the letter iconSo today we continue this walk through the book of Romans, and this particular chunk of scripture really captured my heart.  If you recall last week we jumped into a really heavy chunk of the letter didn’t we?  Last week we talked about how we had some good news and some bad news right?  Paul presented us with a problem, not just a problem but THE PROBLEM.  We suppress the truth.  The truth is that there is a God.  He is real, and He is worthy of our worship, and praise.  That is THE PROBLEM, and thankfully he gave us a solution in Jesus.  Because of Jesus we have hope, and can have a new life, a new heart, with new passions and pleasures that far out-weigh the sinful, lust-filled pleasures of our heart.  None of us can do it without help and that is the beauty of Jesus, that God loved us enough to give us the solution to THE problem.  Because we turn our backs on that truth, we fall from God and as a people we head down a downward spiral, we forget how to be the humans God created us to be and then Paul went into this long list of sins.

Now an interesting thing can happen when Paul walks us through that long, dark list of sins that we see in the end of the first chapter of Romans.  As good Christians we can do a couple of things.  We either get very excited because well, we aren’t doing those things, or we hear all those sins, and we can think of every person we know who needs to hear what Paul is saying…maybe it’s a little bit of both of those things!  Either way it’s what I want to talk to you about today.

First we check our sin inventory lists: So as we read down through this list of sins in the downward spiral Paul is talking about we are start our own inventory don’t we?  He goes through a list of sins and we like lists don’t we?  So clear, so easily labelled, and we head down through the list.  Ok, so there was homosexuality, you know “those people,” I don’t do that, so that goes in the I’m a good person box…well then there’s evil, I’m not evil so that’s two for the good.  Ok greed well I didn’t care for the money series, and I’m pretty sure I proved why most of those scriptures didn’t apply to me, but nah I’m not greedy.  I don’t know what depravity even means so I can’t be doing that…what’s next?  Oh envy, well I wish I had everything she had, but I’m not full of envy…murder never done that!  Deceit nah, malice no malice here now I do giggle when bad things happen to people I don’t like but seriously no malice inside me.  Then Paul listed gossiping, well I don’t gossip I just share concerns and prayer requests.  Slander I’m good there too and on and on the list goes!  So we run through the list and we get excited don’t we?  We focus on the do’s and the don’t do’s and we can justify how we are living and walk away feeling really good about ourselves!  Then we get to the end of that list and Paul says this…

Romans 1:32 And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care — worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!  (MSG)

We read that, and we’ve determined our amazing holiness, and the second thing hits us…

Here’s the second thing that happens:  We read of all the sins and how terrible they are, and we can tell you every person around us that really should be reading this list right?  We know the sins of everyone around us, and we can tell you why they are heading down this downward spiral we talked about last week.  We have an amazing ability of seeing how scripture applies to everyone but us.  We have an amazing ability to see everyone else’s issues and it leads to devastating results.

Many, many people have been gutted inside a church setting where they have had their sin rammed down their throat.  And many good Christians believe it is their job to help people feel the weight of their sins, like somehow that is going to help.  I believe sometimes they have good intentions, and want to help someone experience Christ but they end up causing more damage and pain, because the person who already probably doesn’t feel that great about themselves now feels guilt, and the weight of judgment on them.  What stinks is the good Christian person pushing guilt and judgment isn’t perfect either.  That is something that their victim typically is very aware of and the good Christian, just is not.  So the person in desperate need of Jesus, feels like they are being judged…weighed and measured by someone that they see very clearly has some issues of their own…and this can lead to devastating results.  Like the victim never experience Jesus, because why would they ever want to be like the person trying to “help them.”  The problem is that we all sin and we walk in here and each and every week celebrating the fact that none of us add up without Jesus doing what he did for us.

So Paul is confronting something big here.  I think this would have been very, very insulting to someone who believes they must appear perfect in every way.  I think what Paul did was set the church of Rome up for a big time sucker punch here.  He lists out all the sins and all the issues of people who have turned away from God and these people probably felt pretty darn good about themselves.  I can just see them there thinking, yeah, go get them Paul, I know a few people who need to hear this!  Frankly many Christians run to Romans 1 to argue and debate different moral issues today, but no one reads on into Romans 2…so let’s do that today!

