On another trip, I was in Ethiopia. The week before our team arrived in the city of Chuko, the townspeople sacrificed nine cows. They felt this religious ritual would give them favor with God. In the nation of Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha, I visited the famous Monkey Temple that stands on a hill overlooking the city of Katmandu. I saw an old man diligently spinning prayer wheels. I witnessed a woman offering rice to a statue. I saw a monk burning incense. These individuals were trying to earn merit through human effort.
To many of us, it may seem strange to think that setting one animal free or killing another, that spinning wheels, offering rice, or burning incense could affect one’s status with God. But, beliefs like this are commonplace all over the world. A typical trait of every religious tradition is the need to perform a “special deed” or a “sacred ceremony” in order to be blessed by “the gods:” Muslims pray towards Mecca five times each day; Hindus offer incense to idols; Buddhists go on long pilgrimages. And for most religions, being on “god’s” good side requires a lot more than one or two simple rituals—there are whole lists of “to do’s”; Buddhists follow an eight-fold path; Hindus believe in karma; Jews keep the Torah; and Muslims impose Sharia law.
Each religion asks its followers to do special deeds and good works in order to keep “God” or “the gods” happy, to avert divine or cosmic wrath, and to atone for sin. Through these means, religion makes spiritual rituals the key to a successful walk with God. Spiritual rituals include things like fasting, prayer, penance, alms-giving, serving in the community, and generally doing good. As a person does all these things (and whatever other things in terms of moral laws and ethical codes that religion requires), religion promises the rewards of divine blessing and favor, with the ultimate reward being some form of “eternal life.”
Unfortunately, even Christianity has been turned into such a religion. The Christian “religion” often tells people they have to perform a special task in order to be blessed by God, to be saved from sin, and to be rewarded with eternal life.
Have you ever heard these messages preached?
All of these actions are good but none of them are the source of God’s blessing.The blessing of God comes through grace that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ. All of these actions are the result of a grace-filled blessed life, not the cause of it.