He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Romans 2 gives us two principles that contrast genuine righteousness with empty religion.
The first balancing truth is this: righteousness results in works; religion results in words. Do not misunderstand; I am not saying that we are saved by our good works. Good works are not the means of our salvation, but they are the measure of our salvation. If we are truly saved, in a right standing with God, then good works are going to flow from our lives. That is what Paul was saying in this passage. Many people do not understand that. They focus on empty religion, but the problem with empty religion is that it focuses only on the external–such as baptism, church membership, going through this ritual or that ritual. Religion does not provide the internal change in our lives necessary to produce truly good and consistent works. Religion says you are saved by good works, but it does not give you the internal mechanism you need to produce those good works. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” While it is true that good works are not the means of our salvation, they are the measure of our salvation.
Take some time right now to examine your own heart. What is it that really characterizes your life on a day-in and day-out basis? Selfish ambition? Materialism? Anger? Bitterness? Lust? Or is your life characterized by purity, obedience to God, and a desire to put His kingdom first? Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, 20). Genuine righteousness always results in works. Empty religion only results in words.
The second balancing truth is this: genuine righteousness is based on God’s effort; religion is based on our efforts. Now, good works are important. They are the measure of our salvation, but they are not the means of our salvation. In fact, Paul went overboard to show that our good works cannot earn God’s favor. It is something we receive as a gift from God. Salvation is not the result of what we do for Christ; it is what Christ has done for us.
Why is religion worthless? It cannot obtain a right standing with God in spite of our spiritual heritage, in spite of our biblical knowledge, and in spite of our religious works. When the time comes for you to make that jump from this life into the vastness of eternity, what are you going to be depending on to deliver you from God’s deserved judgment? If you are depending on your religious heritage, your biblical knowledge, or your religious rituals to save you, then you are going to be very disappointed. There is only one thing that will deliver you from the wrath of God, and that is the blood of Jesus Christ.
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “How to Be a Christian without Being Religious” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2014.
Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.