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Religion Can’t Save You

Summit Life / J.D. Greear
The Truth Network Radio
May 10, 2023 9:00 am

Religion Can’t Save You

Summit Life / J.D. Greear

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May 10, 2023 9:00 am

In Romans 2, Paul goes after religious people who think they’re better because they know the Bible and go to church—and he’s talking to us. Pastor J.D. continues in the “Romans” series in this message as he explains why, on the final day, God will look beyond the outward performance of religion to our inward motivations and how both religious and irreligious sinners are welcomed back into God’s family through the cross.

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J.D. Greear

Today on Summit Life with J.D.

Greer. Your mouth says you're born again. Does your life say that you're born again? Your mouth says you're a new creation. Do your actions say that you're a new creation? Your mouth says you love God. Does your heart say that you love God? So this is the million dollar question. What does your life declare about your belief in or your surrender to Jesus?

Not what does your mouth say? Welcome back to Summit Life with Pastor J.D. Greer. I'm your host, Molly Vidovich. You're joining us near the beginning of our new teaching series through the book of Romans. In chapter two, Paul goes after religious people who think that they're better because they know the Bible and they go to church.

And guess what? He's actually talking to us as well through this passage. Today, Pastor J.D. explains why on the final day, God will look beyond outward performance of religion to our inward motivations and how both religious and irreligious sinners are welcomed into God's family through the sacrifice of the cross. Let's listen to why religion can't save you.

Here's Pastor J.D. Well, if you got your Bible this weekend, and I hope that you do, Romans chapter two, as you are turning there, there is a book in my library that has the name unChristian. It is the analysis of a survey that was done a few years ago, nationwide survey done by the Barna group in which they sought to compare the lives of Christians and non-Christians in our country to see what the actual differences in their lives were. By the way, just so you know, I am usually very skeptical of these kinds of things because I always want to know, well, who did they count as Christian? Because you and I both know that not everybody in our country that says they're a Christian really is a Christian. And, you know, it's like sometimes people get to these things and they're like, well, I'm not Jewish, I'm not Muslim, I'm not an atheist, ergo, I must be a Christian.

But you and I know that it takes more than that. But in this survey, they didn't count you a Christian if you identified as one. They counted you as a Christian only if you could articulate the gospel, say that you believed it, and then affirm that you attended church on a fairly regular basis. So that's at least a little higher of a threshold here.

The survey was entirely anonymous so that people would be honest about their lifestyles. Here is what they found. They found, first of all, that Christians cuss less in public.

They had to specify, by the way, it's private, not so much, but just when you're around Nana, when you're around grandma, you cuss less in public. Christians give a little bit more to the poor. Christians are less likely to recycle because, you know, the world's just going to burn up anyway, they think.

So, you know, why are we recycling? Christians give more money to religious nonprofits and Christians on the whole buy fewer lottery tickets. So that's all super encouraging. We're really putting Jesus on display in those areas.

And so we're so thankful for that. However, however, this survey found Christians are just as likely to visit a pornographic website as those who are not. Christians were just as likely as non-Christians to get drunk, just as likely to do illegal drugs or to take prescription medicines not prescribed to them. They were just as likely to be willing to lie to get out of a difficult situation. They were just as likely to have intentionally done something to get back at somebody within the last 30 days.

And they were just as likely to have said an unkind thing about somebody behind their back in the last 30 days. In this study, 84% of non-Christians said they knew at least one believer personally, yet only 15% thought that that person's lifestyle was significantly different than their own in any way. One non-Christian in this survey, who was fairly typical, described his perception of conservative Christians as illogical, empire-building, prone to violence, and people who cannot generally live peacefully with those who do not believe what they believe.

And y'all, I realize that there's a lot of mischaracterization out there that comes from a narrative that the media paints and the movies paint, and I'm as mad about it as you are, but can we not own that we are at least partially responsible for some of this perception? I mean, these things I'm reporting to you here from this book on Christians are self-reported things about our lifestyles. Is this really what Jesus had in mind when he died to create a new race of people, 1 Peter 2? Did he say that they would know that we were his disciples by how much less we cuss around grandma and by how few lottery tickets we buy? Didn't he say that we would know us by something fundamentally different, and that is our love for God and our love for others? Paul's point in Romans 2 is that religion, get this, is often just a thin veneer that is papered over a heart that is still every bit as sinful as anybody else's, and that religion by itself is powerless to change our hearts.

Religion might change certain aspects of your behavior, but it doesn't go much deeper. If you remember in Romans 1, Paul has laid out his case for why all people need the gospel. He has painted a graphic picture of the corruption of the human race, and now as he opens Sheperd 2, he anticipates an objection from his religious Jewish readers. You see, Paul's taught the gospel now for about two decades to religious Jews, so he knows exactly what's in their minds, and he knows exactly what they're gonna say in response to what he is saying. By the way, just so you know, every time he says Jew in this chapter, you can sub out for that church-going Christian, because Paul's focus in this chapter is on religious people, not Jews in particular. He just had grown up with religious Jews, and most of the people in his congregation that had had religion in their past were religious Jews, and so that's why he always goes to that, but his real focus is non-Christians. And these religious Jews, as he gets through Romans 1, and he's talking about all the problems going on in the world and all the corruption, all those religious Jews are sitting there shaking their head going, yep, you tell them, Paul, you tell them.

