Robert Jeffress - How To Be A Christian Without Being Religious? - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Followers of Judaism and Christianity have a lot in common. We both worship the same God. We both follow a similar code of conduct. And we both believe that the Old Testament is the inspired Word of God. Yet Jews and Christians disagree on one central issue. Today, I'm going to explain why Jesus is the only way for salvation, and it's our duty to share that truth with everyone. My message is titled: How to be a Christian Without Being Religious on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Several years ago, the international mission board of our southern Baptist convention caused quite a controversy when they published a prayer guide encouraging Christians to pray for the salvation of Jewish people. And this prayer guide was issued during some of the highest and holiest days on the Jewish calendar. Well, as you can imagine, people were outraged that southern Baptist would be calling for the salvation of Israel. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union of American Hebrew congregations said, "Would like a little less love from southern Baptists, and a little more respect". Another Jewish leader said, "It is pure arrogance for any religion to assume that they hold the truth".
But the most insightful comment I read about this controversy came from a columnist for the Washington post. His name was William Raspberry. You can tell from what Mr. Raspberry writes that he doesn't believe that Christ is the exclusive way of salvation. But interestingly, he understands the implications of that belief for those who hold to that belief. I usually don't like to read from an extended column, but this so well sets the table for the message today, I thought you would enjoy listening to what he said.
He writes, "The minister of my grandfather's church, when preaching the funeral of some beloved relative, would always take a few minutes out of his recital of the dearly departed virtues to announce that we were all going to hell. Not because we were bad people, those of us who didn't subscribe to his particular brand of religion. We were going to hell because his brand was the only one ordained of God, and thus the only sure ticket to glory. He would urge us to join before it was too late, then return to the business of the funeral. We were by turns embarrassed, annoyed, and angry. The preacher's remarks struck us as thoughtless, inappropriate, and rude. After all, we were guests at his church and not altogether voluntary guests at that. And we thought we deserved the simple courtesy of not being harangued about our religion. We also thought it insufferably arrogant that this unlearned man should presume to declare our own brand of religion null and void and take advantage of our captive presence to proselytize us for his. We felt the way a lot of Jews felt the other week when the southern Baptist mission board urged members of its 40.000 churches to pray for the conversion of the Jews, especially during this month of Jewish holy days. But look at the matter from the preacher's or the southern Baptist's point of view. The minister believed to the point of certainty that he and his fellow believers had found the one sure way to salvation. It was his duty to share this knowledge with the rest of us. Not because he wished us ill, but precisely because he didn't. It was though he knew the bridge around the next mountain curve had been washed out and that to allow us to continue along that route would mean our death. Who would refuse to warn an unwary motorist, even if the warning might be misinterpreted as rudeness? Didn't the Old Testament prophets do the same thing, warning people to repentance before it was too late? And weren't those people Jews? Was the southern Baptist prayer guide any more offensive or arrogant than say the prophet Jeremiah"?
You see, Mr. William Raspberry understands the implications of the claim that there's only one way to be saved. In his column, he really articulated the two bottom-line questions we all have to consider. Question number one, is there only one way to salvation? And secondly, if there is only one way to salvation, isn't it our duty to share that one way with others? To both questions, the Paul, Paul the apostle answers with a resounding yes. And that is the theme of our message today. If you have your Bibles, turn to Romans chapter 2 beginning with verse 17, as we discover how to become a Christian without being religious. Now remember, we're in this first major section of the book of Romans. The theme of Romans is the righteousness, that is a right standing of God, is only available to those who come to God through Christ.
Now the problem is none of us has righteousness on our own. We all need a right standing with God. And so in this first section of Romans, Paul goes to great lengths to show that all men are guilty before God. We looked, for example, at the pagan who's never heard the Gospel. Paul says he's guilty. He needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Last time we looked at the moralist, the person who tries to keep a code of good conduct. The Bible says he is still guilty before God because he's not good enough. And now finally, Paul looks at a third group of people who stand guilty before God. And that is the religious person. You see, we have the idea that of all of these groups, certainly a religious people ought to be okay with God. Because after all, by definition they recognize something is wrong. They recognize they need God's forgiveness. And they go through a list of works in order to earn God's forgiveness. Shouldn't their confession of sin and their attempt at receiving righteousness, shouldn't that count for something? And yet Paul says in this passage very clearly that the religious person is also guilty before God in spite of his spiritual heritage, his biblical knowledge, and his religious works.
