Sometimes it takes the pressure off to remember exactly who I am.
If I were invited to play in an NBA game tonight, I would feel no pressure at all. As a 48 year old, almost 6 foot tall, white guy who can’t jump, who has had five knee surgeries, and since then has eaten a few too many calories, my expectation levels would not be so high. I don’t think I would go out on the court trying to prove anything. No, a humble perspective would go a long way in allowing me to play with my heroes, be a fan, participate, and enjoy the sights and sounds without thinking I had to perform.
After reading the first three chapters of Romans this morning, I have the same feeling. Paul has put me in my rightful place. He has reminded me of my true self. He has given me a slice of humble pie, and my performance-anxiety level has gone down. Why? God and his Law have required of me that which is impossible. There is none righteousness, no not one, not even me.
Allow me to paraphrase portions of Romans 1-3 for you:
I, Paul, am a servant of Jesus Christ. I am one called to be an apostle, and what is my purpose? I exist to make much of Jesus and proclaim his glorious Gospel here, there, and everywhere. (1:1-15)
I am not ashamed of this Gospel. It is powerful. It is dynamic, for when it is proclaimed and believed, the righteousness that belongs to God is gifted to those people who receive it by faith. As a result, these formerly spiritually dead people are given new life. These formerly unrighteous people are called righteous, and they begin to live righteously because of their faith in the gift of God. (1:16-17)
So, who needs the righteousness belonging to God? Who needs this gift to be received by faith? I need it. You need it. The irreligious need it. The very religious need it. All need it. Allow me to prove my point.
Let’s begin with those who are overtly immoral. God is so angry with these sinners and their sin. Through his magnificent, orderly, and beautiful universe, he has called these men to seek out the Creator and bow the knee. He is a great teacher; he has shown them his glory; it is plain to them. And how do all these arrogant pagans respond to the general revelation of God? They receive his truth, suppress his truth, and exchange his truth with made-up lies. They are without excuse, and so God gives them up to their folly and its corresponding consequences. They are damned because they do not perform rightly based upon the revelation they have already received. (1:18-32)
What of those who are visibly moral? They have a conscience. They have a moral compass within, and they seek to uphold a sense of right and wrong. They judge themselves, and they judge others, but they are no better off. Why? Well, they have a sense of wrong and right, but they cannot do right. You see, God has a covenant of works, and anyone who does right, all the time, in all ways, keeping all the laws, internally and externally, in desire, thought, word, and deed, they can be assured of getting the reward for righteousness they deserve. God is fair. He shows no partiality, and he will give such people the reward they have earned according to their works. However, his acceptable standard for performance is 100%. Therefore, all these moralists are moral failures. Through their imperfect morality, they too are heaping up more and more judgment upon themselves. (2:1-11)
What of those who are visibly moral and passionately religious? What of those of the Judeo-Christian variety? Well, they do have many advantages. They have the prophets and the apostles. They have the very words of God kept for them on sacred pages. They understand God’s Law better than anyone, and they have been taught spiritual truths through the sacrifices, ordinances, feasts, and ceremonies prescribed for them. They do have more knowledge than anyone else. But it is not knowledge or religious performance that makes one right with God. Only righteousness makes one right with God, and these people have not the righteousness needed. They know the Law, but they do it not. Therefore, their hell will be hotter, for God has promised to judge and damn people based upon the depth of their understanding. Ultimately, they are not better off; they are worse off. (2:12-3:9)
So let me conclude. Just in case anyone reading is confused:
- You are all are under sin
- You are not righteous because no one is righteous
- You are not one seeking for God
- You are one who turns aside
- You are worthless
- You do not do good because not even one person does so
- You are like a putrid grave housing a corpse
- You are like a serpent spewing forth venom
- You are a sprinter racing to do evil
- You know not peace
- You fear not God
- You need to shut your mouth (3:9-20)
However, if you will be put in your place, and eat the humble pie I am serving to you, I have great news to offer. The righteousness belonging to God, apart from your performance is at hand. It is a gift, it can be yours. I have much more to write in order to allow you to understand the beautiful, dynamic, life-giving Gospel. But for the moment, you will have to deflate your ego, quit playing games, and admit your inadequacy. God has nothing for the arrogant one who glories in his law-keeping. But to the one who knows his true condition, fantastic blessings abound. (3:21-26)
Friends, let us cease being lawless ones. God has a Law, and it is serious business.
Let us cease being legalistic ones. God is not impressed with your partial performance. And he is certainly not impressed with your extra-biblical laws you have concocted in order to make yourself feel righteous.
Let us cease comparing ourselves with one another. The homosexual is no more a sinner than the harsh father. The alcoholic is no worse than the angry mother. Murder holds the same eternal damnation as materialism. You are to compare yourselves with God’s Law and not your fellow man.
As in the illustration above, you are in a game where you cannot perform at the expected level. Righteousness is beyond your capability. So admit your condition. Admit your sin. And rest today in the performance of Jesus Christ in your stead. Then play with the delight of a schoolboy on an NBA court. Jesus is your victor. He allows you to play ball according to his rules, and he is the one who guarantees your performance. Eat your humble pie, and enjoy the freedom from having to perform. You can’t! He did!