Those Gentiles are some messed up people. All that idolatry and that sexual disorder and that societal chaos and all that stuff, you tell them, Paul, preach it, preach it. Chapter 2, verse 1. Therefore, therefore, by the way, there it is. Anytime you see the word therefore in the Bible, you always look and see what it's there for.

You've heard that before. Therefore, therefore means he's pointing backwards, right? He's saying, hey, Romans 1, all that stuff that I just laid out is also true of your heart, religious person. Therefore, because it's true of you too, every one of you who judges is without excuse. You see, when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you the judge, you actually do the same things.

In other words, look within your heart, religious person, you'll see that your heart is the same. Y'all listen, when people tell me, as some of you have been so sweet-spirited about this, you're like, oh, pastor, I am just so enjoying the book of Romans. I'm like, well, then you ain't paying attention yet, okay? Because there ain't nothing encouraging in this book anywhere. I mean, we get encouragement in chapter 8, okay? So right now, it's just nothing but a full-out assault on you. There's not a lot of amens in here. There's some oh-mise in here is what you should be saying as we go through this. Look within, religious person, look within.

Is your heart really any better than anybody else's? Paul says, you know, you religious people think you're better because you know the Bible, because you know the right answers to theology questions, because you feel like you vote in the correct ways and you go to church. But verse 6, God will repay each one according to his works. I realize that might be a little confusing, so hang on. Eternal life, he says, he'll give eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good, seek glory, honor, and immortality. In other words, those who in their heart have developed a habit of doing good, a persistent habit of doing good from the heart, and they seek glory, honor, and immortality, not from created things, but from the creator. Because see, we're all really ultimately seeking these things. And so if you are seeking them from the creator, that's one thing. But if you're seeking meaning and security from created things or from your religious accomplishments, that's quite another. He says, God gives eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good, seek these things from the creator. Verse 8, the other side of it, he says, but he gives wrath and anger to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth while obeying unrighteousness.

Again, the focus there is the heart. God's gonna give wrath to those people who are seeking their own will and seeking their own glory, even if they do it in religious garb, but they're trying to bring glory to themselves and they're trying to do their own thing, even if externally they have conformed themselves to the dictates of religion. In their heart, they still obey what they want to do.

They don't like to get corrected. They ultimately are just kind of living in themselves and living out what their preferences are. He says, this is what God is going to do. There will be affliction and distress for every human being, religious or not, who does evil, first to the religious person, but then also to the Greek, the non-religious person.

It's gonna be both. There's only one kind of person before God, but glory, honor, and peace for everybody, both religious and non-religious, who does what is good, truly does what is good from the heart, first to the Jew and also to the Greek, because you see, there is no favoritism with God. So what Paul says is God sees the heart. And when God evaluates us, what counts with God is not external conformity and religion. What counts with God is inward transformation from the heart. Now I know what you're saying.

You're like, whoa, wait a minute. Did Paul just change his mind about the gospel? Didn't Paul just get done explaining in chapter one that salvation is not earned through good works, but salvation is given instead as a gift through faith alone? And now there in verse six, he is saying that God will repay each one of us according to our works. Isn't that the opposite of the gospel that he's teaching?

That's a great question. Verse six, follow me. Verse six is a quote from Psalm 62. Listen, in which the psalmist is complaining about a group of religious people who honor God with their mouths while their feet are quick to go after violence. In other words, they give an external demonstration of religion, but internally in their heart, they are still filled with all kinds of wickedness. Paul's point, listen, is that external practices of religion do not equal inward transformation.

Let me say that again. External practices of religion in Paul's mind do never equal inward transformation. And when it is all said and done on that final day, God is going to look at the inward works of the heart. He's going to go beyond outward performance of religion down to inward motivation. And that means that some people who look really good on the surface are not really going to look good when you get down into the motives for why they did what they did.

Because it is often the motives, seeing the motives that determine the true quality of the act. Does that make sense? You're tuned into Summit Life with J.D. Greer. Before we dive back into today's message, I want to take a moment to let you know about our featured resource available to you, our Summit Life family. Pastor J.D. 's latest book, Essential Christianity, is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the core beliefs of Christianity in a clear, concise way. In this book, Pastor J.D. walks readers through the gospel message from Romans 1 to 12, providing practical insights and answers to common questions about the Christian faith. And when you reserve your copy of Essential Christianity today, you'll also receive a free companion study guide to help you personalize and discuss what you're learning along the way. To secure your copy of Essential Christianity and the companion study guide, give a gift to the ministry right now.

Visit or call us at 866-335-5220. Don't miss out on this opportunity to grow in your faith and understanding of the gospel. Now back to today's message with Pastor J.D.

Greer here on Summit Life. So when I graduated high school, there was a girl in my life that was, I guess you might call her a girlfriend, but that was the problem we didn't really know. We'd gone out a few times. We never had the what are we conversation. So I was going to college several states away.

