“We’re not preaching religion,” the street preacher said. “Religion makes you self-righteous.”
He was correct that religion can make you very self-righteous. When someone believes they’ve been saved because of their religion or because of some religious act or acts they’ve performed, it means they believe it was something inherent within themselves that was responsible for their salvation, which means they were ultimately responsible for their own salvation (making them their own saviours, or at least their own partial saviours).
“If it at all depends on your own doing… it will leave you condemned,” he continued. And, again, he was absolutely right. If there’s anything at all that someone thinks they have to do in order to be saved, it means they believe the Gospel is a proposition rather than a proclamation, and that they ultimately believe in salvation by works because it means they think they’ve been saved by their own religious act or acts (which, again, would make them their own — at least partial — saviour), and salvation by works doesn’t save anyone when it comes to Paul’s Gospel.
For those who don’t know, religion is basically anything at all that one thinks they have to do — be it believing, behaving, worshiping, and/or sacrificing — in order to get right with God or to be given salvation by God. Simply put, religion makes salvation a transaction rather than a gift: if we do this particular thing or set of things, then God will give us salvation in return. If someone thinks they have to choose to do anything at all in order to be saved, they’re making a transaction with God the method of how they’re saved rather than simply accepting that Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent burial and resurrection on the third day, is actually what saved us.
Now, at first glance, the preacher might agree with everything I wrote above. But after looking closer, he might notice the word “believing” in the list of religious acts I mentioned, and realize he’s not so sure he agrees with me after all. But the truth is, if you have to choose to believe the right thing in order to be saved, it means that there’s something you have to do on your own in order to be saved, and as he himself explained, if it at all depends on your own doing, it can’t save you. Yes, it’s certainly true that happening to organically come to a belief in a particular fact isn’t a religious act in and of itself, but having to do something — anything at all — in order to be saved means salvation would be a transaction, and so having to choose to believe that something they don’t currently believe to be true actually is true (which really isn’t even possible, but that’s a whole other discussion) in order to be saved couldn’t be anything other than a transaction one would be making with God for their salvation.
You see, while still claiming that salvation is all because of Christ, the preacher and his fellow “evangelists” also like to talk about how we have to “make a decision for Jesus” or “accept the gift God is offering us before it’s too late” in order to be saved. Yet, as he himself put it, if it at all depends on your own doing, it can’t save you, and being required to make a decision to believe something specific is the very definition of having to depend on one’s own doing (since they claim that one can’t be saved without doing just that). There’s no way around it: if someone has to decide to believe the right thing about what Christ accomplished on the cross in order to be saved, it means that, in the end, they’ve ultimately been saved by their own decision to believe the right thing about what Christ accomplished on the cross rather than simply been saved by what Christ accomplished on the cross (since, if it was simply what Christ accomplished on the cross that saved them, their decision to believe the right thing about it would be irrelevant and everyone would be saved regardless of what they believed about it). Yes, it’s true that Christ’s death and resurrection were still necessary, according to their view, because He still needed to perform the first step of our salvation for it to work. But when it all comes down to it, they insist (even if they don’t seem to realize they’re insisting) that it’s ultimately up to us to complete our salvation by contributing the final step of our salvation: deciding to believe the right thing about Jesus Christ and what He did (because if we don’t do that, we can’t be saved).
If only they understood that Paul’s Gospel is simply a proclamation of Good News rather a proposition of potential good news (as long as we do our own part and decide to believe the right thing), they wouldn’t be preaching the very religion to the crowds that they’re telling their audience they’re not preaching. Sadly, none of them have even the slightest understanding of what the end result of Paul’s Gospel is: for as, because of what Adam did, everyone is mortal and hence sinful, even so, because of what Christ did, everyone will be made immortal and hence sinless (which is what salvation under this Gospel is all about), although each in their own order — first the body of Christ, at the Rapture; then the sleeping members of the Israel of God, at the resurrection of the just; and then everyone else, at the end of the ages when Christ destroys death and God becomes All in all.
Of course, if God has elected them for membership in the body of Christ, He’ll “open their eyes,” so to speak, and give them the faith to truly understand and believe what Paul’s Gospel actually means. But it is important for us to not be judgemental of them if God doesn’t do this. We have to remember that faith itself does not come out of ourselves, but is rather the gift of God. If faith was something we had to choose to have — or something we had to build up enough of inside ourselves — in order to be saved, it would ultimately be a work that we could self-righteously boast in (and if it was something that some of us simply naturally possessed while others didn’t, it would mean we were saved by our own naturally-occurring faith, and that those who don’t have naturally-occurring faith inside themselves couldn’t ever be saved). But even if God hasn’t elected them for membership in the church known as the body of Christ, we know that even these ”evangelists” will experience salvation at the end of the ages because of what Christ accomplished, since that’s what Paul’s Gospel is all about.
Besides, the truth is, having to choose to believe that Christ’s death for our sins, and subsequent burial and resurrection, actually saved us would be the biggest religious work one could do, and it isn’t even possible for someone to do that on their own, because the god of this world blinds the minds of the unbelieving so that the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, doesn’t shine unto them, as Paul explained. And while these “evangelists” haven’t believed it yet themselves, because they don’t have faith that what Christ did saved us all, but instead have faith in their own faith for their own individual salvation, Christ’s death for our sins includes their sin of unbelief, so they’ve also already been ransomed (and when a ransom is paid, everyone for whom it’s been paid is guaranteed to go free whether they believe it or not, unless the one who paid the ransom has been lied to).
Of course, those of us in the body of Christ also know the reason for their confusion when it comes to this topic. The truth is, while everyone will eventually experience salvation, it’s also true that not everyone will experience salvation, and the lack of understanding of how these two seemingly contradictory yet equally accurate statements can both be true makes it easy to misunderstand what the various passages in Scripture which teach the latter statement are actually talking about. But in the end, they’ll come to grasp it, even if they miss out on the special salvation that the body of Christ has been given.