Romans Lesson 104 - Buying Heaven with Make-Believe Money
If we can somehow earn our way to heaven then what was the point of Christ being slaughtered on the cross?
In 1929, the stock market crashed. Banks went out of business, millions of people lost their jobs, their houses and their money.
A man by the name of Charles Darrow was among the many who lost his job as a salesman. He had a wife and a son, with another baby on the way. He did anything he could find to do for his family to survive – from walking dogs for independently wealthy people to fixing electric irons for people taking in laundry.
One night, in 1930, to take their minds off their sometimes overwhelming poverty, Charles sat at his kitchen table and drew a game out on the tablecloth that he had been inventing in his creative mind. It was a real-estate game and he named the game’s streets after the streets he knew in Atlantic City. He used wooden scraps for little houses and hotels that players could buy. He used buttons for tokens and free paint to color his invention which he converted to a piece of wood.
He created little pieces of money that players earned from other players who happened to land on a street they owned; plus people were paid a regular salary of $200.00 every time they passed GO. Imagine, getting a paycheck again!
If you haven’t guessed by now, it’s probably because you’ve never played the game of Monopoly.
It wasn’t long before word-of-mouth spread and Charles Darrow was making 2 sets a day which he sold for $4.00 a piece. But even when a printer friend helped him produce 6 games a day, he still couldn’t keep up with the demand.
So he packed up his game and mailed several copies to the corporate headquarters of Parker Brothers. Maybe they’d buy the rights from him and he’d survive the Depression.
The Parker Brothers executives played Monopoly for several weeks but then turned it down, citing 52 fundamental errors, including the fact that the rules were too hard and besides, it took longer than 45 minutes to play (I’ll say it does!).
Dejected, he told his wife the devastating news. His printer friend made 5,000 more copies so that Charles could fill the Christmas orders that had come in. One store in New York had ordered 200 sets and, would you believe it, one of those sets ended had been purchased by friends of a Mr. Barton, the president of Parker Brothers.
The first time Mr. Barton was invited to play this new game, they all stayed up until 1 A.M. to finish it. He was absolutely fascinated by a game his company had recently turned down.
The very next day, Mr. Barton scolded his VP’s when he discovered what had happened and offered Charles Darrow a handsome price, as well as royalties on every game they would sell.
And in the first year alone, Parker Brothers sold 200,000 sets of Monopoly – bringing in more than 1 million dollars. Back orders overflowed laundry baskets that were stacked up and down the hallways of Parker Brothers.
And all this during the Great Depression, when a game cost the average American several days of their hard-earned money.
Why would poverty stricken people, in the middle of the Great Depression, buy a game?
If you understand human nature, why not? You can buy a game with money you hardly have . . . for the feeling . . . the feeling of having it all.
You can feel the power of owning houses and hotels, charging people rent and purchasing city property. This game generated a sense of power and success and wealth . . . even though most of the players had none.
I mean, you can buy the Boardwalk in Atlantic City; you can strut down Park Place and own a piece of Pennsylvania Avenue.
What fun! And that’s what games are for.
But, it’s just a game . . . the hotels are made of plastic . . . the money is only make-believe . . . the success is only a passing feeling before the reality of life re-enters.
The Israelite of Paul’s day had the game mastered. They knew the rules . . . even the ones that were hard to remember. They could strut around Jerusalem . . . after all they owned a piece of heaven.
Paul, in Romans 10 verse 1 has declared the nation Israel was lost – unredeemed . . . unsaved. In verse 2 he has effectively stated that their zeal for God was only a game; their piece of heaven was only make-believe.
Their bank accounts of religious ritual and ceremony that looked so impressive were like vaults filled with Monopoly money . . . no matter how much they had in there it would never purchase redemption
any more than a 10 dollar monopoly bill could buy a hamburger at Wendy’s this afternoon. A double combo with extra mayonnaise, pickles, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, no onion ‘cause I’m in the ministry, and super-sized fries.
If I ordered all that and pulled up to the window and handed the guy a Monopoly 10 dollar bill, he say a few things to me. He wouldn’t even care that I’m in the ministry. He’d say, “Look Buddy, we don’t accept that kind of currency here!”
The Israelite was taking his righteousness and trying to hand it to God and God, through Paul is saying, “We don’t accept that kind of currency here.”
Well, the Israelite would ask . . . “What kind of currency does God accept?”
Paul answered in verse 3 – Heaven only negotiates in the currency of God’s righteousness. That’s the only kind of money, so to speak, that the bank of Heaven accepts.
Everything else is Monopoly money! Everything else is make-believe.
The question then is, “How do we get the currency of God’s righteousness into the wallets of our souls?”
Paul answers in verse 4. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
Christ is the end of the law.
This cannot mean that Christ is the termination of the law, since many aspects of God’s law in the Old Testament are re-iterated in the New Testament.
You could interpret this, “For Christ is the end of legalism.” That is, the belief that obeying rules and rituals earns righteousness.
