Practical Religion – Romans 2:17-29

 
When I was in Bible school, I bought and read a book called “You Can Lead Roman Catholics to Christ.” It was written by a Canadian missionary who claimed that Quebec was the most rabidly Catholic place in all the world. Since then I have heard that same thing said of a dozen other places in the world. And then we hear of the fanaticism of Orthodox in Romania and of the Hindus of some other country. And we have heard of some branches of the Jews and then of the Amish which are strict beyond measure. And the newspapers tell us of the fundamentalists among the Muslims, etc. etc. etc. Until we stop and think for a moment, most people even picture the United States as a very religious country.

Obviously, the religions that I’ve just mentioned are all radically different from each other. The Muslims hate the Jewish religion, and the Jews believe that the Hindus, Christians, Muslims and others are heretics. Orthodox Catholics think that the Roman Catholics have forsaken the truth, and they both hate the Amish. From what I read in that little book, Quebec Catholics think that the average American Catholic is not much better than a Protestant heretic. Obviously, those differing religions cannot be all be true, and in fact they might all be Satanic. And my point is that religion is nothing in itself. This isn’t just my opinion; it is the opinion of the Holy Spirit-directed Apostle of God – Paul.

In Romans chapter 1, Paul’s theme was that mankind has rebelled against its Creator – Jehovah. Thinking primarily about non-Jews – the Gentile nations – “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.” They chose to cast aside the innate, inborn knowledge of God that they possessed, and they chose to worship a myriad of idols which they created for themselves. And in their rebellion they chose lifestyles which were characterized by horrible sins. They cast aside the Lord, and the Lord cast aside them.

In Romans 2 Paul turned his attention toward the hypocrites who condemned the Gentiles, but who filled their lives with different, yet equally wicked, sins. “Thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” The judgment of God is based on truth, not perception; its touches secret sins as well as open sins. And then Paul turned directly toward his own nation and specifically described their unholy religiousness. The whole second chapter is directed toward Israel, but he calls them “Jews” only beginning with verse 17.

Even though his criticism was of Israel, what Paul says has equal application toward Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists and a host of others. Just as verse 1 applies to a lot more people than those living in the land of Israel, so does the rest of the chapter. “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.” And this morning I hope to summarize the rest of the chapter, making application, not to Israel, but to us.

Practical Religion.

You have probably heard about people who died in poverty, but who had access to great wealth, which they never used. Sometimes they didn’t know about it, for one reason or other, but in other cases, they were mentally unbalanced and lived in wretched poverty out of choice. And then there are people who are dying of diseases for which they have medicine that can cure them, but for some reason or other, they refuse to take that medicine. Maybe you’ve heard the old illustration about godly father who died and left his prodigal son the family Bible. At first the son was furious, because he wanted his father’s wealth – not his religion. But for some reason he kept Dad’s old Bible, tossing it away into a closet or attic. Then years later, when that son had a little more sense, but a lot less life, he pulled out the family Bible, and found inside, next to the gospel and the promises of God highlighted in red, thousands of dollars in cash.

Godly religion might be likened to that medicine or that wealth. Religion is absolutely useless unless it accomplishes the right sort of things in our lives. But of course, corrupt religion can’t be expected to produce godly lives. A corrupt tree can’t be expected to produce healthful, beautiful fruit. But Paul is not talking here about Islam, Hinduism, atheism or Catholicism; He is talking about what should have been the pure, unadulterated worship and service of God. There should not have been a man, woman or teenager in Israel who was not a godly blessing to society. Likewise the United States of America should be a country of godly, spiritual and socially responsible people. Unfortunately, what Paul says of corrupt Jews applies to the equally corrupt Christians of the 21st century.

“Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” Forgetting about Israel and the Jews, does YOUR religion make you WISER than the non-religious? You possess, not only the Jewish Scriptures, but the New Testament as well. You have Romans chapter 1 and a hundred other passages which describe sin, but can you recognize temptation when it comes your way? You have seen Peter and David, Noah and Paul sin, but have you learned not to sin yourself? You have also seen the Saviour tempted like as we are, yet without sin. You have been given several descriptions of Hell and the Lake of Fire, but do you fear these places? You have been given several descriptions of Heaven, but do you long for the presence of God? That Divine Book which you hold in your lap contains enough information to convey peace and contentment to your heart and life for every day of your life, but do you possess them? You’ve been taught about the greatest events in history, but have you learned from them? You have been given the highlights of greatest events of the future, but do you look for them? No? Then what is the point of being a Christian?

