Regeneration verses Religion


by Matt Slick

This article is an attempt to compare regeneration with religion. What I mean by this is that the regenerate are true Christians, indwelt by God. And in the context of this article when I refer to "religion" I am referring to the overarching church structure and authority imposed upon people in such groups as Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, etc. Of course, within true Christian churches, there are certainly the regenerate. But for the sake of this article, I'm trying to contrast true Christianity with man's religious organizations.

Regeneration is sometimes at odds with religion. We could say that regeneration is the work of God and religion is the work of man. In regeneration, the person who has trusted in Christ has been changed. He is born again (John 3:3-8). He is made a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). Something happens to him internally with the indwelling of God (John 14:23). As a result of God's work of regeneration, the Christian lays aside his old self which was corrupted, and he puts on the new self which "has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth," (Eph. 4:22-23). Because of this, he then desires new things (2 Cor. 5:17) including the desire to honor God, to not sin, and to be more like Jesus (Romans 7:21–25).

Religion, on the other hand, is a construct of rules and regulations, of church membership and requirements that are often steeped in tradition. Where regeneration affects the heart, religion affects the hand. Regeneration affects what the person is internally, but religion affects what the person does externally. The regenerate seeks to do the will of God from his heart. But, religion aims to bring the person into submission via its rituals, requirements, and commands. In this sense, the church is external. Regeneration is internal.

  Regeneration Religion
Behavior Behavior is the result of a new heart and Scripture Behavior based on rules and regulations of the Church
Change Change of person internally, new heart Change of person externally, no new heart
Church Membership In body of Christ by faith In church via submission to Church requirements
Salvation Relationship with God Relationship with the Church
Salvation Dependent on God alone without works Dependent on God and works defined by the church
Salvation Cannot be lost since dependent on Christ Can be lost since dependent on the person
Sin Desire to avoid from the heart Desire to avoid to be faithful to the Church
Submission Submission to God from the heart Submission to God through the Church

Of course, different people will disagree with the way I worded things. I expect that to be honest. After all, it's difficult to word everything perfectly. But, I hope you get the point. You see, I'm trying to contrast the idea that there's a difference between God's work of regeneration in us and man's work of religion outside of us.

License to sin?

Many times those who are loyal to religious systems accuse the regenerate of using God's grace as a license to sin. This is not what true Christians teach nor is it what we desire. True Christians do not believe that God's grace is a license to do evil. We want to please God, not sin against him. That's what regeneration means.

But if you, dear reader, are not aware of this, perhaps it is because you are not regenerate.  I am not accusing. I'm only trying to provoke self-examination.

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  

The accusation from the religious that say the regenerate view their security in Christ as an excuse to sin is a manifestation of the difference between the two positions. The merely religious think that righteousness is through external means such as keeping rituals, submitting to church authority, church membership, and by keeping a list of obligations. Because of this, they believe that their righteousness is maintained by their effort with compliance with Laws. The religious then condemn those who believe in the security of Christ, who don't need to keep Laws to be saved. That is why they accuse the regenerate of believing they have a license to sin. But, this is a false accusation.

Nevertheless, as Christians we struggle against our sin as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).  Why?  Because we are regenerate.  We don't need man's religion to do that.




About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.