The best commentary on Christ and the law, is Christ Himself.
He said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill [the law].”
The word “fulfill” (plhrow) normally means, “to bring to it intended meaning.”
Because of that, many commentators translate Romans 10:4 “Christ is the goal – the culmination – of the law.”
And I think that’s helpful – so much so that I’ve written the little word “goal” in my Bible.
Christ is the goal of the law.
The Old Testament types and ceremonies of the law pointed to his death and perfect sacrifice.
The Old Testament moral law was completed in the living illustration of His perfect life.
Many of the Old Testament prophecies found their culmination and triumph in His incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection.
That’s why Jesus could say, “I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
“I am bringing the law and the prophets to their intended meaning – I am what they spoke about.”
Paul wrote to the Corinthians believers, “Christ Jesus . . . has become for us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)
Does this mean that we have to be wise to be redeemed? That we have to be holy to be redeemed? That we have to be righteous in order to be redeemed? That we have to be sanctified in order to be saved? The Israelite said, “Yes.”
In some form or another, the religions of the world say, “Yes.”
Pick yourself up . . . clean yourself off . . . then God will take you.
Paul said, “No.” Listen again, “Christ Jesus has become for us wisdom from God . . . our righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.”
Romans 10:4 says virtually the same thing, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who [is holy? To everyone who is righteous? To everyone who is wise? NO!] Christ Jesus is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Now, Paul continues on in this passage to repeatedly contrasts two kinds of righteousness.
In fact, if you circled all the times the word ‘righteousness’ appears in these first 6 verses, you’d find the word used 6 times.
One kind of righteousness is play money . . . with little plastic houses . . . it can give you the feeling holiness, and spiritual wealth, but it’s only make-believe.
The other kind is real. It’s authentic, genuine currency, created by and backed by the Divine reserve.
Paul writes in verse 5, For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness – or, according to that standard.
Trouble is, nobody can keep the righteous standard.
You can try to keep the law . . . follow the standard . . . look good; Paul wrote earlier, build the shrine and monument of our righteousness by good deeds . . . but it’s all a front . . . it’s only spiritual cosmetics . . . that most people would try to deny.
I thought this was funny; in one survey I read about, it was found that 38% of the ladies surveyed tinted their hair, 15% sometimes wore a wig, 80% wore rouge, 98 % wore eye shadow; 22% percent wore false eyelashes, 93% wore nail polish. And 100 percent of the women surveyed voted in favor of condemning any kind of false packaging. I didn’t think that was funny either.
You want to meet somebody who looked good – righteous – holy?
His name was Isaiah.
And his personal testimony just sort of swipes all the little houses and hotels and off our little game board and scatters all our play money when he says, “We are all unclean and all our righteousness is as filthy rages.” (Isaiah 64:6)
In other words, the best we could ever do is filthy when compared to the righteousness of God through Christ.
We might seem good . . . we might feel right . . . but measured against the purity of holy God, we would do exactly what Isaiah did when he saw that vision of the Lord, high and lifted up, with the train of his robe filling the temple; seraphim stood above Him, each having 6 wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” And I said, “Woe is me for I am ruined . . . I am a man of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:1-5)
Isaiah was a prophet . . . he used his tongue to speak the word of God – he was surely in good standing . . . until he stood before the holiness of God . . . he immediately became aware that even though his livelihood was speaking truth, his tongue was still filthy.
I read a news article recently that illustrated this truth – An armed robber named Dennis Curtis was arrested in 1992 in Rapid City, South Dakota. When the authorities searched his wallet they found a sheet of paper on which was written his rules – his code of conduct that he evidently held himself to:
- I will not kill anyone unless I have to;
- I will take cash and food stamps – no checks;
- I will rob only at night;
- I will not wear a mask;
- I will not rob mini-marts or 7-Eleven stores;
- If I get chased by cops on foot, I will get away. If chased by vehicle, I will not put the lives of innocent civilians on the line, and;
- I will rob only seven months out of the year.
Craig Brian Larson, Choice Contemporary Stories and Illustrations (Baker Books, 1998), p. 181.
Imagine that! A thief with a sense of home-made morality; he was committed to his standards, but they were flawed. No matter how righteous it made him feel, no matter how closely he stuck to his 7 standards, it didn’t matter. For when he stood before the court, he was not judged according to that piece of paper. He was judged according to the laws of state of South Dakota.
We can consider ourselves law-keepers too, until we stand in the presence of the holy One of Israel.
You want to stick by your righteousness? Compared to the righteousness of God it is nothing but make-believe currency. And you can’t buy heaven with make-believe money
But . . . Paul contrasts in verse 6. But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, “Do not say in your heart , ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7. or ‘Who will descend into the abyss? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8. But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”
Now, if you’re wondering, what in the world do these verses mean . . . don’t panic.
