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Jack Graham - The Problem with Religion


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    Jack Graham - The Problem with Religion
TOPICS: Essential Gospel, Religion

Take your Bibles and turn to the book of Romans, chapter 2, Romans, the second chapter. This is our series of messages called THE ESSENTIAL GOSPEL. And we have landed at a very appropriate place in our study of the book of Romans in the second chapter, because as we have been speaking of the Gospel, and remember, the Gospel is vital, it is essential. There's only one Gospel; it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we know what the Gospel is because the Scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 1 and 2: "Moreover, I declare to you the Gospel". What is it? The Good News! How that Christ died on the cross for our sins and was buried, and rose again, according to the Scriptures. The Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the core. It is everything Jesus is everything.

Now in order for us to understand and properly appreciate and respond to the Gospel, this Good News, it is vital that we see the bad news. The bad news is that we have all sinned and broken God's commandments, and therefore, in the love of Christ, in the love of God, Jesus came; He lived, He died and He rose again to be our Savior. But it is the problem of sin, it is the darkness and the depravity of human sin that requires Jesus the Savior. Chapter 1 is a catalog of the depth and the darkness of human sin; people who do not know Christ. And when we read Romans chapter 1, we are seeing the human condition. We are seeing the guilt of all the world and every person in it. The depth of more and more sin. Deeper and deeper into sin. And so in the darkness what are we to do? How are we to find our way out of the darkness? Out of this great guilt? You would think the answer would be religion. What we need some would say is religion. However you name it, whatever you call it, get religion!

But here’s the problem with religion. And that’s the title of this message today: "The Problem with Religion". The problem with religion is religion cannot save. There is no religion including the Christian religion that can save a human soul. In fact, there is a dark side to religion. Pain and hostility in the name of religion. Divisions and wars and separation, all in the name of religion. When Jesus rode on the back of that donkey down the mountainside from the Mount of Olives, and as He looked over the city of Jerusalem, a city of people that was filled with religion. Yes, there was Romans; yes, there were the pagans, but there were the pious, there was the Pharisees, there was the religious crowd. And Jesus looked over the city of Jerusalem and He wept. And the words describing His weeping describes a man who is heaving. His heart is breaking. Tears flowing down His face and into His beard; weeping! And He said, "O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I would have gathered you to Myself".

Now this is the most religious city in the world, and yet, "how I would have gathered you to Myself, but you would not"! And Jesus mounted that colt and made His way through palm branches and shouts and cheers and Hosannahs Now this is all in fulfillment of Scripture, according to the book of Zachariah. So this wasn't happenstance or chance. And Jesus knew what He was getting into. Jesus was riding into the city not to be the king that day, though He is the King in all days, but not to be the king on the earth, but rather to die on the cross, to rise again on the third day. And people didn't understand it. And that's why ultimately they said, "Crucify Him; crucify Him". John chapter 1 and verse 12: "He came unto His own and His own received Him not. But to as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to be called the children of God, even of them who believe on His name".

So religion, name it, any kind of religion rejects the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You would think of all people, the Jewish people, Jesus came to be the Messiah not only of the Jews, but to the entire world. He came unto His own, the Jewish people. The Gospel is according to Romans 1:16, "to the Jew first and also to the Greek". So you would think as the religious people of this era here and of any era that the answer would be more religion. If we're going to pull ourselves out of this depth, the depravity of Romans 1. These terrible pagans these profligates... What we need is more righteousness; what we need is more religion! And many who are religious, who look at chapter 1 who see all this wickedness and wrath against evil people. They're thinking, "Well, I'm okay. I'm good because I'm a religious person". But this is for you.

Look at verse 1 of Romans chapter 2, "Therefore, you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you who judge, practice the same things". The fact is that we’ve all broken God’s commandment in either substance or in spirit. Jesus took the commandments of God a step further, not just physical adultery but spiritual adultery. Not only murdering someone but vengeful wrath that rages in the heart. We’ve all broken the commandments of God. And when we judge others, we judge ourselves. Look at verse 2, "We know that the judgment of God rightly", that is justly, "falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet you do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God"?

So he's saying there's no excuse and all of us, there's no escape because we all stand as sinners before a holy God. How will you escape the judgment of God? The Bible says "It is appointed unto man once to die and then", what? Nothingness? Crawl in the grave? A mausoleum and hide from God? No way! "It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment". Yes, there is a judgment and it is the judgment of God. Not the judgment of men, but the judgment of God. Verse 4, "Or do you presume", very important verse! "Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance"?

