the letter iconI wanted to start out with reading Romans 1:16 again. If you don’t know or couldn’t tell, I have 1.1.Six tattooed on my arm, which stands for Romans 1:16. I believe this is the central theme of Romans, and should really be tattooed, if not on your arm, on your heart as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Read it out loud:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16 NIV)

I am not ashamed of the gospel. Why? Because, as the Message version puts it: it is God’s extraordinary plan to rescue everyone who trusts him. And the last part really sets us up for today: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. The Message version says: Starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else.

So this section of Scripture is butting heads with the Jews in Rome. Now, Jews today don’t even believe that Jesus was the Messiah. In fact, they really didn’t back then either. (If you remember, they crucified him…) So why does Paul continually focus on the Jews?

Like we’ve talked about, the Jews were the religious people of Jesus’ day. They knew the Law and the rules. They were, after all, chosen by God. But here’s what the Jews didn’t understand and even got angry about. Jesus came so that ALL could have life. So that ALL could repent and follow Him! That’s what Romans 1:16 is all about! Yes, Israel has been God’s chosen people. But Jesus came to declare that it is God’s saving power for salvation to ALL who believe.

These Jewish people in Rome thought they knew it all. They have been following the rules and making sure everyone else was called out if they weren’t following them. They are kind of like us church people right?

So this brings us to our section, and when you hear the word Jew or Jewish, assume Paul is talking to the church people in Rome. Don’t sit there and say, ‘This doesn’t apply to me. I’m Christian, not Jewish.’ The Jews were the church people of the day. And here’s how we start:

“If you’re brought up Jewish (so if you were brought up in church, if you attend MRC), 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 (which means a skillful or knowing person) 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.” (Romans 2:17–20 MESSAGE)

Don’t we sometimes feel like this? How about a lot of times? We come to church and go home and say I went to church today. I have it all together. I know the rules. God loves me and I am saved by His grace. Guess what? You’re right. You certainly are saved by His grace. But now that you’re in, do you believe you’ve become perfect by following the rules? Do you think that no one else can get in on this?

Paul sets himself up to address those of us who think we are favored by God for knowing the Law. He’s about to address those of us who think that everyone else not yet Christian is an unworthy sinner, a Law breaker. What does he say?

“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 boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?” (Romans 2:21–23 NIV)

Why does Paul pick such blatant sins? Stealing. Adultery. Idolatry. These are pretty set it stone sins that most people can identify. I mean, even if you don’t go to church, you know what stealing is. Even if you don’t go to church, you know what adultery is. So why pick them? I think this goes back to Jesus’ teaching on these sins, the radical extension of the Law. Such as looking at another woman in lust is as bad as adultery. Such as hating our brother or sister is considered murder.

So Paul is going through and just smashing these Law abiding Jews. These all-about-the-rules Christians. Paul is saying while you preach not to steal to unbelievers, you yourself steal. While you preach not to commit adultery to unbelievers, you lust after the next woman that walks by. He then smacks them in the face with the last verse of this paragraph by referencing Scripture back to Isaiah 52:5

“As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”” (Romans 2:24 NIV)

I’m not sure if you get that smack in the face. The Message version says it much more relevant: “It’s because of you Jews that the outsiders are down on God.” It’s because of you Christians who are all about the rule following, who force these rules on people who don’t yet know God, and then sin, that outsiders don’t want to know God.

Think about it. If someone comes up to you who has dealt with serious sins, why would smashing the rules on them about that sin help?

If someone comes up to you who has been addicted to drinking for years comes up to you and wants to know about Jesus, do you think that smacking them with the Law saying “you can’t get drunk on wine, sinner!” will really change their heart?

Let’s get more serious: let’s say a man comes to you who murdered someone 25 years ago. He’s coming to you, a broken man, who doesn’t know what love or grace is. Do you think quoting one of the commandments at him will help him know Jesus? When we just point our fingers and leave it at that, where does the grace of God come in?

I understand, we are all sinners. When we come to God we need to repent of our sins. But why would anyone want to know a God who just smashes down on them because of their sins?

Alright, so here is my translation of this passage: The TJV (TJ Version).

Now, if you call yourself a Christian and make it look like you have it all together. If you go to church each week. If you know all the rules in the Bible and try and push them on non believers. Do you not steal? Do you not commit adultery in your heart? YOU. HYPOCRITE. You are making God look bad to those who don’t yet know Him.

Don’t get mad at me, this is what Paul is saying!

Does this make sense to you? Paul is saying that it doesn’t matter if we’ve grown up in church. We still mess up! We still don’t add up. So why, then, are we trying to push the rules that we can’t follow ourselves onto others?

It’s not about what we DO. It’s about what Jesus DID.

C.S. Lewis said,

“Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst.”

So then next part of this passage in Romans talks about circumcision. We aren’t going to get into all that, but circumcision showed in that time, before Jesus, that you were from Israel. It was a prominent sign of the Jew’s special status. But Paul is writing in this next part to shoot that idea down. Jesus changed that!

