I had wanted to write a few thoughts on Thanksgiving Day. You know, share a few things I’m thankful for, talk about how all those things come from God, relate it to the Gospel, and let that be that. Easy, right?
As I was thinking about what to say and how to word it and attempting to conjure up the motivation to get out of this turkey and football induced state of indolence I have worked myself into, I saw something on Facebook that got me thinking. Somebody commented on somebody else’s religious status and said something along the lines of “Jesus had a problem with religious people.”
And it’s true.
That’s nothing new though. I suspect that’s something we’ve all heard before, and probably like a million times. Jesus had a problem with religious people. But I recently started listening to a sermon series by my former RUF campus minister fro Ole Miss, Les Newsom, on Romans. This time, when I read the statement “Jesus had a problem with religious people,” I had a bit of a revelation.
I am a religious person.
When I say things like “Jesus had a problem with religious people,” I tend to point fingers in every direction but towards me. “Religious people” certainly applies to the
nut jobs people on TBN (see, even as I am writing this and the term “nut job” comes to mind, I’m shown how true what I am saying really is of me), or the people that stand in front of abortion clinics with pictures of dead babies, or the people who think Jesus would vote Republican (or Democrat for that matter), or the people that I used to see at church who I KNEW were in there raising their hands and crying and getting super emotional and then going out and living anything but that.
But “religious people” also applies to “seminary student/aspiring campus minister who can incredibly easily list off everything he sees wrong with the church and somehow think he’s better than them even though he has plenty of his own struggles and abject failures though in his mind they are not nearly as bad.”
This was the conviction I was faced with today. This particular passage from Romans stuck out in my mind:
“But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'” – Romans 2:17-23
I feel like, personally, I can switch out the name “Jew” with “Christian” and “Gentile” for whatever the accepted vernacular for people who aren’t Christians is. I mean, the reality of the situation is those verses are a job description for me, more or less. Guiding the blind? Yep. A light to darkness? Uh huh. Instructor of the foolish? Sure. Teacher of children? Definitely. That part doesn’t bother me so much. The part that does comes right after that.
Do I teach others? Yes. But do I put the same amount of study, care, and preparation into my own personal study time that I do preparing a sermon? Nope. I don’t even have to think about that one. I don’t.
Do I preach against stealing? Again, yes. And while actually stealing things isn’t really an issue for me anymore (Napster, anyone?), I have to check my heart. Do I covet? Do I want what others have, whether it’s immaterial things like a family or material things like a car or something?
Do I tell people not to commit adultery? Of course. Do I commit adultery? Physically, nope. Emotionally, spiritually? Yep. Every thought that goes unchecked, every “accidental” slip of the mouse, every lingering glance…adultery. At least according to the words of Jesus. And that’s what we’re all getting after here, right?
Do I condemn idols? Absolutely. But how many do I have in my own life? Countless.
But the most discouraging thing is the last line – “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Even with the right intentions, even when I’m doing all the right actions, my best efforts are blasphemy to God.
The heart, my heart, is a wicked place. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how true that is – none of us ever will.
But there’s a turn. The first 3 chapters of Romans are tough to swallow until you get to 3:21 – “For the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” All have sinned and fallen short, but we are justified (not made innocent, but declared innocent before God) by his grace. God put Christ forward as a propitiation – a wrath-bearing sacrifice. Then Romans goes on to be, in my opinion, the most beautiful book of the Bible (they’re all good, but if I’m going to sit down and try to explain the faith to someone unacquainted with it, I’m going to start with Romans) and it’s precisely because of the ugly truth of our human state, our “religious” state, that Paul’s letter to the Romans is so beautiful. There is a righteous wrath that God has every right to pour out on us that he poured out on His Son instead.
In one of his sermons on Romans, Les said something along the lines of “not only do we have to repent of our sins, we have to repent of our righteousness as well.” And how true that is! My prayer for the last few days has been for God to show me the areas of righteousness on my life that have been based upon me and what I have done. Because before Him, my righteousness is but filthy rags.
So, I guess in summation, today I’m thankful for a savior who would sacrifice Himself for sinners and then invite me to stop trying to establish my own righteousness and live in His. I’m thankful for a savior who, even though he may have had a problem with the religious, loves them anyway.
And, above all, I’m thankful for this:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4
He did what I couldn’t.
And counted me righteous for it.
Thanks be to God.