Now, Paul used the Jew as an example of that. In Paul's day, the Jew was the most religious person who certainly, by works, ought to be saved, most people thought. I think if Paul were writing today to us, instead of writing about the Jews, he might insert other religions. He might talk about the Mormons, the Jehovah's witnesses, the Catholics, the Methodists, and yes, the Baptists. He would say all of them are guilty before God. And regardless of their heritage, their knowledge, their works, they need salvation that comes only through faith in Christ. Look at this passage with me and let's see how Paul develops that thought. Beginning in verse 17 he names the three excuses religious people use to say, "I don't need Jesus Christ". First of all, the religious person will say, "Examine my religious or my spiritual heritage". Look at verse 17 of Romans chapter 2. But if you bear the name Jew, that's what the Jew did. He said, "Look at me, I am a Jew. I don't need Jesus Christ".
Now, you know, the word, God's people were called by a number of names. They were known as the Hebrews, the Israelites. But the name that meant the most to them was the name Jew. It came from the tribe of Judah from which the Messiah would come. It means literally praise be to God. And the Jew took great delight in saying, "I am a Jew". And he thought, because nationally, he was a descendant of Abraham that he ought to be okay with God. And there are many Jews who think that today. They think it is their special relationship to Abraham that ensures their salvation.
Now, listen to me, there are benefits and there were benefits to being a Jew, a part of God's covenant people. In Genesis 12 verse 3, God said to Abraham, "I will bless those who bless you. And the one who curses you, I will curse. And in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed". Being a Jew meant that you got to share in some of God's national blessings to Israel. But being a Jew did not automatically make you a believer. Being a natural, a physical descendant of Abraham did not mean everything was okay between you and God.
Over and over again the New Testament teaches it is not a Jew's physical relationship to Abraham, it is his spiritual relationship to Abraham that really makes a difference. And I point this out because there are a lot of people even in our church who get mixed up on that. They think, "Oh, being a Jew, they're God's people, they're automatically going to heaven". No. Being a Jew does not make you a believer. Jesus taught that in John chapter 8, for example. Hold your place here and turn over to John chapter 8 beginning with verse 37. Jesus was talking to the pharisees. They prided themselves on being a descendant of Abraham. Look at what Jesus said to them. "'I know that you are Abraham's offspring. Yet you seek to kill me because my word has no place in you. I speak the things which I have seen with my father. Therefore you also did the things which you heard from your father'. They answered and said to him, 'well, Abraham is our father.' and Jesus said to them, 'well, if you are Abraham's children, then do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you're seeking to kill me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God. This Abraham did not do, he didn't try to kill me'", verse 44, "'you pharisees are of the father, your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father'".
See what the pharisees were saying? They're saying, "We don't need to listen to you, Jesus. We are descendants of Abraham. Abraham is our father". Jesus said, "Oh no, he's not. He may be your physical father, but he's not your spiritual father. Your father is the devil because you're trying to kill me. And that's what Satan wants to do. He's trying to kill me". He was saying, "Pharisees, it is not your physical relationship to Abraham that makes you right with God". Paul said the same thing in Galatians 3 verses 7 to 9. "Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scriptures, foreseeing that God would justify the gentiles by faith, preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'all the nations shall be blessed in you.' so it is those who are of faith who are blessed with Abraham, the believer". It's not a Jew's physical relationship to Abraham, it is his spiritual relationship to Abraham. And yet as in Paul's day, as is true today, many people thought it was being a national Jew, an ethnic Jew, a religious Jew that made you right with God.
Alan Dershowitz, who's the famous Harvard professor and lawyer who wrote a book entitled "The Disappearing American Jew". And he said in his book, "It really doesn't matter whether or not a Jew believes in God. What makes a Jew a Jew is not as belief in God, but his belief in Judaism". And there are many people who believe that today, not just about Judaism, but about Christianity as well. There are many people who labor under the idea, well, if you're born in a Christian home, that makes you a Christian. Or at least that guarantees that you're going to become a Christian. Now I'm so glad I'm getting ready to jump on a plane right after this service because this week there's some emails that are coming after this sermon is aired here in Dallas/Fort Worth. Some people are going to get upset, but I am going to preach the Word of God regardless on this subject. There are many, many Christians who labor under the idea that being in a Christian family makes you a Christian.
For example, people who buy into reformed theology, hook, line, and sinker. Many of those who believe in reformed theology, which sometimes goes by the name Calvinism, not completely accurate, but Calvinism, many of those believe in what is called covenant theology. And this is what covenant theology says. It says just as God made a covenant with the Jews and those who were born into a Jewish household automatically received benefits from God, it is the same way with those who are born in a Christian home. God has a new covenant with Christians. And if you are born in a Christian home, it guarantees that you are going to become a Christian. And that's why in these churches that believe this, they throw water on babies. Now notice, I didn't say baptize. That's not baptism. Baptism means immerse. They throw water on babies. Have you ever wondered why that is? What they're saying is this child is automatically a part of the covenant. This child is guaranteed a place in God's family because he has been born in a Christian family. That is what covenant theology teaches.
