This week we continue our sermon series in Romans with Romans chapter 2.
Have you heard the term “deconstruction” used in Christian circles? It is now used of those who have deconstructed in their faith. Things happen and, rather than be strengthened, they let those things be justification for abandoning their faith. Many have done so; it's almost a cultural trend.
I recently read a book by a person who did that. She was connected to a ministry I had been a part of. It was an interesting read, well-written, sad, because things I think should cause you to press into your walk with Jesus, she saw as a reason to give up on Jesus. The central issue for this lady was the way church leadership acted hypocritically and overbearing. She detailed some gut-wrenching things that she should never have supported, such as people telling her who could and couldn’t be in her wedding, what careers she should and should not pursue, how she should act and conduct herself with her husband.
You see, she sacrificed so much to serve them, and when some things happened that they disagreed with, they simply left her, abandoned her. She was shocked by the coldness they so quickly showed her. She was disillusioned by that.
In one passage she speaks about the leader and his wife, and their perceived manipulation, and says, simply, “They were not who we thought they were.” There was a lot of hypocrisy and people-pleasing going on in this church and in her. I’m not here to debate if her view is correct or not. For the sake of argument, let’s assume she is right. So, what do you make of religious people who do wrong things?
Why would God allow that? How can they get away with it?!
Last week Romans 1:18-32 confronted pagan rebellion against God. Things that are clearly wrong. This week Paul will confront sanctified rebellion. Godlessness connected to religion. There are times people become empty vessels, they have the outward form of godliness but nothing on the inside. There are strong warnings in this passage for people like that.
The self-righteous who hide behind a mask of godliness and positions of privilege will be judged by God’s law on what they have done; they will be rendered excuseless, and God’s justice calls us to remove our self righteousness and trust him wholeheartedly. Abandon pretense. Abandon trying to look a certain part. Rest in him completely.
Paul is in a section of Romans that is preparing the people for the good news of the gospel. He began dealing with Gentiles, who were known for being outside the people of God. They did not have God’s law, they did know his commands, no word on what life was supposed to look like. Many kinds of immorality. Paul confronts them and tells them they have no excuse. But Paul now turns his attention to another group of people–the Jews.
The Jewish people were the people of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
They were the people God revealed himself to. He made covenant promises with them. He gave them the law and told them to live by it. He gave them the tabernacle with instructions on how to worship, make sacrifices and live before the Lord. He is speaking to the people who grew up in church. Went to Sunday school. Did VBS and won the prizes for Bible memory. But it is possible to be in that, and not following God.
God’s Holy Standard Cuts Through
We live in a judgmental culture. That is what cancel culture is. Judgment is pronounced on others. But I would also add that the cancel culture is a hypocritical culture. People judge and call out others and then they go and do the exact same things.
Judgmentalism is not justice. It is asymmetrical in its exaction. It views what others have done as extremely wrong, and what you do as not that bad. It typically interprets one’s actions in the most favorable light, knowing the correct motives and desires that led to their action, but it looks on others most unfavorably, assuming impure motives and desires, and actions that were not appropriate for the occasions.
It’s more blatant when you say one shouldn’t do something, and then you do the very same thing.
These religious people were condemning others and yet doing the same thing others do. Idolatry is idolatry. Whether you worship and follow the singer of the popular band, or you worship and follow a religious figure, it’s still idolatry. Whether you get depressed and do drugs, or get depressed and go start a million-dollar business, both can be done to avoid God. Go out and live in licentiousness or you go out and condemn people for peccadillos, both are missing the mark.
It is right to condemn murder, and immorality, and the many things that Paul speaks of in Romans 1. Self-righteousness sees that one is altogether different and altogether better than others. There is no coming beside and helping. It is pure judgment. Paul is out to destroy a self-justifying attitude.
Can look at those who have done bad things and say, well I am certainly not as bad as that. It is certainly revealing when we take the worst people in the world to make ourselves feel better.
Paul named some big sins in Romans 1:18-32. Murder, haters of God, sexual immorality. But he also mentioned covetousness, envy, strife, gossip, slander, pride, disobedience to parents (kids, God wants you to obey and honor your parents- if you are smart you will do that. They are not perfect and have faults, but nobody cares more about you than your parents. And people who tell you others are fools). These are things that everyone deals with and has to fight against. God’s word cuts through everyone. He will hold everyone accountable to his word. He is seeking to adjust their hardened hearts.
Hard and unrepentant heart–a resistant attitude denoting unreceptivity, stubbornness, obstinacy. Unchanging. Steadfast on doing the same thing you have always done. Hard soil needs softening. Repels water.
God wants you to have a soft heart. Willing to receive his word. A receptive heart that seeks his will. A heart that changes. A hard heart is a dead heart. As surely as your heart beats so also should your heart admit change. How bad a hard heart is in relationships.
It’s not that we can't say certain things are wrong, but it is the attitude we approach those with. We deal sympathetically with others; we treat them as a fellow sinner.
Humility. God’s law has something to say about how we live. It corrects us. Confession of sin. Not confessing is pride and a hard heart.
Patience. Judgmentalism is not patient. Rebukes people and calls for immediate change. One of the things that I have seen the church most needs. Patience. Not going to change what God’s word says. I want to encourage you in that, pray for you in that, tell you what it says. I'm going to patiently wait for you and love you.
Don’t mistake God’s patience for his approval. Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Judgmental spirit. Can certainly seem pious. It often reveals a pharisaical spirit. I have seen in churches “I just want to be with some really solid people.” Good impulse. But why are you unwilling to be with those who struggle? And do you see right there that you have a struggle to be around people who are struggling?