Paul is actually quoting from an Old Testament passage that sheds light on this New Testament passage.
In fact, whenever you might notice that verses are italicized or all the letters are capitalized, it’s because they are either added for commentary, or indicating they are quoted from somewhere else.
Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 30:11-14. (I’ll read it and you look at Romans 10:6-8) Moses is challenging the people to follow after God’s word. He says to them, “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. 12. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 13. Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 14. But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.
Now, if you were following along in Romans 10, you noticed that Paul added a parenthesis with each major statement – applying it in some way to Christ.
Notice again in Romans 10:6b. Do not say in y our heart, who will ascend into heaven? And here’s Paul application to Christ - that is, to bring Christ down.” Keep going – who will descend into the abyss – in Hebrew ‘the sea’, ‘the deep’ literally the place of the dead – and here’s Paul’s application – (that is, to bring Christ up from the grave).
Moses was telling the people that they had everything they needed to respond to God.
Paul is saying the same thing, but applying it to Jesus Christ.
In other words, you don’t need to go up to heaven to find the word of God – the word of God has already come from heaven in the incarnation of Christ. In the beginning was the Word – and the Word was with God and the Word was God – and the word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John chapter 1)
You do not need another word from God. God has spoken!
The Muslim will say, “you need the words of another prophet, Paul writes here and says, “No, you have the words of Moses, and that is enough.”
To the Mormon who says, “you need another gospel – you need the words of Joseph Smith,” Paul says, “you have the words of Jesus Christ and they are sufficient.”
Even Timothy, as a young child came to faith in Christ through the Old Testament scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15)
Paul wrote, “Because of the hope you have laid up in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel.” (Colossians 1:12)
It isn’t a religion of works . . . it is redemption, based on the word of faith, that reveals to us a God of grace.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in the gospel we discover that we are far worse off than we ever thought, but Christ is far more gracious than we ever imagined.
One Bible college student wrote of unforgettable experience that illustrated this issue of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.
She write, “In the spring of 2002, I left work early so I could have some uninterrupted study time before my final exam at Hannibal College in Missouri. When I finally got to class, everybody was doing their last-minute studying. The teacher came and said he would review with us before the test. Most of the his review came right from the study guide, but there were some things he was reviewing that most of us hadn’t studied . . . when questioned about it, he said they were in the book and we were responsible for everything in the book. We couldn’t argue with that.
Finally it was time to take the test. “Leave them face down on the desk until everyone has one, and I’ll tell you when to start,” Dr. Tom Hufty, instructed.
When he said begin, we turned them over and to my astonishment, every answer on the test was already filled in – by hand. My name was even written on the exam in red ink. At the bottom of the last page Dr. Hufty had written, “This is the end of the exam. All the answers on your test are correct. You will receive an A on the final exam. The reason you passed this test is because the creator of the test took it for you. All the work you did in preparation [may have been a great discipline for your study and life], but id did not help you get this A.”
Dr. Hufty then went around the room and asked each student individually, “What is your grade?” And we all answered, “An A.” Do you deserve this grade you are receiving? We all answered the same way, “No!”
Then he said, “Some things you learn from lectures, some things you learn from research, but some things you learn from experience and you will probably never forget them. [Ladies and Gentlemen,] you have just experienced grace.”
Isn’t that what Paul is declaring here in Romans 10? This is the word that you have! Jesus Christ came from heaven and rose from the grave to offer His grace to you.
Jesus Christ is the end of the exam . . . he has hand written all the answers required of you – in fact, he’s written your name in his roll book of everlasting life in blood-red.
You had nothing to perform . . . no perfect score to earn on your own in order to have your name entered – yet there it is – and beside your name, as it were, is a perfect score.
Three closing thoughts that, I believe, summarize this section of verses:
A section, by the way, that began Paul’s explanation of God’s righteousness in verse 4 with the living Word and ends in verse 8with a reference to the spoken word.
“the word of faith, which we are preaching.” (v. 8b)
Three thoughts about this gospel – this message of faith:
- The law was delivered from Mt. Sinai; grace was delivered from Mt. Calvary
- The righteousness of the law leads to legalism; the righteousness of the Lord leads to liberty.
To put it another way:
- Grace is not a benefit of the Law, it is a blessing from the Lord!
- Salvation is not the result of a faultless performance . . . it is a relationship with a faultless Person – Jesus Christ!
“He made Him who knew no sin, to become sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
In other words, that we might get an A on the exam!
But it’s more than that . . . we’ve already flunked the course! No matter how many times we retake it, we can’t keep from sinning – we can’t master the law of righteousness. But the perfect score of Christ has been credited to our failing grade.
And the F we’ve already earned as sinners in the Divine grading system which grades by holiness and justice, is replaced with an A.
F – which stands for Fallen sinner . . . fallen; it is blotted out and there stands His perfect score, attributed to our final grade – an A – which stands for Amazing Savior . . . Amazing grace . . . Amazing love.
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