It is the goodness and kindness, grace of God that leads us to repent of our sin which means to turn from our sin! All of us! Not to turn to ourselves to continue to practice our sins, but to turn to Jesus Christ. And then he says something very frightening. "But because of your heard and impenitent heart", and that word hard impenitent, that word hard there means, it's the word sclerosis, the hardening of the heart. Now it's one thing for the arteries of the heart to have Atherosclerosis, sclerosis, the hardening of the arteries. But here he's talking about the hardness of the heart itself. There is a condition, a medical condition. It's a very terrible disease where the muscle of the heart can actually harden and calcify.

And so the scripture is saying here when you in the kindness and the goodness and the grace of God of what Christ has done, when you don't respond and repent of your sins and turn to Him, you are only hardening your heart, and setting yourself up for the judgment of God. "It's a frightening thing to fall into the hands of a living God". If you're called a religious person, if you would consider yourself, you wouldn't find yourself in Romans 1 necessarily, though the seeds of all sin are planted in every heart. And there is no sin that any of us would not commit, were it not for the grace and the power of God. Nicodemous, the Pharisee, a superior man, superlative man, keeping all the laws, a teacher in Israel, a Pharisee. And yet Jesus said to this very pious man, "Nicodemous, don’t be amazed when I say to you, you must be born again". That’s redemption. That’s regeneration. It’s resurrection.

No amount of good deeds, good works, religious expression can save us from our sins. As a matter of fact, none of us are good people. I know that's not what the world tells us. The world tells us we're basically good. There is the heart, the human heart that if you can just educate us enough and just give us enough money, put us in the right neighborhood, if you could just give us a boost then everyone will be okay. But God says we're not okay; we're k-o! Spiritually we're in dead in our trespasses and sin. Think about Judas! On the surface everything about Judas looked good but Jesus said, ultimately he was the son of perdition. There was hell in his heart. He would do what he did because he who he was. He was a religious man but lost.

Billy Graham once estimated that 70 percent of church members around the world are lost. I don’t know what the number is but I know that millions of people are not lost in darkness, but their lost in religion! Religion without Christ! That's why the Scripture says all of us should search our own hearts, examine our own faith to see if we be n the faith. And I'm not here to sow seeds of doubt today. Always we want to build your faith and encourage you in your faith, to lift you up in your faith to believe what you believe. But before we go forward, you need to know that you have repented of our sins and personally received Jesus as your Lord and Savior.

Because in Matthew chapter 7, Jesus looked, at the end of the sermon on the Mount to all those, again, religious people and He says, "Not everyone who says unto me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter into the kingdom of heaven". He said, "Many of you will say, 'Have I not performed many wonderful deeds? Have I not done many wonderful works? Have I not been baptized? Didn't I join the church? Didn't I serve the poor? Didn't I speak the Gospel? Didn't I preach the Gospel?' And many of these on that day will hear Me say, 'Lord, Lord', We say 'Lord, Lord' He said many on that day will hear Me say, 'Depart from Me, you cursed into everlasting fire. I never knew you.'"

That's a scary picture. Because when you're talking to people who genuinely believe that "I'm religious. I've got this together. I'm good enough". And good enough is NOT good enough. The prophet Isaiah said, "Even our righteousness, the best we can do, is as filthy rags in the sight of a holy God". You can't, we tend to memorize our sin, our behavior, what we do. We look at chapter 1 in Romans and say yeah, look at all the bad, bad, bad, really bad people out there! Paul is saying, reminding all the religious people, debt you, too, you too. Because when you judge others, according to the law of God, you are judging yourself. Are you in Christ or are you just into crowds?

That’s what happened on Palm Sunday so long ago. There were people who believed that day and followed Him all the way to the cross and beyond. But for the most of it, it was just a cheering crowd. All the fans of Jesus! Are you just into crowd or you in Christ? Jesus had some of the harshest things He said, were the words He spoke to the pharisees and to the hypocrites. Nobody likes to be called a hypocrite. I dare say many of you would rather be called anything rather than a hypocrite. But so many people today are wearing spiritual masks; they’re hiding behind their religion when their hearts are far from God, and they’re behavior within and without is unrepentant.

Here’s the difference between religion and the Gospel. You want to know the difference? You may want to write these down. Number one, religion is superficial; the Gospel is supernatural. Religion is all about the veneer; it's all about the varnish; it's all about looking good. Salvation, the Gospel is about being good in Christ. It's supernatural. It's the new birth that happens within us.

