Summary: The danger that confronts religious people is that they rely on their performance to gain right standing with God.
Several years ago I was pulled over by a police officer for running a red light.
“Why did you do it?” he asked.
“Well, Officer,” I explained. “I am a pastor. One of the members of our church is about to have open heart surgery at Harrisburg General Hospital. I got off to a late start this morning, and I am trying to get to him before he goes into surgery.”
“Pastor,” said the officer, “you ought to know better! You know that running a red light is breaking the law! And you call yourself a Christian?”
Have you ever had that happen to you? Have you ever done something and had someone challenge your Christian profession?
In my discussions with people who profess to be Christians, I sometimes ask them why they think that God should let them into heaven. Some of the answers I get include the following:
• Because I obey the Ten Commandments.
• Because I love God.
• Because I try to do what God tells me to do in his Word.
• Because I have been in church all my life.
• Because I teach Sunday school.
• And so on. . . .
One danger that confronts religious people is that they rely on their performance to gain right standing with God. They think that God should accept them because of their good works.
This is exactly the same issue that the Apostle Paul addressed in our text for today. Paul noted that the Jews were trying to gain right standing with God because of their good works.
Let’s see how Paul put it in Romans 2:17-24:
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— 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.” (Romans 2:17-24)
Paul began his letter to the Romans with greetings and a personal introduction (1:1-15).
Then he stated his theme for the letter, which is that the righteousness of God is received by faith (1:16-17).
The body of Paul’s letter began with a discussion of the sinfulness of the Gentiles (1:18-32). One can almost see the Jews nodding their heads in agreement with Paul.
Yes, they would have said, those Gentiles are sinners indeed. They certainly deserve the wrath of God.
Imagine the surprise of the Jews when Paul suddenly focused on their sinfulness (in 2:1-3:8)!
What? We are sinners? How can we be? Surely we have God’s favor? We belong to God.
In our lesson today I want you to see that the danger that confronts religious people is that they rely on their performance to gain right standing with God. They think that God should accept them because of their good works.
I. The Religious Person’s Plea Rendered (2:17-20)
First, I want you to notice the religious person’s plea.
The religious person says, “I should be accepted by God because of my good works.”
The Jewish people of Paul’s day were very proud of their religion and their association with it. After all, they were Jews, they had the law, and they bragged about their relationship with God. In addition, they claimed to know God’s will and approved what was superior because they were instructed in the law. They were convinced that they were a guide for the blind, a light for those who were in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, and a teacher of infants, because they had in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth (2:17-20).
This is an impressive resume. Who could doubt that they were not rightly related to God?
Obviously, the Apostle Paul did. He challenged the religious Jew and his thinking that he should be accepted by God because of his good works.
Paul challenges the religious person today too who thinks that he or she should be accepted by God because of his or her good works.
II. The Religious Person’s Plea Refuted (2:21-24)
Paul refutes the religious person’s plea by saying essentially, “You don’t practice what you preach!”