The moral man who thinks he is good enough to earn God's favor is not only minimizing God's holy standard, he is nullifying the work Christ did on the cross. If you can attain your own righteousness, why was Jesus slaughtered?
Ruining the Reputation of God
In Romans chapter 2 beginning with verse 17 the Apostle Paul has revealed six reasons why the faithful Jew felt eternally safe before God.
He had a special name; he possessed a copy of the law, he was proud of his monotheism, he had special insight into the will of God, he had the ability to discern between good and evil and finally, he had received a Biblical education in Old Testament law.
But all of that did not constitute true safety. I couldn’t help but wonder how many people today feel they also are eternally safe because they claim the special name, Christian; they possess a copy of the Bible, they are proud to claim Elohim instead of Allah or Krishna as their God; they have an ability to discern moral evil and they have received a Sunday school education not only in the Old Testament but the New Testament.
And yet they, like the faithful Jew will one day discover it was not good enough to enter eternal paradise.
The Apostle Paul then, beginning in verse 19, gave four reasons why the faithful Jew felt entirely superior before men.
They considered themselves to be the spiritual supervisor of mankind. That is, they were guides to the blind. They were the ones who could see.
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.”
Secondly, they considered themselves to be enlightened.
Third, they felt superior was because they considered themselves the standard of morality
And fourth they considered themselves to be the spring of wisdom.
The Jew believed that if the Gentile would only convert to Judaism, they would be rescued from hell.
How shocking and devastating it must have been when Jesus Christ said to them in Matthew 23:15, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees . . . you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
How many people today consider themselves to be superior to the rest of the world because they know the truth about the Bible, they are concerned over the waywardness of the world, they know the standards of morality – they encourage people to join their church and learn from them. But in reality, their converts become only more confirmed in pride and hypocrisy and more entrenched on the path that leads to hell.
They have become religious, but they are still unredeemed. Religion has become for them as for millions of others, the road that leads to hell.
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 began asking 5 questions that ultimately reveal the reality of good soil and good seed that bears good fruit for God’s glory.
In our last session in Romans, we looked at the first four questions.
The first question in verse 21 asked, “You therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?”
What this question revealed about the religious hypocrite, the person self deceived into thinking that they are safe while they are, in fact, under judgment and in danger of eternal punishment is this: the religious man communicates truth without genuine personal application.
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 ddidn’t produce righteous conduct.
What they said to others about what they believed never affected how they behaved.
But the reaction of Paul’s Jewish audience was anticipated. Paul expected the Jew to recoil with astonishment and say, “What do you mean we haven’t applied the truth of the law to our own lives?”
We keep the law diligently – we pray and fast and tithe – and look at all the things we don’t do in our efforts to live righteous lives. We don’t break the commandments of God – we keep them all and we are teachers of God’s commandments.
The rich young ruler conceive of being a law breaker and so, in Matthew 19 he said to Christ, “I’ve kept all the commandments. . .”
Like people today who say to you and to me, “Why do I need to be saved? I’m not that bad – I haven’t broken the big ones – I’m a pretty good person!”
Depends on who you’re comparing yourself to in the world.
Isaiah was a teacher to Israel and in chapter 5 of his book he preached judgment to the nation, “Woe to you who join house to house; woe to you who rise up early in the morning to follow strong drink; woe to you who call evil good and good evil; woe to you who are wise in your own eyes. . .” Six times Isaiah delivered the verdict, but in chapter 6 of Isaiah, God pulled back the blinders from his earth restricted eyes and he saw the throne of God and the angels surrounding God in His glorious light and he heard the angelic hosts singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” (Isa. 6:3) And Isaiah said, “Woe is ME.” Not, “Woe is you.” But now it changed to “Woe is me.”
You look around long enough you’ll find somebody your better than – you look at God and you’re in deep trouble – for even your righteous deeds are like filthy rags when compared to His holiness.
Now Paul moves to specific things that the Jews never thought of as they considered the depths of their hypocrisy before God.
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?!
Someone in here is stealing the affections of someone’s heart that does not belong to you.
Someone in here is stealing credit for doing something someone else did and you’re receiving the praise for it.
Someone in here is robbing God by keeping your money and your possessions mostly to yourself.
Someone in here is stealing their children from God by not encouraging them or perhaps not even allowing them to serve Christ and His church.