Romans 2:1-16  You may be saying, “What terrible people you have been talking about!” But you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you do these very same things. 2 And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. 3 Do you think that God will judge and condemn others for doing them and not judge you when you do them, too? 4 Don’t you realize how kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Or don’t you care? Can’t you see how kind he has been in giving you time to turn from your sin? 5 But no, you won’t listen. So you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself because of your stubbornness in refusing to turn from your sin. For there is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, 6 will judge all people according to what they have done. 7 He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing what is good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. 8 But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds. 9 There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on sinning — for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. 10 But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good — for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism. 12 God will punish the Gentiles when they sin, even though they never had God’s written law. And he will punish the Jews when they sin, for they do have the law. 13 For it is not merely knowing the law that brings God’s approval. Those who obey the law will be declared right in God’s sight. 14 Even when Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. 15 They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them, for their own consciences either accuse them or tell them they are doing what is right. 16 The day will surely come when God, by Jesus Christ, will judge everyone’s secret life. This is my message.  NLT

You know, Paul is confronting something here that we see all the time.  Someone becomes a Christian, starts going to church, begins living out the law codes to the best of their ability, and now they think they have everything down pat.  It’s almost like they have forgotten the very reason they are Christian!  It has always amazed me how we can ask Jesus into our hearts, and believe this amazing news, that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, but because of Jesus we are saved, then we leave that moment and walk around looking down our noses at people who sin, mess up, and make the same choices that we make or made prior to knowing Jesus.   I mean that is what Paul is pushing in on here, listen to him…

Romans 2:1-3 Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. 2 But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.3 You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? (MSG)

You know it’s funny, I have not run into too many people that haven’t been hurt by someone they would consider a “church person.”  It amazes me how many people stay far, far away from any opportunity to know God in a real way because somewhere along the line they have felt the weight, the guilt, and the shame of not measuring up to the good church folk.  They have had a Bible rammed down their throat somewhere along the line, or they have had their sin pointed out to them, and the reason that pushes them away from God is because they feel judged by someone who they have spent enough time with to know they aren’t perfect either!  This story is way too familiar, and so tragic.  I think the most devastating part of this is that the good “church person” has lost sight of the central theme of what they believe.  They have forgotten or just lost sight of the fact that they aren’t perfect either!  Oh this is so frustrating to me, why is it that the loudest proclaimer of God on a job sight is the guy that by the end of the day has proven to all of us every reason why we would never want to be a Christian!  This is the hurt that so many people far from God wear right now.  I have felt the judgment, I have been weighed and I seem to come up short of these people’s standards.  The hardest part is a lot of these people seem like they aren’t perfect either but I guess they are in and I am out!

Here’s the deal, Paul is exposing something to these people who feel so much better than everyone in their own life.  He is exposing their own salvation to them!  He is saying, “Hello, you are a sinner too!”  This is a big deal and it really got me thinking, that there really is no replacement for experience, let me explain. 

You know many people who grew up in churches like this church that Paul is confronting were taught that we do whatever we have to do to get people to accept Jesus into their hearts.  The two biggest strategies were to either, 1-Lay on as much guilt as possible.  Or 2-We scare the pants off of them making them feel the fear of hell.

So Here’s Strategy 1-Lay The Guilt On!

We talk about all the rules, we lay out all the religious guidelines (that none of us live up to) then talk about what you put Jesus through.  You are a sinning wretch, and you need to feel the weight of this sin and somehow if we can just get you to feel enough guilt, you will eventually crack, cry and ask Jesus into your life.  This typically was at the end of a service where we will not stop singing this Hymn until your heart is shattered…it’s fine we can be here all night, whatever it takes!

Strategy 2-Scare The Pants Off People!

This used to happen at a lot of old school Bible camps, or maybe sitting in Sunday school.  Ok, here is what we are going to do we are going to ask the big question of the day.  Do you want to spend all of eternity in a happy, glorious, mansion partying with Mommy and Daddy?  It will be so joyful and you will have so much fun!  Or would you like to spend all of eternity burning in the pits of hell.  So little Sammy I know you are only 7 but you must make this choice today.  Do you want to engage a party and happy time for ever and ever, or do you want to be in eternal pain, and torture, and burning fire for the rest of your eternity?  Time to decide!

Here’s the problem with both strategies, your mind has been changed, but has your heart really been changed?  Yes the Pastor and the church leaders feel good, and can say the youth retreat, or church service was a success, but in the end has anyone really experienced God’s love?  I think this is the advantage that Paul has over a lot of the people who he is confronting here.  Paul has experienced something that I’m not sure these others have.  Paul has experienced the grace of God.  See here’s the deal, once you have felt that kind of truly unconditional love, knowing you could do nothing to earn it, knowing you have sinned, knowing that God loves you anyway, well it becomes nearly impossible to judge someone else, because you are so aware of what Jesus did for you!  It’s funny, as Paul writes this letter to the Romans, he is constantly confronting them with grace.  They don’t get grace, they can’t wrap their minds around that kind of love.  They get the rules.  They are trying to earn God’s love not understanding that it is freely given to them, and frankly this is an uphill battle for Paul because these people haven’t been shattered by God’s grace and forgiveness.  They judge people, because they believe they are better than others.  They think they are part of a club that places them above everyone else, and Paul is trying to help them see, that we all sin!  We all mess up, and the beauty of what we believe, is that because God loved us so much we are all saved through Jesus!  This is hard to understand, if you have grown up asking Jesus into your heart to join a club, or because you are terrified to go to hell someday.  Paul has a big advantage on them because he has experienced grace in an amazing way!

