Looking at Romans (Session 3)

Session 3:  Religion is not enough!

A major problem in our world today is religion. In fact, lots of people are turned off to God because of religion. Many people will not consider the claims of Christ because of religion. Religion is a problem.

The problem is not simply because some people who profess to be religious show the world by their actions that they are in reality hypocrites. That certainly is an unfortunate reality. The problem is not even because of the evil things people do in the name of religion. These are really symptoms of the problem. You see, the problem of religion is religion itself. What we must understand is that religion can actually encourage people to live lives of hypocrisy. It's easy to be religious. But religion is not enough.

Thus far in the book of Romans, Paul has been dealing with people who reject God. Now he turns his attention to religious people. These are not people who reject God. On the contrary, these are people who affirm God, accept God's word, and participate in the rights and rituals of the church. These are people who openly identify with God and His Commandments. The shocking thing about them, however, is that they are lost. They are religious, but lost!

As we shall see, this is the very situation that exists in much of the world today. In fact, in many Bible-believing, evangelical, Christian churches we find many people who are religious, but lost. We may be religious, but you must understand that religion will never get you into Heaven. Religion is not enough - never was, never will be.

In our text, Paul exposes the fallacy of trusting in religion. He is speaking to the Jews, who were the primary beneficiaries of the true word of God. God had revealed Himself to the Jews. They were His people. The Jews of this passage compare to any who trust in religion today. By understanding the mistakes they were making, we can then judge whether we are making those same mistakes ourselves. The real question you must ask yourself is this: "Are you trusting in religion or in Christ?"

1. The power of Religion

Why is religion a chief enemy of Christianity? That statement may sound strange to you. Doesn't the Bible itself speak about "true religion" in the book of James? It certainly does. But that is precisely the point. The reason why the Bible must speak of "true religion" is because of the danger of "false religion." And I am willing to go so far as to say that almost all of what passes for religion in our day is false religion. Because of that, it is far more profitable to cease to use the term for the real thing. What the Bible calls "true religion" is in reality a relationship with the living God. Religion has been defined by some as man's attempt to be pleasing to God. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that we can never make ourselves pleasing to God by our own efforts. Therefore, religion becomes my effort to earn my salvation. Therein lies the problem.

What religion produces is people who trust in themselves and their identity as religious people. This was the case of the Jews to whom Paul wrote.

17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth-

They were proud of being a religious people. Note that Paul says that you call yourself a Jew. They were proud of that designation. It identified them as the people upon whom God had shown favor. It also indicated that they were a very religious people. Paul could have said, "You take pride in being known as a religious people." This is how we should apply this today.

This is the subtle deception of religion. Religion leads to a prideful attitude. That is always the case. It was for the Jews. Notice what they took pride in. They were proud that they possessed the law. They were happy that as Jews they were known to rely on the law. Of course, the reason they could do this was because they had been given the law of God by God Himself. They had His law written down. This caused them to brag about their relationship to God. They were very pleased with themselves to know his will and approve of what is superior. They were instructed by the law. And they considered themselves a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants. They were proud to be religious. They had the truth. They knew the truth. They agreed with the truth. They taught the truth.

This pride led them to an inevitable attitude. It is the attitude of presumption. Pride always leads to presumption. Because of who they thought they were, they thought they were pleasing to God. They presumed that all of this religion was enough. But they were wrong. It is not enough to consider yourself religious. It is not enough to rely on the law. It is not enough to brag about your relationship to God. It is not enough to know his will and even approve of what is right. It is not enough to be instructed by the law. It is not even enough to be a teacher of the knowledge and truth that has been revealed by God. These things are not enough.

Listen to the problem and predicament they were in. It is outlined in verses 21-24:

21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: ''God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."

They had become hypocrites. They thought they were following God when in fact they were dishonoring God by breaking His law. They taught one thing and did another. They were religious. But they had missed the point altogether. It is not what you know, agree with, or teach. It is who you are. Following God is not about the head, it is about the heart.

2. The habitual Ritual

25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 If those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

One of the subtle traps of religion is the idea that somehow, if we participate in religious activity or ritual, that will gain us favor with God. For Jews, the big ritual was circumcision. This was the sign of the covenant that God had made with Israel. On the eighth day of his life every male child would be circumcised as a testimony to the covenant God had made with His chosen people. So for Paul to talk to them about the ritual of circumcision was to talk about their identity and identification as a people belonging to God.

The problem was that the Jews had come to rely upon this physical act of religious ritual instead of seeing the spiritual significance behind the physical rite of circumcision. What Paul is saying is that the outward act only has value if you observe the law. To go through some religious ritual when it is only an outward act with no inner spiritual significance is foolishness. If they were not willing to do what God had commanded, why should they think God would accept them based upon some religious ritual. Certainly it was a ritual He had commanded in their case. But the significance was not in the circumcision, it was in the covenant relationship. They were identifying with the covenant yet violating the covenant by the way they lived their lives.

Indeed, it went even deeper than that. Their behavior was a reflection of their character. They did not obey the law because they did not want to obey the law. They wanted the benefits of God's favor without the obligations of obeying God. Paul reminds them that if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. In other words, outward rituals must testify of an inward reality.

Paul asks a rhetorical question in verse 26: If those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? His obvious answer is yes! Again, the emphasis is on the inward spiritual reality, not on the outward physical ritual. Indeed, these uncircumcised people who keep God's law will condemn those who are circumcised and break God's law.

3. The discovery of Reality

Now we come to the real heart of the issue. This is the point Paul is trying to make.

28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.

The point is that religion is not enough. Outward ritual is not enough. You could paraphrase Paul this way: "You are not a true believer if you are only one outwardly, nor is true Christianity merely an outward and physical expression. You are only a true Christian if you are one inwardly; and none of your religious observance means anything unless it is from the heart, by the Spirit, and not merely by knowing the letter of the written code."

The real issue, you see, is one of the heart. You can be as religious a person as you possibly can be. You could even be a preacher who knows and believes the Bible, one who knows how to read it in its original Hebrew and Greek, and one who proclaims its truth with a loud voice from the pulpit. But if your heart is hard as stone, it means nothing. It is a matter of the heart.

Now Paul is not saying that we should not identify with the people of God, or that we should not be baptized as believers, or that we should not believe and proclaim the truth. All these things have meaning for us if our heart is right with God. This is the real issue. This is reality. Religion shields us from reality. God brings us face to face with reality and calls us to repent. And when we do, He replaces the heart of stone with a heart of flesh. When that happens we cease to trust in the outward observance even though we participate in it. But we do not participate in it as merely a ritual. We participate because it testifies of a spiritual reality. That person's praise is not from men, but from God.

 

 

 


Teaching Notes
Webpage icon Are you ready for revelation? (1 Cor 2:9,10)
Webpage icon Looking at Romans (Session 2)
Webpage icon Looking at Romans (Session 1)
Webpage icon Looking at Romans (Session 4)
Webpage icon Looking at Romans (Session 5)
Webpage icon The church is a community…
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