Summary: This message is from my expository series through the book of Romans.
“Pity Poor #144,001”
November 16, 2008
Pity poor #144,001. Jehovah’s Witnesses are sincere people, but part of their aberrant belief system is the idea that Heaven will be populated by 144,000 people. There are 6 million-plus Jehovah’s Witnesses in the world, so that’s not great news for almost all of them (they get eternity on earth, according to Watchtower teaching, which I suppose isn’t a terrible consolation prize). Further, their salvation plan is based upon the doing of good deeds. And thus I say, “pity poor #144,001!” “If only I had rung two more doorbells! Three more minutes of prayer, and I’d have beaten out #144,000!” “That one Sunday where I blew off church to watch the Braves!” We can imagine Maxwell Smart wistfully saying, “Missed it by that much!” How silly—and yet in a system based upon good works, wouldn’t that be something like the way it worked?
Think about it: what if the gospel were about works, and not about faith? What if a person were convinced that his good works played into the salvation equation? What are some things that would be true?
• How would I ever know if I’d done enough good works, or if the good I’d done outweighed the bad?
• Why would Jesus have had to die on the cross?
• What kind of place would Heaven be like?
o “Here’s what I did to make it!”
o Lots of bragging; think about the egos!
o Would God receive the glory, or would we get some?
• Faith would become irrelevant
By contrast, we believe that because of our indwelling, innate sinfulness, there is nothing that our good works can accomplish when it comes to the achievement of our salvation. Paul lists several key truths about the faith-alone gospel:
I. Excludes boasting – :27-28
Paul goes back to his “diatribe” form of teaching, that of imagining a conversation between two individuals. He asks three questions: first, “what becomes of our boasting?”
“Boasting is the language of our fallen self-centeredness”, wrote John Stott; it’s endemic to who we are as human beings to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, and to find ways to tell other people about it. I’m reminded of the preacher who was really burnt out from ministry, and one Saturday afternoon, despairing of having to stand up and preach again the next day, he decided that he’d tell a little white lie and call in sick, having his associate pastor preach for him. He, instead, would spend that Sunday morning on the golf course. Sunday morning dawned and the day was absolutely gorgeous, perfect for golf. The pastor arrived a little early for his tee time, and on the driving range, he was long and straight; his practice wedges were accurate; everything seemed right for a great day of golf. But things got better on the first par 3 he approached; hitting a gently-arcing 7-iron, the ball landed on the green, took two bounces, and plunked dead into the middle of the cup, a beautiful hole-in-one if there ever was one. Observing all of this from on high were a pair of archangels, Gabriel and Michael.
“Can you believe that”, asked Gabriel; “that scoundrel of a preacher lies about being sick, skips church, heads to the golf course, and promptly cards a hole-in-one. How can God allow that? That is so wrong!”
“Oh, I think God knows what He’s doing”, said Michael.
“Yeah? How’s that? God lets this skunk get a hole-in-one playing hooky from church? Why would God do that?”
“Easy”, replied the wise angel, “who’s he gonna tell?”
Michael understood human nature; the fun of getting the hole-in-one isn’t so much in sinking the ball in the hole, but in letting everybody know that you sunk the ball in the hole! Why? Because we love to boast about ourselves! Some of us may do it in a more modest fashion, rather than in a boisterous way, but we all naturally want other people to like us, to think highly of us, and frankly, we want to think highly of ourselves, and so one of our bad habits is boasting. Paul betrays the fact that he himself was a religious braggart; in Philippians 3, he lists the credentials of which he’d have boasted in his days before Christ.
And our boasting isn’t limited to what we say; sometimes we boast quietly, with the proud look, the condescending attitude, the vain imagining of oneself to be smarter or better than another. We demonstrate pride when we cling to our opinions in spite of the evidence, merely because those opinions are “ours”. We can even boast in our humility, if we’re not careful!
But for the Christian, the fact that we are believers is never cause for boasting in ourselves. Our problem is our focus on ourselves, but the cure is focus on Jesus, and Paul says that those who boast ought to boast in the Lord (Galatians 6:14).