Someone in here is stealing from their spouse the fidelity and devotion that belongs only to them.
Are you a thief?
The Pharisees of Christ’s day had developed a clever scheme to keep from having to provide money and resources to their aging, dependant parents.
They took their discretionary money and declared it Corban. That simply meant, “devoted to God.” Then they said to their parents, “Listen, we’d love to help you and we know you need financial help, but all the leftover money we have is dedicated to God – we just felt that we ought to commit it to God and so we can’t give it to you and surely you wouldn’t want it since it belongs to God.”
Jesus’ response to them as He dealt with this issue of Corban in Mark chapter 7 was the verdict, “You honor God with your lips, but your heart is far away from Him.”
That’s another way of saying, “You sound holy, but in reality, you’re a hypocrite.”
You can talk it, but you don’t walk it.
So, the religious man communicates truth without personal application.
Secondly, the religious man talks about integrity but does not live honestly.
Third the religious man denigrates immorality without ever purifying his own heart.
Paul goes on in verse 22 to ask, “You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?
In other words, the merely religious man will talk about how sexual sin is wrong, but he will not have purified his own heart.
Remember, adultery is as much a matter of the heart as it is the flesh. The Lord said, “If you lust after someone, you have committed adultery.” (Matthew 5:28)
Someone committed adultery this past week by what they watched on the internet. Someone committed adultery by what they thought of someone they worked with this week. Someone committed adultery by what they wished in their heart about someone else.
The one who is a believer would here that challenge and knowing they have would respond by saying, “That’s me, Oh Lord, forgive me . . . how sinful I am and how dependant I am on your forgiveness and grace – thank you Lord for the blood of the Lamb!”
The religious unbeliever would say, “That’s not me – yea I might have looked at some things this week, but what’s so bad about it – yea I might have looked at someone or thought about someone, but that’s the way God made us.” My friend, you are deceived by the enemy of your soul and your own flesh – you are religious, but not redeemed.
One of the greatest evidences of true conversion is a passion for purity of the heart and life. One of the greatest evidences of true conversion is repentance and confession, sorrow over sinfulness, like Paul himself who said, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death.” (Romans 7:24) Like Isaiah who said, “Woe is me, I am ruined, for I am a man of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5)
The fourth question Paul asked struck at the issue of money. His timeless principle from that 1st century practice of marketing stolen idols of gold and silver is this: the religious man talks about character but chooses commerce. Whenever the choice between God and mammon comes around, God always loses.
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 over character, greed over godliness are the marks of an unbeliever’s unconverted, self centered heart.
These are the first four questions. How would you answer them? Nobody knows your answers except you and God and perhaps those who live under the same roof and see you for who you really are.
Just as the choir sang a little while ago, so 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.
The year before I gave my life to Christ as a senior in High School, was a tumultuous year. The hymn we sang a little while ago was sung at least once a month in our church – I surrender all. I can remember wishing the invitation would end quickly. I was also terrified of the rapture and being left behind. Sure I had prayed a 1,000 times to be saved – but God knew my heart – I only wanted fire insurance, I had no desire for forgiveness and fellowship with God.
I can remember as an 11th grader sweeping the gym floor one afternoon. I worked a few hours a week at school on work scholarship program to help my parents pay that Christian school bill. Mr. Garrick was the school superintendent. We didn’t see him much, we usually interacted with the principal. Mr. Garrick was also the Associate Pastor of the nearby church that ran the school. It was a non-denominational church with a rather austere, formal feel to it. It was in that church I learned to sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God; O Worship the King; The Church’s One Foundation and Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah.” Mr. Garrick looked the part. He was a big man with large hands and thick white hair and he always wore a serious look on his face, or so it seemed to me. I never saw him laugh.
I was sweeping the gym floor that afternoon with one of those long dust brooms – no one else was in there but me and I was right at the half court circle when the door opened and Mr. Garrrick walked out on the gym floor towards me. I stood frozen with my arms resting on the broom handle. He came up to me, looked down at me and said, “You may have others fooled, but I know you are not genuine . . . you’ve put on a good front, but I know you are living a lie.”
