Christianity’s Gracious Difference from Oppressive Pagan Religion
The blessings of God include clarity of mind and soul. There is freedom from the oppressing power of sin, and its influence to destroy. While the old man within us yearns to drag us back into the clutches of death and Hell the assurance we receive in Christ is that if we are united to our Lord by faith no created person or affect can separate us from the love of our glorious Redeemer. These truths allow us to receive an understanding of the world around us that should change the way we see the fallenness of man and all that takes place downstream from sin’s wages. In some measure this has the possibility of increasing our lamentation for the reality of the world as it is. When you know the way things ought to be it exacerbates the bother when men choose to do otherwise. There is a meme around that images a Ph.D Historian sitting in a comfy wingback that contains a tagline which reads:
Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.
As we continue to look at and consider paganism and all its tricks and trades there is a need for Christians to read and learn about these things with discernment. We need to not only take honestly their teachings, but warn with wisdom those caught in the thought patterns which inhabit the blindness operating within false religions. As has been noted before that begins first with better comprehending what the true religion teaches. I’ve heard catechisms referred to in the past as the skeleton upon which to hang the meat of the word, and there is a lot of truth to that.
To illustrate this let’s take a look at what the Children’s Catechism does when it declares to our elementary kids in questions 4 and 5 the reasons why we are to love what God loves:
Q. 4. How can you glorify God?
A. By loving him and doing what he commands.
Q. 5. Why ought you to glorify God?
A. Because he made me and takes care of me.
Training the minds of young ones to see the relationship they have with the one who made the Heavens and the Earth, and how He made them to be His, is helpful in then teaching them why because of this mercy our response is to first love and then obey. Getting things in that order is what really maintains the wall of separation between paganism and Christianity. While we can make the love of God for His people into a saccharine humanistic mess it doesn’t need to be so. When the apostle John defines Jehovah as love it is in the context of him saying, “. . . and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God”. Our understanding of what love is comes directly from the renewal of the image broken in the Fall. Spiritual renewal brings with it an eye which in its heart desires not the assuaging of the fury and wrath of judgment, but of the winsome hope of a child who brings something to their father, and seeing it received with joy and comfort engages in mutual encouragement. There is a peace that alone is available in the Christian faith that explains several things about the world in which we live.
If we would note one particular attitude that marks the believer out from the unbeliever it is anger, and its cousin disappointment. The word disappointment comes into the English language from Middle French , meaning “undo the appointment,” or “remove from office.” Taken in that way it speaks to the nature of what it is men are missing when they are alienated from God. It explains so much about why they lash out in anger at the free offer of the gospel. They in their depths of soul believe that the Lord has disappointed them, ripped away what they think is rightfully theirs by virtue of birth. The image of God remains even in dead sinners. The problem is that it is marred and shattered by sin. Through this we see why it is that false religions nearly always in their defining salvation have as their hope the bettering of the plan laid out by the gods they make. There is a competition engaged in there. The created being wishes to equal the creation itself. As paganism expands its defining of human nature it then brings into the mind an idea that as the individual is co-operating in the dominion the person is increasing in knowledge and stature to such a degree that eventually they themselves become as god themselves. There is a big problem. Humanity can never become divinity. No matter how hard they try, no matter how much they reimagine the deity in their own image the difference between the two are inescapable. Hence why if you were going to tagline Christianity and Paganism you could put contentment under the true faith and disappointment under the other.
Seeking the divine within yourself will always lead to a never ending running for a finish line that never comes.
To go back to the Children’s Catechism for a second we hear the good news of Christ in that order of love and obey. We know passages like John 15:12 and its cousins Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28. Each of them in their own way illustrate for us this point. God does not ask us do something that He Himself has not already done. Why do we love God? Because He first loved us, and gave Himself for us. So what do we do in response? Luke 18:10-14 tells the story of the Pharisee and the Publican. We know v. 13 well, “God be merciful to me a sinner”. V. 14 really gets to the point being made this morning as it reminds us, “. . . for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” As long as men desire to be as god they will find themselves disappointed, unable to receive the place they want for themselves. However, when we hear what Jesus is teaching His people, that recognizes who we truly are, sinners saved by grace, those who have received by gift and grant the benefits won by the Messiah who humbled Himself, even to the point of the cross, and was obedient not out of hope of gaining back His place, but knowing that the promise had already been made. Not my will, but thy will be done summarizes the difference at a foundational level between those who go back to their house justified, and those who continue to, in anger, lash out against the love of God found in Christ Jesus the perfect Son and Redeemer.
In closing, we hear with fresh ears the covenantal mercy of Matthew 11:29-30:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Another word to close:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church