I was participating in a Christian leadership forum this week when one of the leaders began to speak with passion, describing the new religion of the world. It is a merciless religion, he said, a religion condemns upon accusation, a religion that smears and judges without a fair trial. It is a religion that is sweeping our nation. It is a religion that is far from the cross.
The religion of the world does not understand the concept of “presumed innocent until proven guilty.” Rather, you are presumed guilty based on mere accusation, with no way to erase the stain even when falsely accused.
The religion of the world is self-righteous, and so it has no problem pointing a harsh finger at others, not understanding that when you point the finger at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at you. And because the religion of the world doesn’t understand mercy, it shows no mercy.
In stark contrast, the religion of the cross condemns all of us as guilty – completely unclean and unworthy in ourselves – but offers us hope and redemption and rehabilitation.
It says, “You have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfection, and you deserve the sentence of death, but Jesus has paid the price for your sins, and if you will turn to him and plead for mercy, He will give you a new heart.”
As for the religion of the world, it knows nothing of a new heart, nothing of recovery, nothing of restoration.
In the eyes of the world, if you were once guilty, you’re always guilty; if you were once tarnished, you’re always tarnished; if you were once untrustworthy, you’re always untrustworthy.
That’s why the world never forgave or trusted Chuck Colson. Once a con man, always con man; once a villain, always a villain; once a felon, always a felon.
God looked at Colson and saw a guilty sinner with a broken heart, restoring him and making him whole, raising him up as one of the most significant prophetic voices in the last generation as well as key leader in prison form.
In contrast, the religion of the world deals only with evil behavior, failing to realize that behind the evil behavior is an evil heart. It looks at symptoms, not causes, at bad fruits, not bad roots. Consequently, it is unable to properly diagnose the patient, let alone cure the patient.
All it can do is condemn without offering compassion and shame without offering the hope of salvation. It rebukes but cannot restore; it doesn’t understand forgiveness.
The religion of the world is absolutely right to be outraged over the inexcusable behavior of a Larry Nassar, a man not just accused but found guilty by the court. And it is totally understandable that the parents of the abused girls, let alone the girls themselves, would want Nassar to feel the full weight of the law. He should, he must, and he will.
But that is as far as the world’s religion can go. It cannot recognize its own sin (how many of those condemning Nassar spend hours watching pornography, where the grown children of other parents are sexually abused, even if willfully?). And it cannot see how someone as wicked as Nassar could ever be forgiven by God, even while spending the rest of his life behind bars.
Yet the religion of the cross says to someone like Larry Nassar, “What you have done is horrific beyond words, and not only do you deserve to forfeit the rest of your life, you deserve the punishment of hell. Yet if you will humble yourself, acknowledge your guilt, ask for mercy through the blood of Jesus, and turn from your evil ways, the rest of your days – even behind bars – can have meaning. Your story can even be used to stop other abusers, thereby saving the lives of many children and young adults. And you can enjoy total freedom in the world to come.”
This is totally foreign to the religion of the world which is ruthless and not redemptive, passing judgment in a moment and then holding onto that judgment for life.
What it fails to understand is that the way it has judged others, it too will be judged. And so those who are accusers one day will soon find themselves among the accused.
The religion of the cross is infinitely higher, not only exposing the sin of the obvious transgressors like Larry Nassar but also exposing the sin of the hypocritical church-goer.
In light of God’s holy laws, it declares all of us guilty. In the words of Paul, “Now we know that whatever the law says speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God's judgment. For no one will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law” (Rom. 3:19-20).
Yet it does not leave us there. It calls us to repentance. It offers us new life. It promises redemption.
This is the religion we must preach to the world – the religion of the cross.
The religion of the world brings death. The religion of the cross brings life out of death.