Listen to what Paul would writes about himself in a letter to his buddy Timothy…

1 Timothy 1:12 How thankful I am to Christ Jesus our Lord for considering me trustworthy and appointing me to serve him, 13 even though I used to scoff at the name of Christ. I hunted down his people, harming them in every way I could. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. 14 Oh, how kind and gracious the Lord was! He filled me completely with faith and the love of Christ Jesus. 15 This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — and I was the worst of them all. 16 But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.  NLT

Paul lives each day of his life in worship, in gratitude, in love with God for saving Him through Jesus.  Paul understands something that so many of us forget.  So many good Christians step into a church setting, and get caught up in where they are ranked, what they are doing that others aren’t doing, and they lose sight of the very center of our belief.  At that very center is Jesus, a blood stained cross and an empty tomb.  Paul would say that Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.  How many people caught in religion are willing to even say they sin?  Most good religious folk may sin, but they certainly wouldn’t want anyone to know about it publically right?  We use unspoken prayer requests, and keep secrets!  Yet Paul has no problem letting you know we all sin, we are all in the same boat…and if you want to have a sinning contest Paul is pretty sure he would win!  He is saying there in Timothy, because I the worst of all sinners can have Jesus, now all people can understand that they too can be saved through God’s amazing love, grace, and mercy!  How awesome is this…and yet how hard it would be to understand in your mind if your heart has never been penetrated with this type of love!  There’s just no replacement for experience.

Let’s get back into our text…

Romans 2:13 For it is not merely knowing the law that brings God’s approval. Those who obey the law will be declared right in God’s sight. 14 Even when Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. 15 They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them, for their own consciences either accuse them or tell them they are doing what is right. NLT

I love the way this is written in the NLT version here in verse 13 “it is not merely knowing the law that brings God’s approval.”  What is Paul saying here?  This is about your heart and your actions…it’s not just about what you know!  You need to be transformed by a Holy God, you must know Him not just in your mind but in your heart, this is more than just knowing a list of rules and trying to keep them.  This is about experiencing God’s grace!  Then I think in verse 16 he really goes for the jugular, because to a good religious person this would have hit their last nerve.

Romans 2:16 The day will surely come when God, by Jesus Christ, will judge everyone’s secret life. This is my message.  NLT

Here’s what is amazing, so many people walk through life absolutely gut punched by “church people” who they feel judged by.  What is so brutal is that while many good “church people” feel that it is their good Christian responsibility to judge others and point out there sins…you know if I heap as much guilt on them as I can then I have completed my good Christian duty, and the problem with that is we have our own sins too.  We come across as arrogant, judgmental, and as hypocrites.  Just because you only sin behind closed doors doesn’t mean that you don’t sin.  Here’s the funny thing and I always try to tell our visitors this on Sunday mornings.  When they look around, and feel like they aren’t at the same level as some others it’s just because they aren’t as good at hiding their issues as others.  Why do I say this…because we all have issues, and I know they are feeling like they are walking into a club that they aren’t in right now!  I’m not making fun of us church people I’m stating the fact that we are all in the same boat!  We all sin.  We all need Jesus. Paul is exposing their hypocrisy in an effort to allow people far from God to be able to find God without being gutted in the process.

This is such a big deal, don’t judge others because you aren’t perfect either.  All it does is put guilt and shame on someone that doesn’t need any help feeling bad about themselves.  You know in my worst moments I didn’t need someone pointing out my issues.  I saw them, and I knew them.  I didn’t need any more guilt and shame I had that part figured out.  What impacted me the most was that through all of my sin, and all of my mistakes, and all of my pain, God never gave up on me.  We who have asked Jesus into our lives, have a new life, and have experienced grace.  A free gift, something we could not earn.  As a Christian that news should never get old!  As you hold your salvation close to your heart each and every day you won’t judge because you realize that you without Jesus you don’t get it done either!  When we stop pointing the fingers at others, and start point others to Jesus they will have the opportunity to experience the same grace that you have and that is when this gets fun.

I love this section of Paul’s letter, because he is going after their hearts.  He wants to expose them for who they are, to protect those far from God who need his amazing grace.  Filling your head with knowledge without experiencing God’s grace can lead to tragic results, pushing people who need God further from God as they feel judged and condemned by people who they really know aren’t perfect either!  Asking Jesus into your heart because you have been made to feel like garbage isn’t the goal.  Asking Jesus into your heart because you don’t want to go to hell won’t get it done either…it’s when you experience God’s grace and your heart is shattered, and replaced with a new one with Jesus in the middle that you begin to understand, there really is no replacement for experience.