Romans Lesson 30 - Churchianity
The religion of most self-proclaimed Christians in America is not Christianity, it's Churchianity. And while the differences between the two are often subtle, they hold eternal consequences.
In the Gospel of Mark, the Lord told a parable about the sowing of the gospel seed. He revealed four different kinds of reception to the gospel. From an outward appearance, the soil looked the same – but in one case, the soil was hard and the gospel could not penetrate.
In another case, the soil was filled with seed that would produce thorns and thistles that grew up with the wheat and eventually chocked it out.
In still another case, the seed went into shallow soil and the seed took root and sprung up – everything looked good, but under the surface of the soil were rocks and the roots grew down only so far until they ran out of nourishment and eventually died off.
So you have the hardened heart, the crowded heart and the insincere heart – all are hearts that did not open to the gospel, although they all treated the gospel somewhat differently. Some, as in the case of the insincere heart, seemed to accept it and believe it, but ultimately the appearance of good soil eroded away exposing unbelief and a hardened heart underneath.
I tend to think of the depth of the soil in this parable or the reality of good soil in terms of time. In other words, there are some who accept the seed of the gospel and seem to be good soil for 6 months or even 6 years before revealing the truth of their stony unconverted hearts.
Sometimes the appearance of good soil is eroded away through some tragedy, or a crisis – a turn of financial events, a change in health, a personal challenge to their way of life and they turn on their heels and leave their walk with Christ and Christ’s church and ultimately reject the gospel and reveal their unconverted hearts.
Sometimes it happens soon after the person prays what we call the sinners prayer. It sounded real, it seemed genuine, but over time it was shown not to be true redemption.
I was talking to a pastor yesterday for an hour or so. We were talking about this issue of good soil and the seed of truth. He said, “Stephen, I remember years ago meeting a man in my church who was respected by everyone. He always brought interesting questions and discussion to our Sunday school class; he was involved in volunteer ministry and had been, for 10 years one of the leading men in that little church in South Carolina. Then the Senior Pastor asked me if I’d begin to meet with that man and attempt to grow deeper together through an accountability partnership and I agreed. After 3 or 4 times together I noticed that this man never brought his Bible, never really had anything to say about a personal walk with Christ, never had any reference to spiritual fruit or a passion for Christ and finally one morning looked me in the eye and said, “Listen, to be absolutely honest with you I’m not really sure in my heart of hearts that God even exists.” 10 years in the church! The soil eroded away, after years of seeming receptive.
I personally have had that experience more times than I ever wanted. I can remember years ago praying with a man to receive Christ – we began a discipleship time together. Finished several months together. A year or so later he divorced his wife and began living with another woman – when challenged about his lifestyle and the contradiction it was to the Bible he said he didn’t really know if he believed all that stuff in the Bible anyway. 2 years in the church! And the soil washed away, revealing an unconverted heart.
I remember as a college student walking downtown – I was met with a man who was obviously down and out – he asked me if I had any money. College student and having money were never in the same sentence. I said no. He didn’t believe me and pressed for money. I said to him, “Listen, I could give you money but you’d spend it and we’d both be poorer than we are now – but I do have something that lasts forever – you interested in hearing about it? He said, “Yea, what is it?” I began to share the gospel with this man. He listened intently, answering my questions, following my presentation. I could see his face soften and eventually his eyes filled with tears. I asked him, “Would you like to pray right here, confess your sin to Christ and ask Him to forgive you and save you?” He said, with tears coming down his cheeks, “Yes I would.” I said, “Would you be willing to kneel right here on the sidewalk with me and pray?” People were walking by . . . He said, “Yes!” We knelt together on the sidewalk and I led him in a prayer for salvation. We got up, hugged and he said, “Do you have any money?” I said, “I was really telling you the truth when I said I didn’t have any, but I know where there’s a rescue mission that will feed and house you.” He said, “You mean you won’t give me any money?” I said, “I don’t have any.” He unleashed a stream of curse words upon my ears that shocked me to know end. With anger and hatred he used God’s name in vain and stomped off down the street.
