GRACE VS. RELIGION 2 of 2
God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 18
Romans 3:5-8 ❧ February 12, 2023
Just about everyone knows about Hans Christian Anderson’s classic children’s story: The Emperor’s New Clothes. A certain emperor was so fond of having new clothes he spent all of his money on them. He never made a public appearance unless he was wearing something new. He had a new suit for every hour of the day. While other kings could be found sitting in council, he was sitting in his wardrobe.
As the story goes, one day a couple of clever thieves calling themselves weavers appeared. They claimed they knew how to weave an unusual cloth of the most beautiful colors and intricate patterns. What made this cloth so special, aside from its remarkable splendor, was that it would be invisible to everyone who was to the foolish and incompetent. This delighted the king. Not only would he be getting a new suit, but he would be able to find out who was wise and who was foolish in his kingdom. The king commissioned the clever thieves to make him a new suit giving them a great sum of money. The thieves immediately went to work pretending to weave their special cloth on empty looms.
It wasn’t long before the king became anxious to know how his new suit was coming along. Calling his wisest advisor, the king sent him to check on the progress of his suit. When the advisor saw that the conmen were busy working at empty looms, he thought to himself, “There is no cloth! The looms are empty!” But not wanting to be thought of as foolish or incompetent, the advisor raved to the king how amazing his new suit was going to look. Hearing this, the thieves asked for still more money and the king gave it to them.
A short time later, when the suit was near completion, the king sent another advisor to check on the weavers’ progress. When he saw the conmen hard at work on empty looms, he thought to himself, “There is no cloth! The looms are empty!” Not wanting to appear foolish or inept, he too raved to the king how wonderful the king’s new suit looked.
Finally, the day of the parade came for the king to show off his new clothes. Everyone lined up on the sides of the streets or leaned out of their windows to see the king in his famous new suit. As the king paraded down the street everyone was shocked to see that the king wasn’t wearing anything at all! But no one wanted to say a word lest others think they were foolish and inept. All the while, the king continued to proudly stroll down the street. Finally, during a moment of silence, a child’s voice rose above the crowd exclaiming, “The emperor has no clothes!” At that very moment everyone knew the truth, including the emperor. A little child in one simple statement had exposed the embarrassing hypocrisy everyone had been enduring.
Hans Christian Anderson’s classic story makes a profound observation about peer pressure of fallen humanity. Often, we remain quiet in the face of a glaring lie not wanting to be thought of as a fool.
If you have your Bible’s open with me to Romans 3. In the same way Hans Christian Anderson exposes our weakness of giving into to a lie because we don’t want to appear foolish, so Paul exposes the lie of religion. The specific religion Paul has in mind in Romans 3 is the Jewish religion. The Jews believed because they were Jews, they were clothed with a righteousness from God that in fact did not exist. They were parading their way through life arrayed with a mistaken religious confidence. Just like the little child whose voice rose above the crowd exposing the foolishness of the emperor, Paul stripped away the delusion of the religious Jews.
But Paul’s words don’t stop with the Jews. They expose our false religious confidence as well. Today many think they are good with God because they clothe themselves with church membership, good works, baptism, being a good person. Some think because they belong to a denomination, go to church, read the Bible or pray, God will welcome them into Heaven. Speaking to a man named Nicodemus, Jesus said, to him, You must be born again(John 3:7). Nicodemus was one of the most religious people of his day. He belonged to the ruling religious council of his nation, the Sanhedrin. He probably fasted a number of times throughout the week. He spent time in prayer. He tithed and was known as a religious teacher. But Jesus pointed out all of goodness was not enough. He needed to be born again. The Bible says, He (God) saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5, NLT). God is clear, religion is powerless to save us. Only a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (being born again) can save us.
Read 3:1-8. For years Paul had shared this message of grace with the Jews as he went from synagogue to synagogue. Along the way he encountered a number of objections. Religion will always be opposed to grace. Grace is free. Religion is earned. Grace frees. Religion binds. Grace says God is in control. Religion says man is in control. Grace is about surrender. Religion is about self. Paul had is share of objections. He gives four in 3:1-8.
Four major religious objections to grace. In each question, Paul gives a defense. 1) The advantage of being a Jew. The confusion here is pedigree. Simply being a Jew did not merit gratuitous favor with God. 2) The faithfulness of God. Since the Jews were unfaithful to God, does that mean God will break His promise to the Jews? No. Man’s unfaithfulness does not stop God’s plan of salvation. 3) The righteousness of God, and 4) The truthfulness of God.