Many today want people to preach on marriage, preach on financial responsibility, preach on conservative values, but when we begin talking about following Christ, reading your Bible with others, praying for one another they all of a sudden disappear. They are no more interested in following Jesus than the rest of the world is. Don't like what the Gentiles are doing, but not really interested in doing what the law says either.
Want to know grace. Consider the mercy and patience that God has shown to you.
God will judge the religious community according to his law as well. They don’t get a pass. Nothing is hidden from him. He will judge them based on what they have done. Not what they have told others, but what they have done, and how they have done it. God knows all things. Nothing escapes his gaze. He doesn’t just see through the curtain and into your house; he sees into your very heart.
Privilege a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. Prince and the Pauper. Special Seal. Holds up and is suddenly treated as royalty.
The Prince and the Pauper. Tom and Edward are both young boys born on the same day and look a lot alike, but Tom is a pauper and Edward is the prince of Wales. They run into each other and decide to switch places. Edward takes the royal seal with him, and when the time comes for him to show people he is the royal prince he takes out the seal and shows it to everyone. Immediately he is recognized as the prince, the one of the family line, the one born with privilege. He can come and go in the royal palace as he pleases.
The only sacred seal in scripture is the blood of Christ. We are not born with seals that guarantee our relationship with God. We don’t appeal to our birth, our family line, what others have done for us to gain favor. We don’t appeal to our great grandaddy who was the greatest deacon in the history of deacon.
Jew. You may see this as a pejorative thing. Anti semitism today. But they would likely have seen this as a privilege. Jewish people prided themselves on being Jewish. They have the law of God–the embodiment of knowledge and truth. They have the law of God. They know the true and living God. Boast about what he had done for them. They sought to be a light to other people. And yet all of that privilege was of no value if they did not do the things God commanded them to do.
No double standards. It is not what you know or who you know, but on what you have done. I’m a Christian, but I don’t need to follow the word…you do! But I’m Keith. Jesus is my homeboy.
Judgment is according to truth. Not based on birth, not based on position in life. Not based on what you wanted to do, not based on what you hoped to do, not based on what you knew. It is based on what God’s word says.
There is no partiality, personal favoritism. The way we have access to God is through Jesus. He is the one we call on. We can never earn our way to God, but it also means there is a sincerity in following him. A real surrender. We call on his name.
Position does not equal an excuse to sin. There is never a good reason to sin, to go against God.
It’s not who your line, your family, your people. It’s what you have done.
Tokens of Obedience
I often think the hardest people to reach are those who are in the Christian community. They say the right things and nominally do what Jesus calls us to do.
*Do something for God and think that God ought to do something for you.
I came into the Christian faith as a complete wreck. I couldn't believe God would open my eyes and change my heart. I would read the Bible and come across the Pharisees, these religious people that are self righteous and graceless to others, and I would just be completely perplexed. They seemed to feel entitled and there was no grace. But the longer I have been a Christian, the more I identify with the Pharisees. I think people just need to get it together. How can people be so blind! God, look at all I have done for you, why you gonna do me like that???
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Circumcision was the great sign for the people of God in the Old Testament. It marked Jews from the Gentiles. Want to show your devotion to God, well then here you go. Beat this! But what Paul says here is it is of no value if you do not keep the law. If you are not actively walking with God then circumcision doesn’t matter one bit. It’s as though you are a Gentile pagan!
For us today:
- What does it matter if you walked an aisle and asked Jesus into your heart but you are not following him?
- What does it matter if you were filled with the holy ghost but you pay no attention to what the Spirit says?
- What if you studied the word of God 80 hours a week in seminary, but you are not seeking to know him now?
Ex Opere Operato. Sacraments. Some view it as a mechanical quid pro quo. I did this so God must give me that. Repent and be baptized. I was baptized, so I have now locked in my salvation. When you take that view of the sacraments, you end up with people who don’t see the all-encompassing call to follow Christ. You have people who are content with their sacrifice. Why do anything more? I’m saved. It’s locked in.
The only thing that locks in our salvation is Jesus Christ. We cling to him and what he has done for us. We give him our all. We surrender it. We don’t presume on our actions, privilege. We rest in him. Nothing in our hands we bring.
Repentance is coming off the throne of life. Sometimes people use religion to push God away.
When we sing, do we just go through the motions. Is our heart engaged? When we see others sin, are we affected by grace? Are we aware of grace and our unworthiness? God wants our heart. Not tokens. Not lip service. Our heart. And the point of all this is not to condemn us, but to see that we have to stop relying on ourselves and on God. God wants to soften our heart. Hard hearts destroy people. Make you unresponsive to God, unresponsive to others. Makes you useless. But you can come alive to God. Have to let God in.
David Brainerd was a missionary to the American Indians. Gave his life, died of tuberculosis because of the terrible conditions he lived in. But he reached many Indians for Jesus.
He was preaching, and a Native American chief comes to him and takes off his headdress, leaves it at the altar. Not long after that the chief leaves and comes back and presents his horse to God. Goes back, sits down, and continues listening to the message. At the end of the message, presents his headdress to God, each feather representing an important accomplishment in his life. He has presented his horse, his sole means of transportation. Later the chief comes and presents himself to God. He comes off the throne. He gives, not things to God, but his very self.
Take your feathers and leave them at the feet of Jesus. Take your great assets and leave them at his feet. They are not a sign of your greatness. They are not a reason to boast. They are not a sign of superiority. And if those things cause you to be proud, then they just might lead to your condemnation.
Leaders will be judged. The religious community will be judged. There are no byes. That is comforting when we see people do wrong. But it also presses down on us and shows us we need to lean solely on Jesus’s blood and righteousness. It also means we need to get to the heart of our worship to God.