I’ll not forget the first time I saw the film, The Mission. The music by Ennio Morricone is among the most beautiful and haunting you’ll ever hear. The scenery is stunning. The acting is top-shelf. The story (essentially historical) is heartrending. What struck me more than anything else, however, is the religious symbolism of a scene (below) in which a former slave trader and murderer (played by Robert De Niro) is doing penance. Since he chose his crime, his priest tells him, he must also choose his penance in order to find redemption, and the scene records his self-inflicted punishment as he claws his way back to morality and God’s favor. Though it ends with a moving portrayal of forgiveness on a human level, the scene provides a vivid and tragic example of works righteousness, of Roman Catholicism, of Islam, of American morality, of legalism of any kind. There’s no grace here—at least not from a God and Savior. Instead, there is religion at its most hopeless and damning, experienced every day by billions who are depending on their own determination and suffering to atone for their sins—something they can never achieve.
Contrary to this moving scene, no human can earn righteousness with God, regardless of his supposed goodness or penance (which is absolutely foreign to the Scriptures). Nor can any human “release” another from his sins. Indeed, despite the scene’s opening lines, sin is more than the weight of a guilty conscience that must be appeased, as though one must and can forgive himself. Rather, sin is an offense—it is rebellion!—against God. He needs to be appeased, and that’s exactly what the death of His beloved Son accomplished. Nothing else will suffice. What people need, then, is the grace of God extended through Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who died as a sacrifice to pay the entire penalty of our sins (John 1:29; 1 John 4:10). They need to turn away from their futile works and embrace the gospel, as the Bible repeatedly says:
“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
“And there is salvation in no one else [in no one but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)
That’s Christianity—free salvation provided by Jesus Christ’s substitutionary death and received by faith alone. The sort of religious works depicted in The Mission, however, will only lead to condemnation. Regardless of your religious background, if you see yourself in this scene, I urge you to flee to the gospel and find forgiveness, full and free, in Jesus Christ.
Filed under: Devotional Thoughts, Grace, Islam, Legalism, Roman Catholicism, The Cross, The Gospel, You Tube | Tagged: Ennio Morricone, Grace, Legalism, Penance, Religion, Robert De Niro, Roman Catholicism, The Gospel, The Mission |