time to choose…

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