My family and I have driven to Chicago on several occasions. On those trips it is hard not to notice the significant number of billboards filling the horizon for miles, as the big city is approached. Do you read billboards? I do, and I suspect most people do. I recently saw a couple billboards in Bloomington that really caught my eye (since they were on a religious theme). Both were promoting a local religious group.
The first billboard said: "It's about relationships...not religion." Pretty catchy, some might say. Well, it made me scratch my head a little. I've always understood Christianity to include both. Consider James 1:27 - "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." Genuine religion must be connected to relationships or it is vain! True religion is not about seclusion from other people, but it is about seeking what is best for the people in your life. That's what love is, right? Christianity certainly includes worshiping God "in spirit and truth" (John 4:24), but there is so much more to our religion than this (or at least there should be!). Children of God must work together peacefully and joyfully as a body, with each part (or member) fulfilling its God-given function (cf. I Cor. 12:14ff).
As I continued driving through town, I saw another billboard from the same religious group: "It's about grace...not guilt." I can almost hear people saying: "That's right! We need positive preaching on grace and not all that negative lecturing on sin!" But, in truth, isn't there a need for both? Dear friends, how can anyone properly appreciate God's grace without first understanding what it means to be guilty? Without guilt, there isn't even any need for grace! Romans 3:23 is still in God's word - "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We all deserve eternal destruction! None are worthy of a heavenly home! None are righteous, but all are guilty of sin (i.e., breaking God's laws; cf. Rom. 3:10)! And that message should be preached, along with Romans 3:24, which is also included in the Scriptures - "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." The New Testament declares (and we must teach) that anyone may access God's grace through an obedient, living faith (cf. Rom. 5:1,2; James 2:14-26). So, what should our preaching and teaching be about--guilt or grace? Both! We cannot properly preach guilt without extending God's grace, but neither can we properly comprehend the graciousness of God without understanding our wretchedness before Him on our own.
As in many areas of life, I believe balance is key here for both of these billboards. Christians today need an understanding that their religion should go hand-in-hand with their relationships. Our focus must be on pleasing God (not self), which will include serving others and humbly worshiping Him as the New Testament prescribes. Also, we must speak the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15), and doing such will require us to "convince, rebuke, [and] exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (II Tim. 4:2). Sin must be rebuked and people must be exhorted to obey God's way of salvation (i.e., grace through faith).
May we not be misled by catchy slogans or alluring alliteration. "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (II Thess. 5:21).