Church People Beware!!

Title: Church People Beware!!

Text: Romans 2:17-29

Time: August 6th, 2006

Last year around Christmas time I visited my parents in Michigan as I always try to do once a month. One of the main reasons why I moved back to the Midwest or Mideast area from the West was to be closer to family, so I visited my parents around Christmas time. We decided to go see a movie that was coming out at the theaters based on a new remake of a famous movie War of the Worlds, about aliens invading the world. It was directed by world-famous director Steven Spielberg, and starred the world famous actor Tom Cruise, so we thought it would be great. Boy were we disappointed. It was terrible. It was really bad. The 50-year-old black and white version of War of the Words was a lot better by far. The newer version had everything going for it, famous director, big budget, big marketing budget, famous star, but it still was bad, one of the worse films I’ve ever seen at the theater. What does this teach us? It teaches us that you can’t judge something by its credentials. By all rights, this movie had great credentials, but the movie itself was a flop. You can’t judge a book by its cover. You can’t judge a bottle by its label. All that glitters is not gold. The Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans says the same thing in respect to people. You can’t judge a person’s character by looking at their appearance. As the Bible says, “Man looks at the outside, but God looks at the heart.” Just because a person is good looking doesn’t mean he or she is a good person inside. Just because a person comes from a famous family doesn’t mean they will accomplish anything worthy of recognition. Just because someone comes from a rich family doesn’t mean they are anything special. And the Apostle Paul says that just because someone comes from a proud, spiritual heritage doesn’t mean that they are anything special to God. In Paul’s day, the Jews were proud of their spiritual heritage that went back all the way to Abraham, and included, Moses and David the King. But Paul reminds the Jews that just because they come from a proud spiritual heritage doesn’t mean they are personally justified before God. God doesn’t have any grandchildren, meaning, your family background can’t save you. That’s a lesson Christians need to hear today as well, especially those of us who grew up in a Christian family or in the Christian church. We need to realize that God deals with us individually, on a case-by-case basis, not as a product of our background or privileges. In Romans 2:17-29, Paul is talking to the Jews, but he may as well be talking to church people today, because almost everything that he says applies to us as well. Let’s read from this passage and see how it applies to us (read). Let me mention the main things I find in this passage: one, do you have a privileged spiritual background?, two, why don’t you live up to your name?, it’s not the label but what’s in the bottle that counts.

First, “Do you have a privileged spiritual heritage?” The Jews did, and so do most Americans too. Let’s hear what Paul says to the privileged Jews in Romans 2:17-20, “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew, if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship with God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth.” Now there is no question that the Jewish people had a fantastic spiritual inheritance from God. The Jews came from Abraham, that great man of faith who God gave promises and miracles to. Then, through the line of Abraham came the patriarchs and the twelve tribes of Israel. Then Moses came and led the people out of Egypt with God performing miracles, and giving the Jews His laws. God then led the Jews into the Promised Land, gave them prophets and kings, gave them the city Jerusalem and the temple. And even after wars and exiles, brought the Jews back time and time again to the Promised Land. So the Jews are truly God’s chosen people. But what that had done for them by the time of Jesus was made them proud. They took for granted that God would favor them and judge them differently than the other nations. At the time of Jesus and during the time of Paul, the Jews were counting on their spiritual heritage to save them. That’s a big temptation for Christians today, especially all of us who were raised in the church or in a Christian home or even raised in Christian America. Just like the old Jews, people raised in a Christian culture, in Western Civilization, in so-called Christian America, or in a Christian family or in the Christian church, can also get to thinking that they can rest on their background. But that’s just as wrong as the old Jews thinking they would be saved because of their heritage. Now we do have a large Christian heritage in the United States. First of all, we come out of the Western European culture where Christianity was already established many years before the United States became a nation. What started out in the little town of Bethlehem in the year zero, spread all over the Middle East and Europe until finally in the fourth century Christianity became the official faith of the mighty Roman Empire. Churches and crosses started going up all over Europe. Even the barbarian tribes became Christians. Then, after the Reformation period, Christians started coming across the ocean to America; Puritans they called them – members of a group of really revived and reformed brand of Christianity. From these Bible-believing Christians, churches formed in the United States so that the U.S. became known as a Christian nation. For the last 250 years people born in our nation grow up with Christianity all around the place, churches, Bibles, etc. And on top of that, many of us grow up in Christian homes. And most people grow up in the church. So few people in the world have had such a great Christian heritage as we Americans have had. But that isn’t enough. We can’t think that because of our spiritual background and inheritance we are special. Paul’s explains why.