Religion is cultural. Every culture has its own brand, it's own kind of religion. And all the religions of the world, the world religions, even the denominations among the Christian religion. We have these brand names and they're often cultural names. But salvation, the Gospel is not just for one group! It's not just for our group. The Gospel is global; it's for the whole world! Religion is all about me and my group, the people I hang out with, the people I like. Salvation in Jesus Christ includes everybody; it's global.

Religion is external; the Gospel is internal! Jesus spoke to the pharisees and said, "you're like whitewashed tombs; you're like going to a graveyard and you clean the tombs on the outside. Everything is beautiful, it's landscaped; it's lovely. But inside are dead men's bones". He said it's like a cup. You wash the outside of the cup, but you don't clean the inside. Who wants to drink out of a dirty cup? Religion is all about cleaning up the cup; it's all about external. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about the internal.

Quickly, religion is about, it's temporal. Religion is temporal. It may help you for a little while; it may help you in this life to some degree. Some people are all into Buddhism today, and Hinduism today because it helps them connect and feel better about themselves and find transcendent peace and all the rest. Well, religion is like that. Religion is temporal; it's temporary. Religion doesn't last, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is eternal! It is the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Then religion is judgmental. But salvation, the Gospel is just and there is a difference. Religion is very judgmental. Judging others. And Jesus said don’t do that. Judge not, lest you be judge. Now that doesn’t mean we don’t have discernment; doesn’t mean we don’t call out sin when we see it. The Bible is full of calling out sin, saying it by it’s first name, calling people to repent of sin. So it’s not saying we don’t judge in the sense of proclaiming the Gospel. But in our attitude, we certainly don’t judge the heart of another person. But religion does. Religion is always presuming; religion is so prideful. "I’m better than you and therefore, I’m okay". But Jesus is just. That is, His judgments are impartial. Not according to race or face, behavior, or rather culture or religious preference. It is just; it is right; it is righteous.

Religion is hypocritical; the Gospel is honest. Now, are there hypocrites in church? Yes. But don’t let some hypocrite in church keep you from discovering the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. Religion is hypocritical. Says one thing; does something else. But the Gospel is authentic.

Religion is legalistic. That’s what this is all about here in Romans 2, if you’re just summarizing it. It’s about the law and keeping the law and keeping the ordinances and circumcision and all the rituals and all the things. It’s all that’s legalistic. But redemption, salvation, the Gospel is life giving.

And one final thing: religion is dead! But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is alive, alive, alive because Christ is alive! All the dread of a dead religion! Isn't it about time you stopped enduring religion and started enjoying salvation in Jesus Christ? You don't need more religion; you need Jesus in your life. There's nothing wrong with tradition, especially biblical tradition. I mean, baptism is ceremony. There’s nothing wrong with great traditions and symbols of the faith, the symbol of the cross and behind me this great stain glass pointing people to the victor’s crown.

There’s nothing wrong with these rituals and traditions that we pass from generation to generation, again, especially when they are biblically based tradition. But we’re not saved by the symbols! We’re not saved by sitting in church! We’re not saved by hanging out and associating with other religious people! The problem that we all have may not be the problem of immoral indulgence as we see in chapter 1, but duplicity in hypocrisy because we’re all going to be judged by Jesus Christ.

Would you look finally, we're closing, verse 16 of chapter 2, "on that day", what day? The day of judgment, the day Christ returns, because the Christ that rode into Jerusalem that day on Palm Sunday in humility, is coming back in great glory and power to judge the earth. There will be a great white throne judgment. And on that day when according to my Gospel, God judges the secrets of men. How? By Jesus Christ! Pilate looked at the fickle crowd and said, "What shall I do with Jesus who is called the Christ"?

Jesus was on trial that day! He was under judgment that day. Our condemnation, our judgment and wrath that would fall upon Him. But when Christ comes again, no one will sit in judgment of Jesus again. But Jesus will sit in judgment upon the whole earth. News flash! There are no good people. There are bad people who get judgment and there are bad people who get Jesus! Which one are you? Do you get Jesus, the goodness of God that leads to repentance? Jesus went to the cross and on the cross, He bore our sin, the wrath and the judgment of God, our hell, what we deserved. Even as quote "religion people". He took it all; He bore it all. I've said, I say it almost every Sunday. He did not only die for your sin, but as your sin. "He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God". Receive Christ. Get rid of your religion. It’s only making you miserable. Give Jesus Christ your life to follow Him.
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