Mere Religion Ain’t Good Enough – (Romans 2:17-29)

Though I’ve been a member of the local Rotary Club for about 20 years, I’ve never been an exemplary member. I’m sort of like the Christian who attends church on Christmas and Easter and those other Sundays where there is not a higher priority thing to do. I participate in some of the Club projects, particularly those related to early childhood education in the schools. But my level of involvement is about to expand. I was asked if I’d be interested in serving on the board of directors for one year and said I’d be open to it. I missed a meeting in January, and found out later that I got elected!

Sometimes when my attendance at the Club has fallen off a bit, I’ve realized I needed to pick it up and get more involved. And the same is true of many of life’s connections. For example, if your busyness at work means that your spouse is being unfairly ignored, you make some effort to reverse the situation and get back into good graces.

In terms of a relationship with God, realizing to some measure that God has a posture of wrath toward unbelief and sin, the natural first thought is to up your game of religious involvement — to attend church more and do those things that mark the disciplines of faith. That is not wrong, but all alone, neither is it fully right, especially if it is nothing beyond a religious mask.

Paul’s attention in proving the guilt of all mankind shifts away from the Gentile world to focus upon the Jews — who at this point of his letter might have been feeling a bit more secure.

Indeed, the Jewish people could be rightly pleased with their heritage, they could make nice quotes about themselves and their privileged position. But Paul takes them apart as well …

17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

28 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.

God had given the Jewish people a wonderful and privileged history. They were truly God’s special and chosen people. But rather than be amazed at God’s grace, they reveled rather in a prideful posture of condescension toward others. They had forgotten what God had said about their selection …

Deuteronomy 7:7 The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

In arrogance, the Jews saw themselves as unique and righteous, simply because of their heritage. But Paul says that, upon closer examination, they were rather far from perfect. Their history was one of committing all of the same sins as those whom they judged. They stood guilty and in need of a savior in the same fashion as the rest of the world. Paul reminds them that they were in actuality the Exhibit A of “physicians that needed to heal themselves.”

Religious disciplines and faith exercises are great. But alone, as a mask that hides the true character of an unregenerate heart, they are not enough. A works-oriented religion is nothing more than a mask.

So don’t be like that. Don’t think that just being in church is going to make you right with God. Sitting in a library doesn’t make you a scholar, and wearing the latest Under Armor sports gear doesn’t make you a professional athlete. To be right with God you will need the cleansing of re-birth and the applied righteousness of Jesus Christ … our themes in coming weeks. Don’t miss it, but neither should you attend just to attend; you need to take these truths into your life through faith.

Good Enough Ain’t Good Enough – Romans 2:1-16

Middle school girls at a slumber party aren’t the only ones who judge themselves to be better than someone else. People do it all of the time in relation to their self-evaluation of the depth of their sin. It usually takes some form of “I might not be perfect, but I’m not as bad as ____.”

Actually, that whole statement is probably true. The person making it is likely nowhere near as bad as whatever person or group he/she is comparing. Big deal. The problem is that the first half of the statement is equally true, and it is totally damning.

As we wrote about on Monday and will return to again in the third week, every sinner needs perfect righteousness in order to be received by God. And being pretty good just ain’t going to be good enough. Besides that, the situation is likely far worse than the self-righteous person believes.

I told the story Sunday of recently being in California for a pastors conference and staying several days with a good friend who lives in West Hills, north of Los Angeles. In driving through a somewhat remote mountainous area of many canyons, he told me that it was the location where Hollywood shot a lot of their movies. This reminded me of a picture I saw recently of an error in the Gladiator movie, where, in one scene, if you look closely, you can see a jet aircraft in the sky! Not so perfect.

And that is how it is with many people’s lives. Even those who have a guidance of the residue of the image of God in them — their conscience — when looked at closely will fall far short of righteous. And the passage today condemns such people who feel good about themselves as compared to greater sinners around them.

2:1 – You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

This passage has some complexity to it. It is saying, beyond the issue of those with a self-righteous judgment, that obedience to the law is what is required. But here is the problem: nobody obeys it perfectly, except the one person who did. More on these ideas as we go along.