Now, listen. We all know, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 there are certainly benefits to being reared in a Christian home, but there's certainly no guarantee that being in a Christian home makes you a Christian. And I want to say as clearly as I can to those listening right now and those watching this television program, if you're parents, go ahead and dedicate your children to God, that's a wonderful thing to do. But don't throw water on them. Don't pretend that something has happened that hasn't happened. The reason I think it is so wrong to go through this farce of so-called baptism of children is first of all it gives the parents a false assurance that everything's automatically all right with their children and their children are going to be in heaven. But it also gives false assurance to that child when he grows up. When he grows up and he says, "Is everything right between me and God"? To point back to some throwing of water on a baby as making everything right between you and God, that is a deception of Satan.
The Bible never teaches baby baptism. It teaches believer's baptism. But that's the error of covenant theology. It's the same mistake that the Jews make as well. Listen, being in a Christian family does not make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car or sitting at McDonald's makes you a hamburger. Jesus said in John 3:3, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God". You have to have an individual faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what saves you. I love the great line of Luis Palau. I had the privilege of introducing him years ago, and Louis Palau has a great saying. He said, "God has no grandchildren". God has no grandchildren. You are not related to God through your parents. God is not your grandfather. No, God has no grandchildren, he only has children. And the way you become a child of God is by individually calling on the name of Christ for your salvation.
Now some of you are saying, "Well now, wait a minute, pastor. These Jews, what about Romans 11:26 that says all Israel will be saved? Doesn't that guarantee that all Israelites are going to be in heaven"? Now we're going to get to Romans 11. At this pace I don't know when we're going to get there, but we are going to get to Romans chapter 11 eventually, before the rapture hopefully. And we're going to see what Paul meant when he said all Israel will be saved. But what he didn't mean was every Jew who's ever lived is going to be in heaven one day. There is no promise of that. Because it's not your physical relationship to Abraham, it is your spiritual relationship that is through faith that makes you a child of God. The religious person doesn't look at that. He said, "Well, look, examine my spiritual heritage. I've got the right pedigree. I'm okay with God". Paul says, number two, another excuse of the religious person is look at my biblical knowledge. That certainly should get me a right relationship with God. Look again at verse 17. "But if you bear the name Jew and rely upon the law and boast in God".
Now, remember to whom Paul was writing here. He's talking to Jews. The Jews believe that everybody else might need to know Christ as Savior, but not the Jew. Today there is that same belief. There is what we call a two-covenant theology. You hear it from even some prominent evangelical pastors. And two-covenant theology says that God's plan for everybody in the world is to come to faith in Christ. That's his plan for everybody except the Jew. But the Jew has a special relationship with God. And all he needs to do is keep the law in order to be saved, or he's saved automatically. Does the Bible teach that? No. The Bible says there's only one way for anyone to be saved and that's through Christ, through faith in Christ.
Now, why would the Jew believe that he has a special relationship with God that automatically makes him right with God? One of the things he would say is, "We, the Jewish people, were the channel through which God sent his word to all the world. We are possessors of the law". They would say, for example, Moses, who received the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, he was a Jew. He, they would point to the fact that the prophets were all Jews. And therefore, since the Jews were the recipients of God's word, they had a special relationship with God. Jews would point to, for example, Psalm 147 verses 19 to 20, they would quote it often. "God declares his words to Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation, and as for his ordinances, they have not known them". In other words, no other nation can claim to have received the Word of God other than Israel.
I think Paul's alluding to that in chapter 3 verses 1 and 2 when he says, "Then what advantage has the Jew"? That is, if Jews are not automatically saved, what advantage is there to being a Jew? Well, there are some. What is the benefit of circumcision? He says in verse two, "Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God". Unlike any other nation, the Jewish people were entrusted with God's word. But the reason they were entrusted with God's word is not just so they could share it with others, but so that they might obey that word themselves. And because they were the recipient of God's word, they had a greater accountability to God than any other nation. Remember what Jesus would say? "To whom much is given, much is required". He's talking about who is given the revelation of God. Whoever has the most knowledge has the most required of him. But he didn't understand that. He doesn't understand that he had a responsibility to obey the Word of God that had been entrusted to him.
Look at Romans 2 beginning with verse 18. That's what the point Paul is driving home. "Those of you who have received the oracles of God, and you know his will and approve the things which are essential, being instructed out of the law, and you are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind and a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the law of the embodiment of knowledge and of truth, you therefore who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, through your breaking the law, do you dishonor God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of you just as it is written".