It might not be that dramatic, but I believe this city and county and country is filled with people who’ve prayed the sinners prayer but do not live a sanctified life. So today, I still meet them all the time – “Yea I’ve prayed that prayer – yea I used to believe in Jesus – yea, I used to go to church when I was kid – even got baptized. . .today? Na, I don’t have any use for it . . .
They had 10 years or 2 years or 5 minutes of good soil but it ran out and revealed all along they their hearts were unreceptive. They had only prayed the sinners prayer because of the benefit of a salved conscience; they had prayed for salvation so they could add God to their list of insurances; one for flood insurance; one for fire insurance; one for disability insurance; one for auto insurance; one for medical insurance and one for eternal insurance.
But they still go to church, many of them. But, if you look under the surface you discover that church for them is a place to pass around business cards; a place to meet new clients; a way to enhance their reputation. Spiritual activity is simply a way of self-promotion. Even prayer is an exercise of selfishness to get what they want when they want it from God.
They have Churchianity but not Christianity.
They are people who say even to this day “God bless you” with their lips, but God has nothing to do with their lives. They have no desire for the word of God or the character of God or the will of God.
The Apostle John was asked about those who had left the fellowship of believers and walked away from their faith. Were they truly saved? John, under inspiration answered, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; they went
out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us. (I John 2:19)
Eventually the reality of true Christianity or mere churchianity was revealed. It was just a matter of time before the reality of Christianity or the fascade of Churchianity became known.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a vast difference between churchianity and Christianity. A Churchman and a Christian are two entirely different races. One is religious, the other is redeemed. Both are sincere, but only one is saved. Both of them have a form of religious exercise, but only one of them has truly been redeemed.
The Apostle John wrote, “The one who says, “I have come to know Christ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love God has truly been completed. By this we know that we are in Him; 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as Christ walked.” (I John 2:4-6)
In chapter 1 he wrote, “If we say that we have fellowship; with Christ and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1:6) Paul warned Titus when he wrote, “For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers . . . they profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.” (Titus 1:10 & 16)
The important distinction between that which is genuine and that which is false is the bearing of fruit. In Marks account, the Lord made clear that spiritual reproduction and spiritual fruit bearing were the things that revealed spiritual life. Life that measures up to the lips. A walk that matches the talk.
And this happens to be Paul’s primary issue with the faithful Jew. Just as the immoral man is condemned in Romans chapter 1; just as the moral man is condemned in chapter 2; so also the religious man and with him, the shallow systems of religion stand condemned.
The only thing the religions of the world do is whitewash gravestones; they are experts at putting makeup on a corpse. They sound holy and look sanctified; they appear to be alive and to be able to give life, but underneath there is only death.
There wasn’t anyone more religious in Paul’s day than the faithful Jew. And they knew it. And they thought that if anyone would gain the pleasure of God and the safety of paradise, it would be them.
There are thousands, if not millions of Americans who today feel they are safe before God. Why? Because they claim the name Christian; because of their dedication to the law; because of their respect for God; because of their special knowledge and insight into God’s will and because they have a basic understanding of the major stories in the Bible. They know about Noah and they’ve heard about Elijah and they believe in a future heaven and a future hell.
They know the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament and they can quote John 3:16.
But as we’ll see today, the profession of the faithful Jew had nothing to do with his practice. Their creed did not impact their conduct. What they recited with their lips had nothing to do with what they did with their lives.
Paul gave us the six reasons why the faithful Jew felt eternally safe before God beginning with verse 17 of Romans chapter 2.
- The faithful Jew felt safe because of his special name (17a) “You bear the name Jew”
- Because of his dedication to the law.
- Because of his respect for God – “They boasted that He was their God.”
- Because of his special knowledge.
- Because of his keen insight into what was essential and finally
- Because of his Biblical education. “You have been instructed – kathcoumenoV - from which we get transliterated word “catechism” – “you have been catechized out of the scriptures.”
The faithful Jew felt safe before God because of all the above reasons. Just as many religious people today who fill the pews of our churches feel safe for the same reasons.
