Summary: A look at how the greatest evil is often wears religious clothes and how we can avoid having that happen in our lives.
A QUESTION: How could Paul be the “world’s biggest sinner” when he was so religious?
- This passage is interesting and sets up an obvious question: if Paul was so religious and so focused on pleasing God, how could he have been the world’s biggest sinner? It’s not like he was out drinking and carousing.
- Paul’s words here are not, I believe, exaggeration for effect or false modesty. I believe that Paul looked at his life before salvation and genuinely believed that he was the most guilty of all.
- How could he have been so religious and so sinful?
WHAT SIN LOOKS LIKE: Often the greatest evil has a religious look to it.
- The greatest evil often has a religious look to it.
- Matthew 23 is an extended diatribe from Jesus on the horrors that the religious scholars and teachers of the Law had brought on their people.
- We often go with the view that “it’s better than nothing.” Showing up for church is better than nothing. Having a weak relationship with God is better than nothing. Having some vague respect for God is better than nothing.
- But as we’ll find as we unpack this idea, often the greatest evil comes with some religion attached to it.
- Paul is a primary example.
- He was not, as previously noted, out drinking and carousing. He wasn’t committing adultery. He was focused and zealous for God.
- But because his thoughts on who God was were so off, he ended up committing great sin with his actions.
- Also, great evil also often has a respectable look to it.
- Consider the evil done by CEOs and people in positions of authority.
- “The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.” – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
- Does this happen today?
- Well, think about the reputation that the church has. Would that reputation be the same if everyone was doing what they do religiously for the right reasons?
HOW THAT HAPPENS: Being religious can cause that because (a) we can’t see the evil because we believe it’s God’s will, (b) we encourage people to appear good rather than confess sin, (c) we deflect criticism by saying the critic is lost.
a. We can’t see the evil because we believe it’s God’s will.
- Believing that you’re doing God’s will is a great way to become blinded.
b. We encourage people to appear good rather than confess sin.
- We cannot be saved if we’re not sinners. Yet, somehow, we both claim to be saved and never acknowledge that we’ve sinned.
c. We deflect criticism by saying the critic is lost.
- Rather than taking seriously criticisms and rebukes, we’re tempted to dismiss them because that person isn’t as “holy” as us.
ISN'T COMING TO CHURCH BETTER THAN NOT COMING? If you remain unsaved, then the more Bible you know, the harsher your judgment will be.
- Isn’t coming to church better than not coming? Many presume so.
- Going to church and sitting on boards is not intrinsically good. If you do it for the wrong motives or for the wrong reasons, it’s evil.
- We’ll say, “At least I’m going to church.” The problem with that statement is that God’s goal is not to get you into church, but to get you to be like Christ.
- We might be coming to church for pride, for personal reputation, to please someone else. None of those are good reasons.
MAKING SURE YOU'RE OK: Obey, but do it with humility and confession.
- First, the “obey” part.
- This is not the whole picture because Paul thought he was obeying, but it is a necessary starting point.
- Make sure you’re not contenting yourself with the “I go to church” line of reasoning.
- If I ask you, “Are you a disciple of Jesus?” and you reply, “I’m a member of such-and-such church,” you didn’t answer my question.
- If I ask you, “Are you a disciple of Jesus?” and you reply, “I go to church at such-and-such church,” you didn’t answer my question.
- If I ask you, “Are you a disciple of Jesus?” and you reply, “I’m a deacon/trustee/choir member at such-and-such church,” you didn’t answer my question.
- Jesus wants us to obey His teachings.