What's Tony Thinking

The End of To-Do List Religion


Here’s an excellent read for this Sunday. It is from my friend Jason Micheli and his blog at Substack, “Tamed Cynic.” You can subscribe at Substack.

This summer the lectionary takes the church through Paul’s epistle to the Romans, as good an occasion as any to attend to gospel. I recently taught the preaching class for a cohort of licensed local pastors. As part of the session, I provided them this handout. If it’s true that our natural inertia will always drift away from the gospel, then it’s always wise to revisit how to spot its imposters.

The good news of the gospel is that you can rest in the work of Christ Jesus. Faith is the state of being grasped by the new situation made possible by eschatological promise. There is now no sin other than forgiven sin. And there is now no work that is necessary for you to do for anyone other than for your neighbor. The good news of the gospel is that you can rest in the work of Christ and look to the future as promise rather than threat. Anything else, anything extra added to the finished work of Jesus Christ for you, the apostle Paul asserts, is anathema.



Once you understand the offense of the gospel and the attraction of the law, you realize that, as the church, we are always on the precipice of the very same heresy by which the Christians in Galatia were led astray from the God who called them in and through the gospel. We’re forever tempted to rip the pillow out from underneath your head, to give you something you must do, to prevent you from resting in Christ and his righteousness alone.

Therefore, it’s important to learn how to recognize a false gospel.


1. If it makes you anxious or afraid, it’s another gospel.

2. If it leaves you feeling exhausted or burn-out or guilty, it’s some other gospel.

3. If it insists that in order to be good Christian, you must belong to this political party, you must not support that candidate, you should have this interpretation of scripture for that issue, you ought to abstain from these critical theories, it’s a different gospel.

4. If it’s about your behavior rather than Christ’s, it’s a counterfeit gospel .

5. If it’s about your need to trust in anything other than Christ’s saving work for you, it’s not the gospel.

6. If— and I say this for all the Mainline preachers out there— if what you are preaching can be true without requiring the shed blood of Jesus Christ for sinners or his bodily resurrection for our justification, it’s no gospel at all.


1. If the message is tied inextricably to the personality or celebrity of the messenger, it’s a false gospel.

2. If it speaks of the Spirit apart from the Spirit bearing witness to the words and work of Jesus Christ, it’s a phony gospel.

3. If it lowers the bar of what God expects us, removing the accusation of the law and softening Christ’s commandments, such that we’re not pulled to our knees in need of a savior, it’s a bogus gospel.

4. If it makes you and me the primary active agents of God’s redemptive work — where we continue the Kingdom movement begun by the dead Jesus— it’s a fake gospel.

5. If it wants peace without grace (that is, without going through frank acknowledgment of sin), it’s a disordered gospel.

6. If it’s conditional (If you’re good, God will love you vs. Because God loves you, God will make you good), it’s the opposite of the gospel.

7. If it exhorts or implores or advises rather than announces, if it gives you a To Do List rather than proclaims a message of Done For You, it is anathema.

Any of the above and you know the message has been turned inside out. The good news of life, as Paul writes, has been perverted into “a ministry of death.”

The gospel is the end of To Do List Religion.

I (Tony here) like this very much, though I worry, just a bit, that it leaves one big item on our “To-Do” list, which is “Get The Right Theology.” Perhaps God’s grace is available for those whose theology isn’t quite up to snuff.

But, overall, Jason’s point taken. So, dear ones, rest in the Lord and be at peace with one another.

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