Some brief extracts from “More Jesus, Less Religion” by Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton.
We live in a fallen world – there is no point in pretending that the dark valley doesn’t exist. Magical solutions are not the answer and do not stop the pain. Life is not meant to be an easy ride! Healthy faith acknowledges the supernatural power of God and does not need miraculous intervention to prove that God is real. The healthy believer does not look for God to magically change the circumstances, but looks to him in the midst of trials.
When Jesus was involved, people’s lives were changed and the established religious order was upset.
The expectation of an easy life from God has produced more agnostics and atheists than has any other false belief. When people live faithfully but suffer pain and discomfort anyway, many turn from Christianity. They never grasp that a healthy faith does not shield a believer from pain, but rather gives a new perspective on life and a renewed trust in God that lessens the pains of existence. Each time a negative event occurs, God can use it to bring greater faith and deeper peace. But what many people hear is entirely different. They hear that acceptance of Christ or belief in God causes all problems to vanish; they learn that present problems go away once a person has turned his or her life over to God. But it just isn’t so. That isn’t reality. For many, a belief in God and the practice of faith are just fine until tragedy strikes. Then comes the realisation that the practice of faith does not accumulate brownie points of protection. It does not guarantee God’s intervention. Bad things do happen to good people, and it has nothing to do with degrees of faith. We live in a world where big animals eat little animals. Decay, rot and death are realities. Faith provides perspective, perseverance and purpose through the tough times, but it will not invariably protect anyone from the hard realities of life.
When Jesus walked this earth, he worked to get the focus off “good” people doing what appeared to be “good things” and to get their focus back on God. Many people in first-century Israel were pointing to the rules; Jesus pointed to a God who wanted a relationship with his people. Religious professionals focused on the law (legalism); Jesus focused on the Lawgiver who knew our hearts and offered us grace (and freedom) in the midst of our failures. A healthy, growing faith is always focused on the person of God himself, not on cheap substitutes. A healthy faith begins and ends in God, not in rules or regulations or sheer, raw duty. Jesus, not religion, is at the core of a robust Christian faith.