If you’re brought up as a religious person, don’t assume that you can lean back in the arms of your religion and take it easy, feeling smug because you’re an insider to God‘s revelation, a connoisseur of the best things of God, informed on the latest doctrines! I have a special word of caution for you who are sure that you have it all together yourselves and, because you know God’s revealed Word inside and out, feel qualified to guide others through their blind alleys and dark nights and confused emotions to God. While you are guiding others, who is going to guide you? I’m quite serious. While preaching “Don’t steal!” are you going to rob people blind? Who would suspect you? The same with adultery. The same with idolatry. You can get by with almost anything if you front it with eloquent talk about God and his law. The line from Scripture, “It’s because of you ‘Christians’ that the outsiders are down on God,” shows it’s an old problem that isn’t going to go away. (Romans 2:17-24, THE MESSAGE, words in italics modified)
Man, I love the apostle Paul. Here was a guy who was raised in the strictest sect of the Jewish religion, and literally spent his career hunting down Jesus followers and approving their executions. Yet here he is, a changed man who had a vision of Jesus and gave up his entire life to follow Him.
So here he is, a man full of the grace of God, who has spent many days in the dens of pagan revelry. No doubt he never participated in the actions of these folks, but brought God’s message to them. People of his religious lineage certainly type cast him as “one of those people”. Yet in his letter to the Romans he’s calling people of his religious heritage out. He’s telling them not to think that their religious affiliation, doctrine, or upbringing will save them. If they’re hypocritical, God will judge them. He even goes as far to say (in ESV translation) that “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”, applying Isaiah 52:5 to his situation.
How often do we look at the words of Paul and say, “well, he was a super spiritual guy, and that was the “apostolic age” when people like that were around.” But my friends, I think we can have the level of commitment that Paul did today, in this age. Not many of us may compare to Paul himself- but he’s writing these words to us under the inspiration of God Himself so that we may imitate him, not theologize him. And all who call upon Jesus ought to desire to be disciples of Jesus, not merely converts.
Is it because of us “Christians” that outsiders are down on God? Do we tell people “don’t steal” while we try to get money out of people unjustly? Do we tell people “don’t commit adultery” while we have an in closet porn addiction and uncontrollable wandering eye? Do we tell people to “serve God only” when we are torn between our comfort, security, stocks and bonds and His will? Paul’s words apply today. They apply to all of us in every socio-economic status, race, religious background and age. So if we’re wealthy and religious and God compels us to give away half of our income to third world nations, we should do it. If God compels us to use our house to show hospitality to foreign exchange students who can’t afford housing, we should do it. When we truly desire to serve Jesus the way that the scriptures prescribe, our lives are radically changed. We need to take them at face value and not minimize or distort them.
So may we not be like the religious hypocrites that Paul speaks of, but may we be so above reproach that outsiders see the beauty of God because of us. As Keith Green sang in reiteration of the ancient text, “We are His workmanship created for good works in Christ.”