There is nothing in bearing the name either “Christian” or “Jew.” Names mean nothing if there isn’t the reality behind it. If I call myself Napoleon Bonaparte, it makes me a lunatic, not an emperor. And if I call myself a Christian, I am more than a lunatic, if I am not a bonafide child of God as well. Holding the Bible in our hands; owning several Bibles, and littering our bookshelves with Bibles doesn’t make us wiser than the atheists or Hottentots. “I rest in the law of God.” There should be no resting in the law; there should be only living under that law. It’s like resting on God’s promises – what is the point, if we don’t live in those promises. Ah, but then I’m not properly using the word rest, am I? “I make my boast in God.” If I don’t trust and love and serve and worship God, then boasting in Him is a waste of breath. Much better than our boasting in the Lord is the Lord’s boasting in us. Take Job as an example: “And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?” “I know the will of God, having been instructed out of the law.” But knowing the will of God is just another nail in our coffin, if we aren’t doing the will of God. Despisest thou the riches of the goodness, forbearance and wisdom of God as revealed in the pages of the revelation of God, not know that these things were meant to bring thee to repentance? The Jews were not doing the will of God, and neither are 75%, 80% or maybe 90% of these who claim to be Christians. In their case their religion means nothing.

Not only should our religion make us wiser, it should make us BETTER people. “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?” How many millions of professing Christians have had abortions since it became legal in the United States? Conversely how many Muslims have there been, or even Roman Catholics for that matter? What happens to thieves and adulterers under Islam? What happens to them in the “Christian” land of America? And what happens to those to wilfully take the lives of others? Who makes the hardest worker: the professing Christian or atheist who wants to retire at 40? Does the church-going Christian make the best neighbor? Who is more apt to loose his temper, the fundamental Baptist or the Hindu who daily practices his transcendental meditation? Bigotry and hatred is found in every nation, tongue and tribe of people, but thankfully not among the true children of God – right?

We are fundamental Baptists; we hate and abhor idolatry – correct? But what is it to commit sacrilege? It is to profane holy things. It is to sing the songs of Zion in a rap style, rock-style or with enough driving rhythm that even gospel words become acceptable in the honky-tonk. We commit sacrilege when we place the sermon of the preacher above the Word of God. We commit sacrilege when we come to think that church attendance is of less importance than attendance at grandma’s house. “Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?” We commit sacrilege when we use the name of God sinfully, sloppily, or sourly.

“For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.” The Old Testament often speaks about the ways in which Israel shamed the name of their God. For example there is Ezekiel 36 – “Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own way and by their doings …. Wherefore I poured my fury upon them for the blood that they had shed upon the land, and for their idols wherewith they had polluted it: And I scattered them among the heathen, and they were dispersed through the countries: according to their way and according to their doings I judged them. And when they entered unto the heathen, whither they went, they profaned my holy name, when they said to them, These are the people of the LORD, and are gone forth out of his land.”

Paul was particularly worried that as Christians we do the same sort of thing to the name of the Lord. I Timothy 5:14 – “I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.” I Timothy 6:1 – “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.” Titus 2 – “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise … That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.”

I have read, and I tend to agree, that the greatest physical obstacle to winning the world to Christ are the Christians who are say that they are trying to win the world to Christ, but whose lives are filled with corruption. It was certainly true of Israel, the Lord’s first ambassador nation. And it’s true of many of the Lord’s ambassadors of the last days.

True religion is designed to be practical in a variety of different ways. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” – James 1:27. BUT having said all this, I have to back-track and issue a word of serious warning.

Practical Christianity doesn’t begin with practice.

Let’s say that Israel listened to all that Paul was telling them in this chapter. Let’s say that the entire nation – from the oldest man to the youngster in the street – saw what God’s prophet was saying, and they implemented what he was saying. They began to practice all the religious ceremonies and festivals that Moses codified for them. They cleaned up their personal lives, quit their adultery, tossed their pornography and returned all their stolen property. Before they ever taught a Bible lesson or one of any of the Mosaic laws, they made sure that they were strictly living those precepts. They ceased to be hypocrites and became honest servants and worshipers of God. Those who had been neglecting circumcision, all took themselves and their children to the priest. If their outward lives became exemplary and perfect to the eye, but their inward lives were still corrupt, then corrupt they were still before God. “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”

And similarly, someone might be an obedient, knowledgeable, serving, outwardly worshiping Christian, but until he is regenerated, he is still an uncircumcised heathen in the sight of God. Paul is not trying to tell Israel to clean up its act before the sight of men. He’s trying to tell them that they were hopelessly sinful and in desperate trouble. Unfortunately for the sake of our message, he doesn’t describe the solution to their problems for another couple of chapters yet. If we are going to use Paul’s lessons here in making application to ourselves, we have to say that outward perfection doesn’t mean inward perfection before the omniscient sight of God. And as the Apostle will essentially say later on – “Ye must be born again.” Unless we have the new heart of which so many of God’s prophets speak, all the outward religion in the world will mean nothing – whether perfect or fake. And that new heart requires the miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit of God. It requires regeneration – a new birth, a spiritual birth.

Evidence of that regeneration is seen first, not in obedience to God’s law, in morality and being “nice.” Evidence of regeneration and a new God-given heart is first seen in repentance and faith in the Lord. These are going to be the things which Paul exhorts when he’s finished with his preliminary teaching. But we can’t wait that long.

It is our exhortation at this moment – repent of your sin before God. And put your faith, hope and trust in what the Lord Jesus did on Calvary, paying the price for your sin. Jesus died my soul to save, and the only way to know if He did the same for you is to humbly trust Him for it.