“Circumcision, the surgical ritual that marks you as a Jew, is great if you live in accord with God’s law. But if you don’t, it’s worse than not being circumcised. The reverse is also true: The uncircumcised who keep God’s ways are as good as the circumcised— in fact, better. Better to keep God’s law uncircumcised than break it circumcised. Don’t you see: It’s not the cut of a knife that makes a Jew. You become a Jew by who you are. It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin, that makes a Jew. And recognition comes from God, not legalistic critics.”(Romans 2:25–29 MESSAGE)

So Paul is saying if we don’t follow Jesus, but follow His ways, we are better than those that follow His ways and break them. But Paul’s main point is the last bit: It’s not the cut of a knife that makes you a Jew. In other words, it’s not following the rules that make you a Christian. It’s not making yourself look perfect to others that makes you a Christian. It’s the mark of God on your heart that makes you a follower of Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit that changes our lives, not us following any silly set of rules! It’s so much more than that!

It’s the point of Romans. We must be smashed by God’s grace. It’s something we could never do, so He did it FOR us. It’s not about being the perfect Christian. We can’t be! Paul finishes chapter 2 by just saying, “look it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish. It doesn’t matter if you’re considered an ‘insider.’ It doesn’t matter if you follow the rules to the best of your ability. It’s not YOUR rule following that brings salvation. It’s not YOUR rule following that gets you to heaven! It’s God’s saving power for ALL who believe.

Paul then starts Romans 3 with this:

“What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.” (Romans 3:1–2 NIV)

Is there an advantage to being a Christian, growing up in a Christian home, knowing what the Bible says? Well of course! We have the Bible, we have been entrusted with God’s Word! That’s a pretty big deal! God’s love letter to us is entrusted to us! Do I have an advantage because I grew up in a family that took me to church? Do I have an advantage growing up with Jesus loving parents? Well yes! As opposed to someone who has never heard of the name of Jesus before in another country! I’ve grown up in the Word, I know it, in fact I’m in school STUDYING it for goodness sakes. Do I have an advantage? Yes! I have been entrusted with the Word of God.

But does that make me any more worthy before God?

No, it doesn’t. Does it make me any more righteous? No, it doesn’t. Does it put me, following Jesus since I was little, ahead of someone who accepted Jesus into their heart a week ago? No, it doesn’t. Does it make me less of a sinner and them more? No, it doesn’t.

Paul continues:

“So, what if, in the course of doing that, some of those Jews abandoned their post? God didn’t abandon them. Do you think their faithlessness cancels out his faithfulness? Not on your life! Depend on it: God keeps his word even when the whole world is lying through its teeth.” (Romans 3:3–4 MESSAGE)

It’s true, we Christians are going to mess up. We are going to have times when we abandon our post, do something we regret, and ask for forgiveness. But does that mean that our unfaithfulness at times can take away from God’s faithfulness? Paul says “Not on your life!”

So then we try and stretch it right? Because we can’t possibly be to blame for this stuff.

“But if our wrongdoing only underlines and confirms God’s rightdoing, shouldn’t we be commended for helping out? Since our bad words don’t even make a dent in his good words, isn’t it wrong of God to back us to the wall and hold us to our word? These questions come up. The answer to such questions is no, a most emphatic No! How else would things ever get straightened out if God didn’t do the straightening?

It’s simply perverse to say, “If my lies serve to show off God’s truth all the more gloriously, why blame me? I’m doing God a favor.” Some people are actually trying to put such words in our mouths, claiming that we go around saying, “The more evil we do, the more good God does, so let’s just do it!” That’s pure slander, as I’m sure you’ll agree.” (Romans 3:5–8 MESSAGE)

This is how I would see this conversation going:

So this Jew comes up to Paul: So Paul, what you’re saying is that God looks good when we do wrong, right? So why wouldn’t I do wrong so that God just continues to look good?

Paul, with a puzzled stare: Seriously? You really think God needs YOU to look good? You think the God who created the universe by speaking it into motion needs YOU to look good?

To me, that just seems like a stupid question.

Try some different examples in your life.

  • I’m never going to shower so that those who do will smell so much better!
  • I’m going to eat as much as I can so that bodybuilders look even better!
  • I’m going to crash my car into another car to show how safe my car is!

Do you see what I mean?

So that’s the entire section for today. That’s our chunk. So what is Paul trying to say in this whole section? TJ, what is the point.

Paul is saying that religion does not save you. Coming to church, trying to watch how much you curse, not drinking, etc. does not save you.

The RULES you are trying DESPERATELY to follow DO NOT save you!

But I think there is a bigger application here. We must understand our desperate need of Christ. Instead of desperately following the rules, we must desperately follow Jesus, the one who did it FOR us.

It’s not about what we DO, it’s about what Jesus DID.