They know the creeds, they know the verses, they know the law, they know the name of the one and only true and living God – they are sincerely religious and at the same time they are on their way to hell.
But that isn’t all. The guilt of the faithful Jew was compounded further with what Paul now reveals.
In Romans chapter 2 Paul reveals six reasons why the faithful Jew not only felt eternally safe before God, but now, four reasons the faithful Jew felt entirely superior before men.
The first reason he felt superior was because he considered himself to be the spiritual supervisor.
The text says in verse 19. “and you are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind.”
What would God do without us? We’re indispensable to humanity – these poor Gentile dogs will never make it anywhere without our leadership – they’ll miss the path.
Jesus Christ would tell the Jewish leaders that they were, in fact, blind themselves. There eyes were closed to the truth of the gospel.
In Matthew 15:14 Jesus said of the religious leaders, “They are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
In Matthew 23:16 the Lord again said to the Pharisee “Woe to you blind guides.” In verse 17, You fools and blind men; v. 19, You blind men; v. 26, “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish so that the outside of it may become clean also.
By the way, Paul says the same thing about the religions of this world when he writes, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
What irony then, secondly that the Jew would consider himself superior before men because he considered himself the source of enlightenment.
The text says further – “you are confident that you are a guide to the blind and a light to those who are in darkness.”
It was true that through the Jewish nation God gave the world the prophets, the Book of Songs or Psalms; He gave us the Messiah, born of a Jewish virgin girl; through the nation God had promised in Isaiah 42:6 that the world would be given the light.”
Yet the nation had rejected the Messiah, the one Who rightfully claimed to be the light of the world.
And the world today who rejects Jesus Christ have condemned themselves to walk in darkness – even though they claim to be enlightened.
The third reason the faithful Jew felt superior was because he considered himself as the standard of morality
The text reads further in verse 20, “You are confident that you are a corrector of the foolish.”
The word “corrector” has within it the idea of being one who draws the boundaries. I was over here yesterday dropping off 2 of my children who were going to help with the Soccer tournament. For a few minutes I watched one of the guys push that little contraption that lays down the chalk and draws the boundaries of the field in straight white lines. The game has to be played within those lines – anything outside those lines is out of bounds. And the referee will be the one who blows his whistle when the ball goes out of bounds and determine who gets the throw-in.
The faithful Jew said, “I am the one who blows the whistle whenever anybody goes out of bounds – whenever anybody crosses the line – I’ll be the referee in everybody’s life.
The fourth reasons the faithful Jew felt superior was because He considered himself to be the spring of wisdom.
Paul writes, “You are confident that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish and a teacher to the immature having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth.”
You consider yourself to be the teacher to the immature. The word immature here refers to the Gentile who has converted to Judaism. What we refer to as a Gentile proselyte or a God fearer. Someone who has left their pagan idolatry and begun following the true God of Israel.
They needed teaching. They didn’t know anything about the Torah – the Law of God. Trouble was, the religious leaders taught them traditions as doctrine; introduced them to ritual instead of a true relationship with a holy and loving God.
The Gentile proselyte was worse off than before.
Jesus Christ said that very thing when he said in Matthew 23:15, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes on, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
How many people in this country today consider themselves to be superior to the rest of the world because they know the truth about the Bible, they know the law of God, they teach a Sunday school class, they are concerned over the waywardness of the world, they know the standards of morality – but they do not know God.
Religious, but unredeemed.
You say, “How do I know if I’ve been deceived? How can I examine my faith to see if I am truly redeemed?”
In the next few verses the Apostle Paul will takes the broom of scripture and brushes away what seems to be good soil, and reveal underneath the rocky soil of unbelief.
Paul provides 5 questions for them and for us today that confront our sense of safety and superiority. 5 questions that reveal the reality of good soil and good seed that bears good fruit or the utter lack thereof.
The first question in verse 21 asks, “You therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?”
- In other words, the faithful Jew knew the truth and taught the truth of the law but had not applied the truth to his own life.
Their religious creed doesn’t produce righteous conduct.
What they say they believe never affects how they behave.
