In this clip from the Gospel: Recovering the Power of Christianity study, Pastor and Current President of the Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear, explains the difference between religion and the gospel.
The entire video is above, and the complete transcript is below.
You see, religion and gospel both change you, but in two entirely different ways. Religion works on you externally because it is trying to get you to shape your behavior. The gospel works internally and it changes your behavior by changing your heart.
We say it’s the difference between mechanical change and organic change. Mechanical change is change from the outside. Imagine if you were putting a lot of pressures – it’s an illustration I’ll use – trying to bend a metal bar. That’s the way religion changes you.
The gospel, by contrast, changes your behavior by changing the attitudes and the affections of your heart. It does what what religion cannot do.
You see, religious change won’t work because, even though it can coerce your behavior, it won’t actually change your motivations. And what God wants is not a group of people that conform in their behavior and mechanically do what they’re supposed to do. God wants a group of people to love Him, love Him with all of their heart, their soul, and their mind.
That’s the great commandment isn’t it? To love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. Martin Luther, the great reformer, always talked about the dilemma of the great commandment. The dilemma of the great commandment is God is commanding us to do something that, by definition, we really can’t be commanded to do. Because if we love something then we don’t need to be commanded to do it. You never have to command me to eat a steak or to kiss my wife or to take a nap, play with my kids. I love those things.
He said, the flip side of that is, if we don’t really love it, then no command of God could actually change that. You can’t be commanded to love things that you don’t naturally love. The dilemma is: how do we learn to love God again?
That’s what the Law cannot do. The Law is like railroad tracks that show us the direction we’re supposed to go, but they’re powerless to move the freight along the tracks.
The gospel is the power that changes the heart so that we learn to love God and it gives us the power where obeying the commandments of God become instinctive. The gospel changes us, not by commanding us something, but by revealing something to us. We say: we’re not changed by exhortation; we’re changed by revelation.
“We learn to love God“, Scripture says, 1 John 4:19, “because He first loved us.” Growing in our awareness of the love of God is what will produce love for God in us and through us.