Second, “Do you have a privileged spiritual background? Then why don’t you live up to it?” The Jews had a privileged faith inheritance, but they weren’t living up to it. Romans 2:21-24, “You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’” Paul is saying to the Jews, “Why don’t you practice what you preach?” They were living by a double standard. On the one hand, when they saw the pagans sinning they reacted against it saying, “How can these people live like that, in such sin?” But then the Jews wouldn’t recognize the fact that they sinned too — oh maybe not as outward or as visible or as public as the pagans — but they would sin just the same. Yet, they were counting on God overlooking their sins because they were privileged on account of their spiritual heritage, so they thought. Now that same double standard kind of thinking is easy for us Christians to fall into also, because of our fine spiritual heritage. After all, God has blessed our nations hasn’t He? Isn’t there a song that says, “God bless America, land that I love, stand beside her and guide her with the light from above?” Isn’t there another song, “Well I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free . . . God bless the U.S.A.?” And it’s easy to overlook our faults and sins and get caught up in our American, Christian heritage, thinking that alone will save us. Do you know what the Arab Muslim terrorists are saying about our so-called Christian nation? They are claiming that we are corrupting the world with our sexual immorality and materialistic greed and our junk popular culture on television, movies, music, etc. And you know what? They are right about that. So-called Christian America is polluting the world with corruption. We are guilty of that. Now that doesn’t give them a right to drive exploding planes into buildings and terrorize us, but our so-called Christian culture is giving God a bad name around the world, because we are getting caught up in the sins of secular culture right here in America. We Americans can’t rely on our Christian past, or our family spiritual heritage. We can’t point to the fact that there are more churches here than anywhere, or that more people go to church here than anywhere else. I just read a book that just came out called, “Why Christians Act Just Like Everybody Else” It showed that Christians get divorced as much as non-Christians. They are as materialistic and greedy as others. More and more so-called Christians are living together before marriage like non-Christians, even as they go to church. No, we can’t point to our Christian background, or even our church membership today, or that we call ourselves Christian today. All of these things mean little or nothing unless we are right with God. The Jews couldn’t rest on their background, neither can Christians.

Romans 2:25-27, “Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as through they were circumcised? 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.” Now for the Jewish male the mark of circumcision was proof that they were a Jew and special before God. But Paul says what good is circumcision if you don’t act like a special Jew? He says that when the pagans who don’t go around bragging that they are special, act more like Jews than Jews, they will get more recognition from God than a Jew who doesn’t act like one. The same applies to a churchgoer, a church member, or someone who claims to be a Christian. They may claim that they are special to God, but do they act like they are special to God by living in obedience to God? It doesn’t matter if they’ve been baptized, it doesn’t matter if they’ve been a church member for many years, it doesn’t matter if they’ve read their Bible all the way through, or if they attend every Sunday at church. If they think they are special because of these things, then they must ask themselves, “Do I practice what I profess?” If I go to church, does my life reflect holiness that you’d expect of one who attends church every Sunday? If I’m baptized, does my life reflect my baptism commitment? If I’m a church member, do I think that because I’m a church member, that means I’m dedicated to God? If so, does my life look like I’m more dedicated to God? Because if I’m a typical American who goes to church on Sunday, who claims to have a born again relationship with Jesus, if I’m a typical born again Christian, then I’m not practicing my faith, because people see me as a hypocrite, because that’s what they think all Christians are. Why? Because so many of us act like hypocrites. That’s what the Jews were doing; they were acting like hypocrites. They claimed to be so close to God, yet their lives told a different story. That’s what the book I just read entitled, “Why Christians Act Just Like Everybody Else,” is saying about Christians today: if we are so special and so close to God, why are Christian marriages ending in divorce, why are Christians living immorally like the others do, why are we so materialistic, so chasing after the same idols as others, so weak in our commitment to God? It’s because our credentials as American Christians aren’t enough. We are like a person who has this fantastic looking resume, gets hired, but can’t do the job. We look good on paper, but our lives show a different thing. We tell ourselves and others that we are Christians, but we don’t even know the first thing about what that really even means. And other people see that too. That’s why they don’t want to be a Christian. But there is one more thing.

Three, “It’s not the label, but what’s in the bottle that counts.” Paul says, it’s not what a person calls himself or herself, it’s not what their background is, it’s not even what they see themselves as, it’s what’s inside of them that counts. Romans 2:28-29, “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 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 man, but from God.” It isn’t what the label is on the bottle; it’s what’s in the bottle that counts. It isn’t a Jew calling himself a Jew that makes him a real spiritual Jew, special to God. And it isn’t a person calling himself a Christian, or being raised in a Christian home, or being raised in the church, or being a part of Christian America that makes a person special to God. It isn’t even Christian baptism or church membership or reading the Bible that makes a person a real Christian. It certainly isn’t being a minister or church leader that makes a person a special person to God. What makes a person a Christian is if they have been converted in their heart. Only an inner heart transformation, from a selfish person to a God-centered person counts. Only a conversion of the soul counts. I must realize that all my human efforts cannot win me favor with God. I must realize that only Jesus’ death on the cross, only his sacrifice of love, can save me. I confess my sins to God, I repent of my sins and embrace the cross of Christ, beg God to forgive me for Jesus’ sake, and I am saved. It isn’t my external credentials of church or baptism or membership or church activity or prayer or Bible reading or family background. I can’t count on being born in Christian America to save me. Did you know in Sweden right now, a newborn baby is automatically made a member of the Lutheran church unless their parents specifically state that they don’t want it? They are automatically baptized unless specifically prohibited. But that won’t save them, just like being raised in the church or being raised in a Christian home. As the saying goes, “God has no grandchildren.” You are either his child or you are not. Now what that means is that we must make sure that we are saved at the heart level, because nothing else counts. Are you saved? How do you know? Have you surrendered your heart to God through Jesus Christ? Have you repented of your sins, all your sins, and turned to Jesus in humble heart faith? Is your life changing? Is there evidence of God in your life? Or is it all Christian resume but no Christian reality? A lot of people have Christian credentials, but not as many are living the Christian faith. Let’s not be like the Jews who were content with the external label of spirituality, let’s check our hearts to see if we’ve got the real faith there.

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