Now Paul expected his audience to say something like, “What do you mean we don’t apply the law – haven’t you been watching us? We wash our hands ceremonially before we eat, we refrain from working on the Sabbath, we never miss a sacrifice or a religious festival – we fast and pray and give money to the poor – what do you mean we don’t apply the truth to our own lives?
So Paul says in effect, “Well, now that you’ve asked for specifics, middle of verse 21, “You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal?”
Now notice, Paul isn’t saying outright, “You’re a thief.” He’s asking rhetorical questions, expecting them have their consciences provoked.
Do you steal?!
Jesus had already condemned them for turning his Father’s house into a den of thieves when it was supposed to be a house of prayer.
Do you claim to know Christ and do you claim the name Christian and do you at the same time steal?!
An article in the Washington Post headlined, “Computer Cheating on the Rise.” Isn’t cheating taking information that doesn’t belong to you and attaching your name to it? George Mason University instructor Anne Marchant calls them “patchwork plagiarists” for student who copy and paste together passages from various articles they have found on the Internet and then turn in the work as their own. She has even caught students doing this in her computer ethics course. Teachers and administrators at several colleges agree that cheating is on the rise because the computer has made it easy. In the olden days, a student had to go to the library, dig up the information and retype it, said Leon Geyer, a Virginia Tech professor, “now you can sit in your dorm room and just reach out, point and click.”
Washington Post, October 11, 1998
What about the work a day world of business? According to a study by the American Management Association, U.S. businesses annually lose over $10 billion to employee pilferage (everything from staples to software products to falsified business expense reports, etc). Over $4 billion to embezzlement, over $2.5 billion to burglary, over $2 billion to shoplifting, over $1.3 billion to arson, and over $500,000 per incident of computer fraud.
What is the distinction between a religious person and a true believer? Paul seems to believe and he wrote under the influence of the Holy Spirit, so God seems to believe that honesty is one of them.
An unbeliever may tell a lie to have his way; a believer will tell the truth even if it means he doesn’t get his way.
The religious man first of all has not applied the truth to his own life; secondly, he has not developed the quality of honesty.
Paul goes on in verse 22 to ask, “You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?
Thirdly, the merely religious man will talk about how sexual sin is wrong, but he will not have purified his own heart.
Do you commit adultery?
Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers this in chapter 4:17. So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18. being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19. and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20. But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21. if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22. that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit.
In other words, one of the chief characteristics of the unbelieving world is it’s utter abandonment to sexual license and sexual fulfillment. The world revolves around sensuality and the physical; you’ve seen it and probably, like me become desensitized to the fact that everything from automobiles to soft drinks are sold by first attracting people to some form of sensual or sexual benefit.
The Bible calls sexual relations involving a married individual with someone other than their spouse, adultery. Not a fling; not a passing affair; not a self-fulfilling relationship; but, adultery. It also calls sexual sin between two people who are unmarried, fornication. Not experimentation; not the right of passage for young people; not something that’s okay if you love each other; but, fornication.
J. Allen Peterson wrote a book, several years ago, entitled, The Myth of the Greener Grass. He wrote, “A call for sexual integrity and fidelity is like a solitary voice crying in today’s wilderness. What once carried a stigma of guilt and embarrassment, is now called an affair, a nice sounding, almost inviting word, wrapped in mystery, fascination and excitement. What was once behind the scenes is now in the headlines, is now a movie theme, is now a best seller, it has now become as common as the cold.”
If the religious leaders had said to Paul, “I’ve never committed the act!” And he would have reminded them that Jesus Christ said, “everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) In other words, He suggests that there is a line that you cross between a simple look and the fantasy of the heart to sin.
One author wrote, “We could define the line between temptation which is not sin, and lust which is sin, this way; lust is the desire that conceives a plan to possess. When a look turns into desire you have crossed the line. Adultery in the heart is lust that mentally engages in fantasy; adultery in the flesh is lust that carries out the fantasy.”
In Romans 2, Paul is basically asking the respectable, faithful Jewish people and leaders of his day, “Have you committed the sin of lusting and scheming about sexual relations with someone other than your spouse, or have you even taken the steps to actually committing the act?
