The sin of being religious

For no one is a (Christian) who is merely one outwardly, nor is (baptism) outward and physical. But a (Christian) is one inwardly, and (baptism) is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

-- Romans 2:28-29, ESV

I have supplanted "Christian" and "baptism" for "Jew" and "circumcision" in order to make Paul's meaning plainer. The point is, we all dislike religious hypocrites. They're the worst. They say one thing then do another. They keep the rules on the outside but are rotten on the inside. They look down their noses at others. So, we look down our noses at them, until we discover that we might be one of them.

Paul originally addresses "a Jew," probably a Jewish member of the Roman church, who fancies himself an expert in "the law," and considers himself a Christian, "a light." He believes he is right with God by a combination of trusting in the New Testament Jesus while being obedient to the Old Testament "law," in this case the Ten Commandments. But Paul proves he has broken the law in at least three places.

First of all, he has broken the true meaning of the law. Go through the list of the top 10 and tell me, have you kept these commandments or have you broken them, outside, inside, or both? Those who "boast" about keeping them, who are literally trying to work their way to Heaven, "will be judged by the law" they have broken. Then they will be broken, irretrievably.

Secondly, his self-righteousness breaks the purpose of the law. The purpose of the law is to convict of sin, not convince you of your self-righteousness. And even if you can keep some semblance of God's law "outwardly," keeping the external rituals and rules or religion (like "circumcision," a correlation to baptism), you need to know inwardly you are still a sinner. God's wrath is averted only by grace, through faith, not religious rituals and human works.

Finally, such breaking of the law breaks the bridge of law and Spirit that could bring others over to Jesus Christ. "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." Nothing drives sinners farther away from the gospel than cold, calculating, religious hypocrisy.

You cannot be saved from the outside in; that's religion. Being circumcised in the Old Covenant marked you as a Jew (for males, at least), it made you part of the religion, it qualified you to participate in other religious rituals, it gave you a law to live by. But the prideful, external keeping of God's law renders such religion useless, for it only hardens the heart instead of changing it.

The same can be said of outside-in Christianity, practiced by people who have been baptized, whose names appear on church rolls, who own several copies of the Bible. In spite of a few trips to the church each year, their lives are ruled by the lust, greed, and pride they hide behind their starched Sunday best. They've joined the religion, they've kept the rules (they think), and survey after survey indicates they believe the path to Heaven is paved by good works done by good people, not God's grace poured upon repentant sinners.

You cannot be saved from the outside in. You must be saved from the inside out. This is not done by religion, but by regeneration. It is "a matter of the heart." It is wrought "by the Spirit." It convicts deeply of sin and convinces of the beauty and truth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Keeping God's laws becomes no longer a duty, but a desire of the new heart, passionate with the love of Christ, pursuing God's glory alone.

So quit being religious and come into a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Let the law of God kill you. Experience the Spirit of God birthing you to life, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Then love the law, obey the word of God, not because you love yourself and want to look good, but because you love the Lord and want to please Him and lead others to Him.

We must banish the black sin of religion. Grace must take its place. Then, on judgment day it will be said of you, "His praise is not from man but from God."

Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected].

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