My heart was racing . . . and so was my mind. I hadn’t done anything they could suspend me for or punish me for – I was a missionary kid who never missed church. All my sins were legal! But that wasn’t his point. He was talking about something far more serious than that. He was discerning – he had somehow seen into my heart. He had found me out. As abruptly as he’d appeared, he turned and walked back across the gym floor and out the door. I can still remember his blue gray suit and black wing tip shoes clicking along on that maple floor as he walked away. He had not offered counsel or conversation – he had not expected a reply. He had simply delivered a message from God.
It’s the same question Paul posed to the religious people of his day. No, they weren’t gonna be suspended from the synagogue – they never missed a service; they weren’t in trouble with the law – oh no, all their sins were legal too.
But Paul was talking about something much deeper than that. By God’s Spirit he had seen their heart – and he was exposing it for what it truly was.
My friend, though I may not even know your name I must ask you, “Are you living a lie? Or are you truly alive?”
“Are you merely religious – or are you truly redeemed!”
With that exposure now completed, Paul moves to the verdict found in Romans 2:23, “You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?
In other words, the Jewish people had the law of God and yet they broke the law. They were keeping Roman law, but breaking heaven’s law. In two ways: they disobeyed God’s law in their ungodly attitudes and in their ungodly actions.
You need to understand that by the time of Christ, the rabbis had begun teaching that since it was impossible to keep the law, simply learning the facts about the Torah was good enough to please God. Some even taught that Jews were safe from God’s judgment by simply possessing a copy of the Torah – the first 5 Books of the Old Testament.
John MacArthur, Quoted in David Jeremiah’s Living by Faith, Volume 1; p. 78
You don’t have to obey it – just keep a copy with the other books in the house and God will be satisfied.
How many today say the same thing the Jews said, “You don’t have to read it; you don’t have to live it or obey it; you don’t have to take it seriously; you don’t have to apply it; you don’t have to let it direct you and guide and determine through it’s objective revelation what is right and what is wrong – you just have to own a copy and keep it somewhere in the house or under the car seat or on the coffee table! And God will be satisfied!
I remember one family being told by someone that the reason they didn’t come to our church was because we took the Bible way too seriously. It’s just a nice collection of moral tales and Jewish tradition. You can believe that, but you’d better pray you’re not wrong!
Three weeks ago, my wife and I had dinner with a dear couple who’ve since moved out of town. This was a farewell time for us and our children. Both of them are medical doctors and had come to the point in their lives where they knew they were missing something. She was telling us about her first visit to Colonial. I had actually never heard how it happened. They were both reared in semi-religious families. One was catholic and the other protestant – neither of them had really attended anywhere since marrying. When they moved to Cary they decided, for their children’s sake to find a church near home so their kids could attend Sunday school. He stayed home with the kids and she came to the closest church to their home – Colonial. She slipped in the back and sat through her first evangelical service – we were studying the Book of Esther. She told us she sat there dumbfounded as she realized that everything she had heard as a child –that the Bible was just a collection of stories – was not true. That the Bible was alive and real and had meaning for life here and now. She went home afterward, walked into the house and said, “Honey, we’ve been wrong – the Bible is for today.” They came the next Sunday and the next. Then they called the office and asked for me to come to their home and I did – they both accepted Christ and I discipled the husband for nearly a year. Her words are haunting to me – “We had gone to church and been taught a lie about the Bible – it is for us to follow today – we were wrong.”
Ask the average religious person on the street about the Bible and they’ll say it’s a good Book to own – it’s a nice thing to quote at weddings, funerals and family reunions, but it’s a collection of stories at best. Don’t take it too seriously. And why shouldn’t the world feel that way when the supposed believer doesn’t seem all that obligated or interested in the Bible themselves.
Paul’s point to the religious Jew remains the verdict of our day – 23, “You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?
Ladies and Gentlemen, if you do not take your Bible seriously, the world will not take your God seriously.
But the real problem is not the failing credibility of the believer, but the credibility of God Himself. Paul goes on and says in verse 24. For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written.”
In other words, not only is your reputation a mess, you’re also ruining the reputation of God.
The word, “blasfhmeitai”, is transliterated, blaspheme. The Greek word means, “to be evil spoken of; to speak lightly, profanely or impiously of God.”
Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:5 where God is speaking to the nation, “Now therefore, what do I have here,” declares the Lord . . . My name is continually blasphemed all the day long.”
God speaks to Ezekiel in chapter 36:20, “They blasphemed my holy name; in that men said of them, these are the people of Jehovah.”