It’s a question that needs to be asked in the 21st century as much as in the 1st century. 2,000 years have not changed the heart of man.
Today, the same statistics of immorality exist within the church as outside the church.
So, in terms of evaluating true conversion against spiritual deception is this; one of the greatest evidences of true conversion is a passion for a pure heart and a passion for a pure life.
Paul goes on to ask in the last part of verse 22. “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?”
In other words, fourthly, he had not chosen God over money.
This is a difficult expression to understand. There are a number of interpretations, none of them very satisfying.
I personally believe insight into what Paul meant is provided by two things:
The first is a verse from Deuteronomy 7:25 where God warned the Israelite about the gold and silver gods made by the idolatrous nations around them; God commanded: “The graven images of their gods you are to burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, or you will be snared by it, for it is an abomination to the Lord your God.
In other words, while the Israelite would never think of bowing down to the images of golden gods, they would love to get their hands on the gold. But to touch the idol was, according to the Law, a defiling act – so they were to keep their hands off the idols.
The second thing that gives insight is a comment made by Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, who wrote, “Let no one blaspheme those gods which other cities esteem such; nor may any one steal what belongs to strange temples, nor take away the gifts that are dedicated to any god.”
Antiquities, IV. 8. 10)
What was happening, I believe was two fold. First, the Jewish people were using idols for material purposes – either melting down the gods and using the gold and silver for their own bank accounts, even though it defiled them. Secondly, they were trafficking in stolen goods from pagan temples – things offered to idols were stolen and marketed by the Jewish community for their own business advancement.
It was an issue of commerce over character. In the final analysis, money was more important than God.
One of the marks of the unbeliever is that whenever the choice has to be made – money or God; business or faith; career or character; money, business and career will always win the contest.
Commerce, greed, materialism are the true marks of the unbeliever’s unconverted, selfish heart.
Take a look at your checkbook – how much have you given to Christ and His worldwide mission – how much have you kept for yourself. Paul says, in effect, your checkbook register is one of the most revealing characteristics that distinguishes between the religious and the redeemed.
I learned last week that we have a little more than 1700 households in our church directory – more than 1700 households regularly attend our church. Yet, the administration office informs me that more than 250 households have no tax receipt sent to them because there is no record of them ever giving anything and another 250 households are on record of giving 5 dollars or less a month. I don’t know who those households are so you don’t need to duck your head – I just know the statistic – 500 household out of 1700 haven’t caught on – 30%.
And listen now, I’m not saying this because I’m worried about meeting the budget! Those who serve with me and know me well know that’s the last thing I’ll ever lose sleep over – but what does keep me awake at times is not the budget, but whether or not our church is occupied by true believers. Could it be that 30% of our church is unredeemed?! Based on that one rhetorical question alone – not to mention the others about applying scripture to life, and dishonesty and sexual immorality.
My friend, how would you answer these questions? You and God alone know the answer.
Your answers may be a revelation that your soil may only be an inch deep – and someday that good looking, religious soil will erode away, revealing the underlying unbelief and you will walk away from the faith you say you have.
Perhaps on the heels of some crisis; some confrontation; some crossroads; some decision; some difficulty or trial; and you’ll turn your back on God and openly walk away from any appearance of a relationship with Christ.
And reveal to the world that you too were once involved in Churchianity, but not Christianity. You were religious, but unredeemed and on the road that leads to hell.
Stephen are you trying to get me to question the sincerity of my faith? Yes! Are you trying to get me to question the reality of my salvation? Yes! You trying to arouse my conscience and reveal the potential for self-deception? Yes!
The Apostle Paul said we should examine ourselves to see if we’re truly in the faith. (2 Corinthians 13:5)
And that’s exactly what he’s is doing in Romans chapter 2 to the religious world of his day. He is challenging them to answer the most important question they will ever be asked.
Are you living a lie – or are you truly alive? Are you religious – or are you truly redeemed!
The fifth question we’re going to have to save for next time – I’ve wanted to turn that one into an entire sermon anyway.
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