Buryats are tribal people, some of whom live in Siberia just north of Mongolia. A significant number of them are Buddhists. When my brothers and I visited that area of Russia in the early 1990’s we toured one of their shrines. We watched as the faithful would come into their sacred enclosure and begin walking a course which included a routine of touching certain objects, bowing, spinning a small cylinder, and opening and closing other devices. As I recall, their rites took about ten minutes to complete, all overseen by a robed Buddhist monk. By observing the adept way some of the worshipers completed their path, one concluded that they had gone through these rituals many times.
What is it about man that makes him religious? The heathen often have complicated rituals that they hold to. Some pray many times every day. Others make great personal sacrifices hoping for the acceptance of the gods. The religious impulse comes from the heart of man, which is not at rest without grace. The heart of man is troubled. It has been said that man has within him a God-shaped vacuum which can only be filled with God Himself. But the reality is that man’s heart is worse than a vacant place. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). Man’s heart is wicked and his heart is not at rest. “The wicked are like the troubled sea,” wrote Isaiah. The reason is that man’s natural wickedness is a perversion of how man was originally made to be. Yet wickedness is man’s present condition.
Here is where the gospel is completely different from all other religious messages about man and God. Whereas others endeavor to find acceptance with God by performance of rituals, doing good works, or giving offerings, the gospel is God’s offer to man to change his heart by grace. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9). This is indeed good news. The gospel declares that the promised Messiah of Israel is the Son of God who took our sins on His sinless self and made a perfect sacrifice to the great God before whom all will one day give account. That God is satisfied with what Jesus did for us is indicated in the scripture that says Jesus was “raised again for our justification.”
With this great salvation which is such good news, one wonders why the gospel is often neglected. The message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is too often missing in our religious services. It has been a problem since the days of the early church. The new believers were told that they needed to keep the law if they would be perfect. When Paul the Apostle learned how the gospel was being perverted, he wrote the inspired book of Galatians. He pulled no punches. “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6, 7).
It is as though these teachers told the believers that now that they were saved they had better straighten out and keep the law. And they were forward in telling them what the law was. Paul went on to pronounce a curse on those who perverted the message of the gospel. Then he got to the main issue with these Christians. “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:1-3).
The same question is appropriate for today. Now that we are saved, are we perfected by what we can do or by what God because of grace does in us? When we go for weeks and months and tell how people are to act and how they should seek for perfection, yet do not tie it directly to the gospel, we are falling into the same error that Paul rebuked in the Galatians. Jesus died on the cross for our salvation, which includes justification, cleansing, and ultimately glorification. It is a great salvation. And it comes by grace through faith, not of works.
So where is faith? S. D. Herron, the first president of Hobe Sound Bible College, said that faith must be the right kind of faith and it must also be faith in the right object. The right kind of faith is a trusting faith, willing to fully depend on what we believe. But faith must be in the right object. If the object of faith is weak, we will be let down. Other religions have faithful adherents but their trust is sadly misplaced. None of the rituals of the Buddhists in that far away shrine have the ability to atone for the sins of man. None of the prayers to false gods, regardless of how trusting, will bring any real holiness to a wicked heart.
We cannot go on what we feel like or what our heart tells us. The wise man wrote, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Pr. 28:16a). We can only trust in God’s word, which proclaims that the only real righteousness comes through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul repeated this truth over and over in his letters to the early believers. “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:9; see also Rom. 1:17, 3:22, 25, 4:5, 9, 11, 13, 9:30, 10:6, Gal. 5:5).
It is through faith in the gospel that we learn to crucify the flesh with its affection and lusts. It is through faith in the gospel that we learn to follow the winsomeness of Christ who “when he was reviled, reviled not again.” It is through faith in the gospel that we can “know him and the power of his resurrection.”
What is it that you need from God? Forgiveness? Cleansing? Stability? Guidance? Do not look to your efforts or your abilities. Do not try to find any grace by a more strict adherence to the law. Look to God by faith. Trust the truths of the gospel. Great grace is available. Charles Wesley put this truth to verse:
Father of Jesus Christ, my Lord,
My Savior and my Head;
I trust in Thee, whose powerful Word
Hath raised Him from the dead.
In hope, against all human hope,
Self desperate, I believe;
Thy quickening Word shall raise me up,
Thou shalt Thy Spirit give.
Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees,
And looks to that alone;
Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries, “It shall be done.”