The Jews were living such sinful lives among the Gentiles that the Gentiles, in effect, were saying, “If this is the people of Jehovah, what kind of God must Jehovah be?!”
Alva J. McClain, Romans: The Gospel of God’s Grace, BMH Books, Winana Lake, Indiana; 1973; p. 84
The same indictment came to David after sinning with Bathsheba and causing her husband to die on the battlefield. Nathan said to him, “Thou art the man.” (2 Samuel 12:7) And we all know about that verse. The verse we’re not so familiar with is verse 14 where Nathan says, “. . .by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.”
The believer has two ways of affecting the reputation of God.
Jesus Christ said, “Live in such a way that men may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) God’s name can be glorified and honored by the way you live.
Here were told in Romans 2:24 that living hypocritical lives causes God’s name to be blasphemed. God’s name then can also be dishonored by the way you live.
In other words, the reputation of God depends on the way you live?! Has it ever occurred to you; in the daily actions and attitudes and responses and decisions of your lifestyle, God’s reputation is at stake!
May I ask you a question? What is the reputation of God in your world?
Doug Sherman and William Hendricks wrote a book on ethics for believers. They surveyed thousands of people and came to the conclusion that the ethical conduct of Christians varied only slightly from non-Christians. Sadly, they concluded that Christians act nearly the same as unbelievers. They are likely to:
Falsify their income tax returns,
Bribe to obtain a building permit,
Ignore construction specs,
Illegally copy a computer program,
Commit phone theft and,
Exaggerate a product.
Does Christianity make a difference? In the life of a true believer, yes! Many of the so called Christians mentioned above are self deceived, hypocrites who claim the name Christian but have nothing of the life of Christ.
What difference does Christianity make?
I love this ad that appeared in the East African Standard newspaper in Nairobi: “I Allan Harangui have dedicated services to the Lord Jesus Christ. I must put right all my wrongs. If I owe you any debt or damage personally or through my businesses of Water Pumps Electrical and General Sales and Services; please contact me at P.O. Box 73137, Nairobi for a settlement. No amount will be disputed. God and His Son Jesus Christ be glorified.”
R. Kent Hughes, The Disciplines of a Godly Man, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois; 1991, p. 126
Something happened to that man – and he had to let his world know he was a different man. What an incredibly effective testimony!
Three statements that are true in every generation – in Rome and in this city:
The greatest attraction to Christianity is holy living. The greatest attracting force to Christ is a man or woman who lives like Christ.
The reputation of God is at stake!
The greatest obstacle to Christianity is hypocritical Christians. The world laughs and mocks our Lord when they see us living in sin.
Talk all you want about what you believe, the world is watching how you behave – and the way you behave will be so loud, people will not be able to hear what you are saying.
John Walvoord, chancellor Dallas Theological Seminary once said at a graduation ceremony, “I am afraid for this class – I am afraid that we are turning out too many graduates who have a great number of beliefs but not enough conviction.”
Charles R. Swindoll, Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishers, p. 421.
Final point is this summary statement, “The Messiah is measured by the messenger.
I could teach mathematics and live an immoral life – no student of mine would say I’m not qualified to teach the principles of math. But to teach the things of Christ. . .for you to say, “Thus saith the Lord . . . I belong to God . . . Jesus is the Redeemer.” and yet to live an ungodly life will stop their ears, and mock your God.
If there was ever a time for the Christian to be different – distinctive – holy – passionate for purity – ethical – honest – self-controlled – hard working – gracious – it is now.
Ted Engstrom put it this way,
“The world needs [Christians]:
who cannot be bought;
whose word is their bond;
who put character above wealth;
who possess opinions and a will;
who are larger than their vocations;
who will not lose their [distinctiveness] in a crowd;
who will be as honest in small things as in great things;
who will make no compromise with [sin];
whose ambitions are not confined to their own selfish desires;
who will not say they do it ‘because everybody else does it’;
who are true to their friends through good report and evil report;
in adversity as well as in prosperity;
who do not believe that shrewdness, cunning and hardheadedness are the best qualities for winning success;
who are not ashamed or afraid to stand for the truth when it is unpopular;
who say “no” with emphasis, although the rest of the world says “yes.”
Charles R. Swindoll, Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishers, p. 421.