Religion – Men making themselves acceptable to a deity
In Chapter 1 God showed the natural sinfulness of men. In Chapter 2 God shows us that no
person is better than anyone else regarding any human standard. This week let us discuss the futility of religion. According to the Bible, out of every nation, it was the Jews that God chose to bring His promised blessings to the people of Earth. And with no thanks to them God did fulfill his promise through them by coming to earth as the Messiah to save all men. However, the Jews converted what was to be a message of welcome for all nations, into one of segregation and elitism. In their adherence to regulations, they thought that they were truly pure to the point that they hated their half brothers the Samaritans and even instituted laws preventing good Jews from associating with Gentiles (anyone who was not a Jew). They changed the Laws of God into a list of man-made traditions whereby they could judge anyone who did not measure up to their interpretations. Then came the Christ – He fulfilled the Law and Prophets like they could not. Jesus had a hay day rebuking them for their hypocrisy for which they eventually killed him. Upon his death, the curtain in the temple separating man from God was torn from top to bottom signifying that God was through with the sacrificial system which He established. Yet in their propensity for religion and their traditions, they sewed up the curtain, and continued right along as if nothing had changed and continued persecuting the new church.
The Jews and the Law
Rom 2:17-29 use this link for the NIV or your own preferred version. Highlight vs 17, 21,24,29 for today’s emphasis.
As we ponder God’s character from the above passage, I wonder if God would answer our signature question below in the following way…
Who are you Lord?
I AM the God who desires to choose a people from among the world that I might live through to meet the needs of the human condition. I chose the nation Israel to be a beacon and provide the savior, but instead, they made a name for themselves to protect their interests instead of mine. Consequently the opposite became true; my name became a laughingstock and blasphemed by the world just as I said it would. My people must live controlled by my spirit, empowered by my might, motivated by my love and glory, if my name is to have the effect on others as I desire. That is the miracle of salvation, changed from within, not by externally mandated rules of conformity either by religion or by the state.
I AM the God who sees the spirit of a person and judges man’s heart. You may judge others by outward appearances, but I judge man’s intentions. I see man’s thoughts before they even think them. I am there in your mind when you make your choice to sin. Your justice might be blind, but mine is not.
I AM the God who expects perfection and integrity. Nobody is like me. All have sinned and fall short of my glory. Nobody deserves my mercy. Nobody is innocent, not the baby fresh out of the womb, not the tribal man who has never heard of me, not the priests of Judaism, nor the Pope or monk or nun or saints – all are sinners. My Law is perfect thus it is unattainable by sinful men. It is designed to show you my righteousness and show you that you are not. Nobody can obey it perfectly as to compare themselves with me. That is the whole point of the Law. Like a mirror, it shows your sin, it cannot cleanse you. It shows how much you need my mercy.
I AM the God who makes men Holy. Only I can make you clean and holy and acceptable before my throne. Only I can cleanse your heart, your thoughts, and your conscience. Only I can put my laws in your heart and your mind to make you like me. Only I can “circumcise” your hearts. No one can do this by adherence to any written code or ordinance or religion of men.
Religion is the opiate of the masses
From our ancestor Adam who sewed fig leaves to try to cover his shame, from Cain who thought that his reasoning in bringing a sacrifice of his best fruit was good enough, to people in the remotest corners of the darkest jungle who live in fear of evil spirits today, all have the same tendency to try to appease the supernatural realm by personal effort of one kind or another. Animism tries to do the right things so that the spirits won’t eat them or cause sickness and death, where as many “church goers” in the west try to obey the Ten Commandments to make God prevent hardships or sickness from coming their way. The Bible says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, but people live in fear of God for the wrong reasons, and fear they should. When we get to chapter 5 we will discuss how to have a proper fear but also peace with our maker.
The thing about religious standards is that everyone who makes them, judges others by them, yet they themselves are never fully able to keep them to their own standard. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for this very thing. They add the weight of the wrath of some deity to enforce external compliance and thus we have the term “legalism”. The Jews were extremely legalistic and this legalism has in many areas crept into the “Christian” church from the time of the book of Acts. The Apostles were continually battling it in their epistles. Thus it warrants me defining the terms again: Religion is man trying to please or placate God by what we do (obedience to the law, list of rules to obey, or by shunning evil). Christianity is God pleasing himself on our behalf by the work of Christ by dying for our sin. Our response is like receiving a gift whereby we allow him to do that for us. Then and only then can we see it change the way we think and the way we live our life as we will discuss in later posts. Contextually let us leave it with this thought. Paul is trying to show us our need for a savior in these first few chapters. No human left to him or herself in chapter 1, no human standard, or religion contrived by men, as in Chapter 2 will be acceptable to God on his or her own merit. It gets darker before it gets light so hang in there.
More to come,