Like a doctor diagnosing a disease, Paul, in chapter one, revealed the process by which the human heart rejects God. Then he showed us that rebellion doesnt lead to freedom but rather to deeper and deeper forms of slavery. Now, in chapter two, he shows us that people can remain rebellious while at the same time being very religious. Again like a doctor, in this chapter he catalogues the symptoms. And his list is disturbing because most of us will recognize certain of these tendencies in ourselves. In some ways this chapter hits closer to home for those of us who are churchgoing Christians than the lawlessness of chapter one. In chapter one we may have found ourselves looking over the fence at the behaviors of those who are lawless saying, Isnt that awful, how sad! But in this chapter Paul moves over to our side of the fence to examine our hearts and in doing so shows us that religion can do greater damage to a person than lawlessness. And as we listen to him it isnt long before his words remind us of things Jesus said. We recognize Paul is explaining warnings our Lord gave to us. Paul isnt trying to shame or condemn us, hes trying to ensure that we who know the Bible and go to church wont fall into a dangerous deception. He wants each of us to examine ourselves to see that theres not an unsurrendered heart hiding beneath a cloak of religion.
What did Paul say in chapter 2?
1) vs1-3 - Religious people who have never surrendered to God still have the same rebellious nature within them as those in chapter one. So for them to self-righteously judge others when in fact they do the same sorts of things in their own way (Sermon on the Mount) is hypocritical and a great sin in Gods eyes.
2) v4 - Self-righteous people mistake Gods kindness as a sign that Hes pleased with them, but Hes not, Hes patiently waiting for them to repent (Isa 26:9, 10)
3) v5 - If I refuse to repent the passing of time only serves to increase my guilt before God.
4) vs6-11 - I mustnt fool myself into thinking that being outwardly religious hides the rebellion I still harbor in my heart. God knows its there and when the time comes for me to be judged He will look at my motives and deeds with unwavering justice. It doesnt matter if Ive read the Bible all my life or never opened its cover. He will be completely impartial.
5) v12 - People will be held accountable to obey the truth they understand. This means those who know the Bible will be evaluated first and most severely.
6) v13 - Just knowing the Bible doesnt justify a person. He or she must obey its commands
7) vs14-16 - On the judgment day there will be people from distant lands and sinners who once lived ungodly lives whose hearts were transformed by the miracle of the New Covenant (He 8:8-12; Jer 31:31-34). Even though they knew very little about the Bible they fulfilled what God required by obeying the inner leading of the Holy Spirit as He spoke to them through their conscience. (Here, Paul, of course, is referring to Gentiles who have been born-again by believing the gospel).
8) vs17-22 - Meanwhile on that day there will be religious people who intensely studied the Bible and who therefore considered themselves spiritually superior to others who will be shown to be hypocrites because they disobeyed the very commands they taught to others.
9) vs23-24 - It will be shown that their hypocrisy was so severe many unbelievers rejected God because of their example.
10) vs25-29 - The point is this: God isnt impressed with how religious we become but looks to see whether or not our hearts have been changed by the Holy Spirit. Its only those who have truly rejected the world and chosen Him whom He considers to be the true children of Abraham, whether they were born Jews or Gentiles.
The symptoms of self-righteous religion
The main dangers lawlessness brings are a distorted view of God and bondage to the flesh, but the main dangers religion brings is self-deception resulting in increased spiritual blindness. If I have the disease of self-righteous religion I will manifest some or all of these symptoms. I will be:
1) Judgmental of others (v1)
2) Hypocritical because I dont practice what I preach (vs1-3).
3) Complacent about my own sin because I misinterpret Gods patience as indifference: God must be okay with this or He would have done something bad to me by now (v4)
4) Increasingly guilty before God because of this pattern of denial (v5)
5) Someone who secretly loves the pleasures of the world and pursues them while trying to hide what Im doing from others (v8). (day-labor)
6) Convinced that God loves our particular religious group far more than anyone else (vs6-11)
7) Oblivious to the fact that Im accountable to obey all that I know (vs12-13).
8) Indifferent to or even annoyed by the changes taking place in sinners who are being born-again (vs14-16, 26-27).
9) Very self-confident, feeling I am in a superior position to tell others how to live their lives (vs17-20).
10) Seldom, if ever, inclined to apply what I hear or read in the Bible to myself (vs21-23).
11) Unaware of the effect my hypocrisy has on unbelievers (and children) (vs23-24).
12) Tragically unaware that deep in my heart I have never made a decision to surrender to Him and still live to please myself (vs25-29).
What Jesus says
1) Blindness to my own sin and self-righteous judgment of others is exactly the meaning of Jesus parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk 18:9-14).
and His warning about judging others in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 7:1-5). The log in the eye He refers to is a self-righteous, judgmental attitude which by comparison, is actually one of the worst sins of all because it blinds us to our own need of Gods mercy.
3) Luke 6:43-45: Self-righteous, judgmental people, who become religious teachers will inevitably produce self-righteous, judgmental people like themselves. They reproduce the attitudes of their own hearts, so beware who you let teach you about God.
4) Luke 7:30-34: The hostile response by the Pharisees and teachers to John the Baptist was because they refused to repent. Jesus told them He brought the power of the Spirit but they did not dance for joy, and John called for repentance but they did not weep for their sins.
In order to avoid repenting they went on the attack. (Highly religious people who
refuse to repent hate revival and become its principle opponents and persecutors).
They delegitimized John by saying his asceticism was because he was demon-possessed.
They delegitimized Jesus who ate with sinners by saying He happily took part in their drunken parties.
No matter how God approached them they refused to let Him near their heart.
5) Luke 7:36-50: The alabaster vial - Even when someone repented in front of them they didnt understand what was happening and found it repulsive.
6) Luke 15:25-32: The Prodigal Son - The older brother is bitterly angry at his father for showing mercy to his sinful brother.
This is not just a Jewish phenomenon though Paul is addressing people raised in Judaism, it is equally a Christian phenomenon. In fact, if for no other reason than its greater numbers, it exists on a far greater scale today in Christianity. Huge numbers of churchgoers have never been told they must repent, or have been told there is no need for them to repent, or have quietly refused to repent for a variety of personal reasons. Yet they keep going to church and assume they will go to heaven when they die. And thats why Paul wrote this chapter. He said if we understand the Bible correctly it will:
Lead us to honest self-evaluation
Show us our desperate need for grace
And lead us to Christ (Gal 3:24)
So if I find I have become religious but have never really surrendered to Jesus what should I do? Thankfully, Jesus Himself gives us the answer: Matthew 11:28-30. He says that living this way is a very heavy burden. It tires us out and becomes a harsh taskmaster. He says what you need is Me! If you surrender to Me and let Me be your teacher youll find that terrible weight will come off and youll enter into the rest youve been longing for.
1) Were you raised in a religious environment? Was that a good or bad experience?
2) Serving Jesus can be very demanding, yet He says His yoke is easy and His burden is light. How can that be?