- Religious Objection #3 points to the righteousness of God. But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? (Romans 3:5-6). Those objecting to Paul are asking the question, “How is God’s anger toward us justified?” If God in giving us His moral demands (the Law) knew we could not live up to them to begin with, how does that make His anger justified toward us? If my unrighteousness makes God’s righteousness look good, then doesn’t this make God unrighteous? Paul says this is human confused logic.
Paul’s response, of course, is absolutely not! If God were like that, how could He judge the world? God did not give us standards of right and wrong (the Law) in order to justify His for nothing. His standards are not arbitrary. They represent His perfect unchanging character. For all Your commandments are righteousness (Psalm 119:172). He will judge the world in righteousness (Psalm 96:13). The Law shows us how great God is and how far we’ve fallen. It exposes our sin. Why does God do that? Because He loves us too much to leave us as we are. He cares enough to confront us, to tell us what is separating us from Him. Gracious is the Lord, and righteous (Psalm 116:5). Only when see our sin for what it really is will, we see our need for Jesus Christ.
This kind of thinking says humanity was ok until God gave us His moral standards, the Law. We see this same thinking at work when someone says God, the Bible, Christianity is too narrow minded. This treats God’s moral standards of us as though they were arbitrary; He just pulled them from a hat. It fails to recognize God’s moral standards reflect His perfect unchanging character (Mal. 3:1). God did not give us His standards of right and wrong so that would fail but to show us that we had already failed and are in need His grace and forgiveness.
When God revealed His righteous character through the Law, it was the first step in His plan to send His Son to forgive and rescue us. God cares too much to leave us as we are. He knows we are broken. He wants us to know why. The Bible says our problem is not God, its ourselves. Many try to blame it on our environment, our upbringing, outside influences. Psychologists agree there is something wrong with the human race, but they don’t agree exactly with what it is. But the Bible tells us the real problem is not outside, it’s inside. Jesus said, For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you (Matthew 15:19-20, NLT). The reason religion is so alluring for people is because they know something is wrong inside. Religion promises to change and improve us and in some ways it can. But it is powerless to save us.
The religious objection that tries to pin the blame on God is twisted logic.
- Question #4 points to the truthfulness of God. But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just (Romans 3:7-8). This is very similar to the last one. Here’s the confused logic Paul is exposing. “If I sin and God forgives me and when I sin more God forgives me even more – doesn’t that mean then the more I sin the better it makes God look because of His forgiveness? Therefore, God should not be upset with me when I sin because it makes God look good.” If my sin makes God look good, then why should I be judged for it? Instead, God should thank me for it. There’s another word for this. It’s called insanity.
Let me give you a simplified example of the logic Paul is using. Imagine a husband who belittles his wife in public and at home. He constantly puts her down. His wife responds over and over with kindness and forgiveness. The husband says to his wife, “My putting you down makes you look good. Because you continue to respond with kindness to my demeaning treatment shows what a wonderful person you are.” Until one day, his wife says, “No more. I’m not going to put up with it anymore.” The husband is shocked. He doesn’t understand. He asks her why she’s mad at him. His horrible treatment of her showed how great a wife she was. She shouldn’t be upset. Instead she should thank him! Now, does that make any sense? Not at all.
In the same way, Paul says thinking God should thank us for our sin because it makes Him look good is absurd. He gives a short answer to those who think this way — Their condemnation is just.
There is a similar kind of thinking that many have. They’ve lived a life of doing wrong things (cheating, lying, stealing, adultery, you name it). In their minds, they’ve gotten away with it for so long they don’t believe God is going to do anything about it. The Bible clearly teaches a day is coming when God will judge the world in righteousness. The only way we can avoid God’s righteous judgment of our lives is by turning from our sin and trusting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).
It is said that D. L. Moody once visited a prison called “The Tombs” to preach to the inmates. After he had finished speaking, Moody talked with a number of men in their cells. He asked each prisoner this question, “What brought you here?” Again and again he received replies like this: “I don’t deserve to be here.” “I was framed.” “I was falsely accused.” “I was given an unfair trial.” Not one inmate would admit he was guilty. Finally, Moody found a man with his face buried in his hands, weeping. “And what’s wrong, my friend?” he inquired. The prisoner responded, “My sins are more than I can bear.” Relieved to find at least one man who would recognize his guilt and his need of forgiveness, the evangelist exclaimed, “Thank God for that!” Moody then had the joy of pointing him to a saving knowledge of Christ—a knowledge that released him from his shackles of sin.