The Difference Between Human Religion and Grace

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In his excellent primer to the doctrines of grace, PROOF, Daniel Montgomery compares God’s unconditional, sinner-transforming grace given in Christ, to our human version of religion. The primary difference between grace and religion, is that in religion, we are led to believe that our relationship with God is somehow maintained by our own deservedness; we are deluded into thinking that our acceptance from God is somehow based on what we do.

No — Actually, grace isn’t grace unless it is given freely. It isn’t grace if it is earned, maintained, kept, or forfeited by anything we do. It isn’t grace if it is concerned with our own merit whatsoever!

In fact, God’s gives grace to sinners simply because of the lavishness of his own love toward us (Eph 1:8). Montgomery explains this further:

Human religion allows us to delude ourselves into believing that, somewhere in the inmost recesses of our souls, there is some minuscule outpost of goodness that kick-starts God’s work in our lives — some prayer we can pray or righteous deeds we can do. Even if we admit that we can’t do anything to start God’s work, human religion assures us that surely there’s something we can do to keep it going. And so we work to manage our sins more effectively, to serve in more ministries at church, to multiply our theological knowledge, to keep artificial preservatives away from our family’s dinner plates — whatever it is that we think might merit more favor from God and others. When that happens, the good news of grace has been eclipsed by a delusion that’s not really good news at all…

The empty wisdom of human religion proclaims, “What goes around comes around. God helps those who help themselves. You get what you pay for” — but these are lies that lead only to bondage and despair. The gospel of grace speaks an entirely different word, a word that’s filled with paradox and mystery. By God’s grace, we get what someone else paid for. By grace, God helps those who not only can’t help themselves, they don’t even want to. By grace, what goes around stops at the foot of the cross, never to come around again.

What you need isn’t a better purpose, another prayer, or one more plan for self-improvement. What you need is what we all need — to “wake up” to God’s wonderful and undeserved love. You need to wake up to the freedom and joy of what God — on his own — has accomplished for us in Jesus. What you need is grace.

Marvelous, scary, amazing, astonishing words on grace here. “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor 15:10).