There is a song by Memphis May Fire called Pharisees. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily encourage you to go home and download this song… They would be in the music genre called ‘screamo.’ I think many of you would have a heart attack listening to this music, and many of you may even call Ken or Sam and ask for forgiveness after because you thought you just listened to the devil’s music. But I assure you, though the sound of this style of music may be… scary… These guys are biblically founded. And I think this song goes well with this section of Romans.

It starts out with:

Somewhere along the line you must have missed the point, this is not about you.
You twist the words of The Gospel to glorify yourself, but this is not about you!
Take the spotlight off the things that you’ve done & realize he did what you never could.
He carries the weight that you could never hold & even if you had the chance you never would.

It’s the message of Romans right there. We must come to a place where we understand that it isn’t about the rule following. It isn’t about the good that we do, because we all fall short of the glory of God. It’s about what Jesus did for us on that cross. He did what we could never do.

But we do not want to be the reason that Paul writes: God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.

This is not an insider party. We cannot be so concerned with our rule following that we try and push that on outsiders. It’s true, we are hypocrites at times. I’m going to let you down. Ken is going to let you down. Sam is going to, you guessed it, let you down. We cannot pretend to be perfect. We cannot follow rules, which we break anyway, and smack others around with all the things they must do to know Jesus. That’s what these Jews were doing.

Here’s my little line for the day:

Don’t preach what you don’t keep.

If you’re only telling others about the rules they are breaking and why they are such sinners, don’t preach it. Why? Because you can’t keep it.

But if you preach, let it be of grace. Why? Because we can keep that. We will mess up, we will break the rules, but it’s Grace that saves us! It’s God saving power that saves us! God promises that to us, and like Paul said He will always be faithful!

Don’t preach what you don’t keep.

The song continues:

You walk around with your head held high as if you’re not the one that’s living a lie.
You’re living a lie!
What makes you think that you’ll change their minds?
They’ll never see the light if all you preach is hate from a mountain top that you couldn’t climb.

Is this not Paul’s message to us?

The band then says what all of the modern day Pharisees need to hear:

The next time you feel the right to preach about Commandments that you know you do not keep, realize that it was Grace that saved you & do us all a favor, keep your self-righteous mouth shut! We are all at the mercy of grace, you are no different than the rest of us.

Do you find that harsh?

Listen, you need to understand something. Jesus came to do away with the rule following, legalistic mind frame we Christians seem to adopt.

It isn’t about what we do. It’s about what Jesus did.

John Henry Jowett says it well:

Law says ‘Do’, grace says ‘Done.’

There’s a story in John I’d like to read for you. It starts out in John 8:

“Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them.
The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.” (John 8:1–6 MESSAGE)

So Jesus is hanging out with a ton of people around Him, and He’s teaching them. In front of everyone, the Pharisees (the religious people) brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. Now, these leaders wanted to trap Jesus in what He said. I wouldn’t put it past these leaders to literally set this woman up in order to catch her. They bring her before Jesus, stones in hands probably.

Then they bring out the Law. “Leviticus says to stone such women Jesus! Everyone pick up your stones! Let’s stone this sinner! What do you say Jesus? Are you going to listen to the Law or justify her sinning?”

How does Jesus answer in the midst of all the religious leaders?

“Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt.” (John 8:6 MESSAGE)

Um… what? Jesus, they ask, what should we do? He just writes in the dirt!

I mean like what in the world? What is this guy doing?!

No one knows what was written in the dirt. It’s not recorded anywhere! But we do know this: It made everyone there very uncomfortable.

I don’t want to add the Bible, but I want to make a guess. There were two other times when God wrote with His finger. He wrote the 10 commandments on stone and wrote Law at a party in Daniel. So, my guess is that Jesus was sitting there, drawing in the dirt the Law. I think He was sitting there drawing out the sins of all those around Him. All those religious people trying to condemn.

“They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.

Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone.” (John 8:7–9 MESSAGE)

They couldn’t throw the stone! They couldn’t! They all knew their sins. They were putting on a show, they were acting as though they were without sin. They were pointing their fingers and pushing the Law onto others without any regard to their own sins.

They dropped their stones, one by one. The oldest understood first. They’ve been around the block. They know they aren’t without sin.

“Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”
“No one, Master.”
“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”” (John 8:10–11 MESSAGE)

No one was left! Not one. Every ‘perfect’ religious person there couldn’t throw their stone, because they knew that they had sin. They weren’t preaching grace, they were preaching Law.

But notice, Jesus was not condoning her adultery. But Jesus was making His point:

It isn’t about what we DO. It’s about what Jesus DID. (In this case what He’s about to do)

Do you have a pocket full of stones? Are you going to cast the first stone?

Or are you going to drop your stone, and tell the message of God’s grace?

If you’re someone who judges others with words of criticism and hate, you’re no different from the rest of us.

We are all at the mercy of grace.

It’s God’s saving power for the salvation of EVERYONE who believes.