Can religion save us?

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By BibleAsk Team


The question of whether religion can save us is a profound one that touches on core elements of faith, salvation, and the role of Jesus Christ in the Christian doctrine. Christianity teaches that while religion encompasses practices, rituals, and traditions, salvation is not found in religion itself but through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This study delves into why religion alone cannot save us, and how Christ is central to salvation, supported by references from the Bible.

The Role and Limits of Religion

Religion typically involves a set of beliefs, practices, and rituals that guide individuals in their worship and moral conduct. It includes attending services, observing religious holidays, and participating in sacraments. However, the Bible emphasizes that these religious practices, while important, do not have the power to save.

A. The Limitations of Religion

Religion is a human construct designed to express faith and devotion, but it is insufficient to address the fundamental issue of sin. The Bible makes it clear that even the most devout religious practices cannot achieve righteousness on their own.

NKJV Reference:

  • Isaiah 64:6 (NKJV): “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.”

This verse highlights that human efforts, including religious practices, are inadequate to achieve true righteousness or salvation. Our best efforts are tainted by sin and cannot earn us favor with God.

B. Religion Versus Relationship with Christ

Christianity emphasizes that salvation is not about religious observance but about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship involves faith and trust in Christ’s redemptive work rather than merely following religious rituals.

NKJV Reference:

  • John 17:3 (NKJV): “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

Eternal life is described as knowing God and Jesus Christ, indicating that salvation is rooted in a personal relationship rather than in religious activities alone.

The Central Role of Christ in Salvation

According to Christian doctrine, Jesus Christ is the only means by which humanity can be reconciled to God and receive eternal life. His role in salvation is central and cannot be replaced or supplemented by religious practices.

A. Christ’s Atonement for Sin

The primary role of Christ in salvation is His sacrificial death on the cross, which atones for humanity’s sins. This atonement addresses the problem of sin and provides a means of redemption that cannot be achieved through religious observance alone.

NKJV Reference:

  • Romans 5:8 (NKJV): “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Christ’s death is a demonstration of God’s love and the means by which our sins are forgiven, underscoring the inadequacy of religious practices in securing salvation.

B. Christ as the Only Way to the Father

Jesus explicitly stated that He is the only way to God the Father. This exclusivity emphasizes that salvation is not available through any other means, including religious practices apart from Christ.

NKJV Reference:

  • John 14:6 (NKJV): “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”

This statement confirms that Jesus is the sole path to salvation and reconciliation with God, distinguishing Him from any religious system or practice.

C. The New Covenant Through Christ

The New Testament introduces a new covenant established by Christ, which replaces the old covenant of law. This new covenant offers forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus rather than adherence to religious laws.

NKJV Reference:

  • Hebrews 9:15 (NKJV): “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”

Christ’s role as the Mediator of the new covenant emphasizes that salvation and eternal inheritance are secured through His sacrifice and not through religious observance.

The Difference Between Religion and a Relationship with Christ

A. The Insufficiency of Legalistic Religion

Legalistic religion focuses on adhering to rules and rituals to achieve righteousness. However, the Bible teaches that no one can be justified by the law alone. True righteousness comes through faith in Christ, not through religious observance.

NKJV Reference:

  • Galatians 2:16 (NKJV): “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

This verse highlights that justification and salvation are not achieved through legalistic adherence to religious laws but through faith in Christ.

B. The Necessity of Personal Faith in Christ

Personal faith in Jesus Christ is essential for salvation. It involves recognizing Christ’s sacrifice, trusting in His resurrection, and establishing a relationship with Him. This personal faith distinguishes Christianity from mere religious observance.

NKJV Reference:

  • Acts 16:31 (NKJV): “So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”

This passage emphasizes that salvation is through personal belief in Jesus Christ.

C. The Transformative Power of Relationship with Christ

A relationship with Christ results in genuine transformation of character and spiritual renewal. This transformation is not achieved through religious rituals but through the changing work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.

NKJV Reference:

  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

Being in Christ brings about a radical transformation and character change demonstrating the difference between mere religious practice and a genuine relationship with Jesus.

Religion Versus Relationship: Biblical Insights

A. The Old Testament Perspective on Religion

In the Old Testament, religion involved following the Mosaic Law, which included various rituals and sacrifices. However, the prophets often criticized the people for their superficial observance of the law, emphasizing that true worship required a heart devoted to God rather than mere ritualistic practice.

NKJV Reference:

  • Isaiah 1:13-14 (NKJV): “Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.”

These verses indicate that God was displeased with ritualistic practices that lacked genuine devotion and righteousness.

B. The New Testament Emphasis on Relationship with Christ

The New Testament continues this theme by focusing on a relationship with Christ rather than mere religious observance. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their focus on external rituals while neglecting the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith.

NKJV Reference:

  • Matthew 23:27-28 (NKJV): “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

This criticism illustrates the contrast between outward religiosity and inward transformation through a relationship with Christ.

The Role of Good Works in the Christian Life

Good works and religious practices are important aspects of the Christian life, but they are the fruit of a genuine relationship with Christ rather than the means of achieving salvation. Works and obedience to the law are not a cause but an effect of salvation (Romans 3:31). 

A. The Role of Good Works

Good works are the natural outcome of a transformed life in Christ. While they do not save, they are evidence of a genuine faith and relationship with Jesus.

NKJV Reference:

  • Ephesians 2:8-10 (NKJV): “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Salvation is by grace through faith, and good works follow as a response to that grace.

B. The Danger of Relying on Works for Justifcation

Relying on works or religious rituals for salvation is a misunderstanding of the gospel. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned through human effort.

NKJV Reference:

  • Titus 3:5 (NKJV): “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”

Salvation is based on God’s mercy and the transforming changing work of the Holy Spirit, not on our own righteousness or religious efforts.

Conclusion

In summary, religion alone cannot save us. The Bible teaches that salvation is found solely through Jesus Christ. While religion involves various practices and rituals that can guide moral behavior and worship, it is insufficient for achieving salvation. The New Testament emphasizes that faith in Christ, rather than religious observance, is the key to eternal life. Good works and religious practices are important but are the result of a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, not the means to achieve salvation. Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection are central to the Christian understanding of salvation, and a personal relationship with Him is essential for eternal life.

NKJV Reference:

  • John 3:16 (NKJV): “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This verse encapsulates the core message of Christianity: salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, who provides everlasting life to those who believe in Him.

Check out the Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics. 

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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