Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Billy Graham has said, “People in the South have been exposed to so much religion that many of them have been inoculated against getting the real thing!”
In Romans 2:17-3:18, the apostle Paul points out three deceptions of having religion without a relationship with Jesus:
1. The deception of spiritual pride (2:17-24). Muhammad Ali once got on an airplane, and the flight attendant told him to buckle his seat belt. He said, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” She replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane.” It’s easy to be proud of how spiritual we are, and forget that we are nothing without Christ. Paul talks about how the Jewish people were proud of their spirituality, but failed to practice what they preached. Substitute the word “religious” for “Jew” and it can apply to any of us.
2. The deception of depending on ritual (2:25-3:4). Some people think that because they are baptized, go to church, receive communion, etc., that they are right with God. It ain’t necessarily so! The Jews were proud of their circumcision. It was the mark of their identity. But they forgot that God wanted a circumcision of the heart (v. 29; see also Deuteronomy 30:6). While there are advantages to religious faith, like having the Word of God and our church (3:1-4), it can deceive us into thinking it saves us. Only Jesus can save.
3. The deception of presuming on grace (3:5-8). Once the great Reformer, Martin Luther, saw a drunk in the alley. The drunk said, “You’re Martin Luther! I’m one of your disciples!” Luther replied, “You must be one of mine, because you are none of Christ’s.” Luther preached salvation by grace, but he knew that a truly saved person would show it in his life.
Paul was falsely accused of teaching that salvation by grace meant you could live in immorality and it didn’t matter. Paul was not saying that at all. While we preach grace, we must not be deceived into playing games with our religious theology. As 2 Corinthians 6:1 says, Don’t receive God’s grace in vain. A person who truly receives grace by faith will have a new heart’s desire to follow Christ.
Jefferson Bethke puts it this way:
“Religion says do,
Jesus says done.
Religion says slave,
Jesus says son.
Religion puts you in shackles but Jesus sets you free.
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus lets you see.”
Five years ago I started riding a mountain bike a few miles in the morning to work out at the YMCA. I figured with gasoline at $4.00 a gallon, I could pay for the bicycle in gas saved and be exercising while riding. Soon I was addicted to cycling, and started riding longer distances on Saturdays for fun. When I got up to nearly 20 miles, serious cyclists told me I should upgrade to a road bike, and I was blessed to receive one on permanent loan from a friend. Soon I was riding 30 and 40 miles on the weekends on the road bike, which is a lot easier and more fun to ride, with its light weight and narrow tires.
Then my brother, who lives in Louisiana, got into cycling. We decided that we would ride the 41-mile Longleaf Trace (near our parent’s home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi) over the Christmas holidays. Since I had been cycling a lot longer than Todd, I was sharing my expertise with him and comparing notes on Facebook and in phone calls. Soon he was riding 40 miles each weekend. I got up to 52 miles on my longest ride.
A couple of months before the ride, it dawned on me that my brother was going that distance on a mountain bike, while I was riding a road bike. I decided to be fair to him, I should also ride the slower, heavier mountain bike, and I started training again on my mountain bike. I had never been farther than 22 miles on a mountain bike. A couple of weeks before our ride, I got up to 35 miles on my mountain bike, and I thought I was going to die.
I should have seen what was coming, but my pride got in the way. On December 31, our Dad dropped us off in Prentiss at the beginning of the Longleaf Trace, with our mountain bikes. (That’s a picture of the two of us on this page, with Todd on the left, and me on the right.)
The idea was to ride in each other’s draft, taking turns leading one another. I led the first seven miles, with Todd right behind me in my draft. It was largely uphill, and then we took a break. I felt fine, but Todd said my pace seemed slow. He led the next 12 miles. Forget about staying in his draft, after about 5 miles, it was killing me to keep up with him. I had to make a decision: was I going to be in pain trying to keep up his pace, or just enjoy the ride? I decided to enjoy the ride and soon he was half a football field ahead of me, constantly looking back. After the next stop, I was feeling humiliated. I had to put the bicycle in a low gear to handle the slightest uphill slopes, while Todd started meandering on the path, over to the left and then to the right, just to slow himself down and keep from going over the horizon out of my view. Then he started telling me that he needed to reset his music on his mp3 player, and told me to go on ahead and he would catch up. Soon he was flying past me. I felt like the little engine that could, but I wasn’t so sure that I could. The last 10 miles were pure pain and determination. I think I saw a turtle pass me. After five hours and 41 miles on the trail, I finally crossed the line, muttering that I HATE mountain bikes. My brother was circling around the parking lot waiting for me, saying he could go another 5 miles. But I couldn’t be mad at him, because he was trying to be nice about it the whole time, thanking me for riding with him and saying how much fun we had. That evening he went out to a movie. I took ibuprofen and rubbed my sore thighs and knees at home.
The experience reminds me of the way we often see ourselves spiritually. We think we are really good people. We compare ourselves with others, and we look pretty good. But the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) When we compare ourselves with God, He runs circles around us, and leaves us in the dust. It’s an humbling realization, but an important lesson for us to learn.
That long ride on mountain bikes with my brother taught me that I’m not nearly as great a cyclist as I think I am, and also encouraged me to keep on training. Getting a glimpse of God’s glory should teach us a similar lesson: we aren’t nearly as holy and good as we think we are, but we have a loving God who is waiting on us up ahead, accepting us for who we are encouraging us to do better.
However, there is also a difference. My brother can do nothing to help me, except give encouragement. My God can give me power to do what I cannot do myself. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
I’m looking forward to the ride with God in 2013.
UPDATE: When I got back to Georgia, I noticed that my rear tire was lose and rubbing against the rim, so I took it to my bike repairman. He said the bearings were shot, and he said, “I don’t know how you even finished 41 miles with a wheel in that bad shape.” Soooooo…. maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t in as bad a shape as I thought! Looks like I need to challenge Todd to another ride on the Longleaf Trace!
A large church had a rather large guest preacher one Sunday who made a grand entrance like none other.
The congregation had just heard a concert by a gospel band. The big preacher had been sitting behind the stage, enjoying the music. The music was over, and it was time for him to preach.
Since he was sitting behind the stage, the preacher had to step over wires and chords running to the keyboard, electric guitars and speakers that were used by the band. Unfortunately, as he made his way to the pulpit, his foot caught in one of the wires.
As he lost his balance, the portly preacher stumbled, but did not fall. Almost in slow motion, the preacher prevailed and sailed across the stage, maintaining enough balance to keep from falling, but not enough balance to straighten up. With arms flailing, he finally made it to the edge of the stage, and landed his large frame with a thud upon the keyboard, arms hanging over the keys. A discordant sound of many notes played at once as he landed, sounding even louder against the hushed silence of the congregation.
Slowly raising his head, the preacher looked up at the two thousand worshipers and said, “I have fallen for this church.” By the time they had finished laughing, he had regained his dignity, gained their attention, and began his sermon.
Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.” However, it also says, “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12), and “Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed, because the Lord holds his hand” (Psalm 37:24).
So like my fellow preacher who so conspicuously fell, don’t think it can’t happen to you or me. But if does happen to one of us, let’s learn from that preacher. Even if you are lying flat on your face in front of thousands of people, if you will humble yourself, God stands ready to lift you up.