My first college I went to was up in New York. And so, you know, it's like, well, I didn't know what to do. Do we have a relationship?

I don't know. So I just left. And so we rode a few times, called a few times. First time I saw her was at Christmas.

I come back. I'm back in North Carolina and decided that I was going to go see her. We arranged to get together three days before Christmas. So I get in the car to drive to see her. She lived about an hour away from me. As I get in the car and as I'm driving down Interstate 40, I had this horrendous thought, and that is, wait a minute, if she is my girlfriend and I show up at her house three days before Christmas, I have to have a Christmas present, right? Because, I mean, if she's got a Christmas present for me and I don't have one to give back to her, then I look like a total slime ball. But I also, I mean, I'm a man on a fixed income, so I don't want to drop 75 bucks on some girl that I got no future with.

Can you understand my dilemma? You see how hard it is to be a guy. And so I, on the way, I stopped at Haynes Mall in Winston-Salem and I went into a little store there called R&M's Sporting Goods because they had it displayed on the front rack. It was a neck warmer that you wore when you went skiing. It was really decorative.

It said Adidas in great big letters. It costs $7. I mean, the kind of gift that really says you're special to me. And I thought, man, that's perfect. It's $7.

It looks like it's a lot more expensive than $7 though. I'm going to buy that thing and I'm going to have that for her. And if she gives me a Christmas present, I'll give this to her. And if she doesn't give me a Christmas present, that puppy's mine. So I buy it. I take it down to Nordstrom's.

I have them wrap it up in this really nice gift wrap, took it the rest of the way out to her house. I go up, I knock on the door. She answers the door. She says, big smile on her face. How are you? Good to see you. Whatever.

She's first, literally the first thing out of her mouth. I got you a Christmas present. And I'm like, you genius. Talking to myself, I got you a Christmas present too. And so thankfully I didn't go get it out of the car. She went and got mine underneath the Christmas tree and opened it up and she, I started opening up this present and I opened up the box and to my horror, I'm looking at this, I'm not super into clothing that you can probably just look at the way I dress and tell that, but you know, I could see, I was like, oh, this is like, like a jacket, a sweater that it costs.

I mean, it looked like it costs $75 or $100. And I've got a $7 neck warmer for her in the back of my car. And I thought, this is like the worst moment of my life. And so she says, well, where's my gift? And I was like, I left yours at home.

You know, like thinking I had time to go back later and buy it and mail it to her. And she said, oh, well, she said, my parents are not home tonight. And so we can't really stay here because that's against the rules. And I haven't seen your parents in a while. Why don't we just drive back to your house?

And I thought, this is what the judgment of God feels like to be caught in it. And so we get in the car and I drive back an hour to go home and we walk in the house and I walk in and I was like, hey, just wait here in the kitchen for a minute. And I go find my mom and I'm like, mom, and now I have a sister who's three years younger than me. And I was like, mom, do you have anything that you're going to give to Christie that Christie doesn't know about yet? And my mom was like, why you asking?

I was like, no questions, please just do we or don't we? So we go under the Christmas tree and find a gift for my sister that has her name on it. We take my sister's name off of it.

We put this girl's name on it. She puts it in my hands. I walk back and I put it on the table and she starts opening it.

I don't even know what it is. She starts opening it up. She's like, oh, what is it? And I was like, I just opened it, you know? So I'm as curious as she is looking in the box. She pulls out this, again, it's like a jacket of something. It was beautiful. It was like, it looked like an equivalent gift. She was like, oh, this is so beautiful.

Thank you for thinking of me. Now here's the question that I would ask or that you would ask. First of all, you would ask, has she ever found out the truth of that story?

And my answer is not to my knowledge. At some point, I imagine she may be in some audience where I'm telling the story and I will have a very awkward conversation as soon as the service is over. But to my knowledge, she does not know. Had she known the circumstances behind the giving of that gift, do you think she would have been flattered to receive it?

No, because I'm not giving it to her out of any affection for her, out of love for her. I was doing it to try to rescue myself from a bad situation and to try to salvage my reputation. You see, it is possible to do some things that look really good on the surface, but you're doing them for entirely the wrong reason.

And in light of why you did them, they don't look that good. And what Paul is trying to show you in Romans two is that there's a lot of people who do a lot of religious things, but they're not done out of love for God or love for others. They're done to protect a reputation.

They're done to show that you're better than other people. They're done to try to earn heaven. And in that sense, they're not pleasing to God at all. And so he's like, just because you are religious on the surface, does it mean that God is pleased with what's going on in your heart? One day, God is going to expose the secrets of your heart. And on that day, he's going to evaluate you on that.

And that's not going to be a good day for anybody. Now you're sitting here saying, well, does that mean I'm going to be judged in heaven by my works? He will be paid back according to his works. Am I going to be judged that way? Is it my inward motivations that are going to determine whether or not I get into heaven? Pay very close attention to what I'm about to say, because if not, you're going to miss the whole point here in Romans two, right? In one sense, the answer to that question is no, because it is by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourself. It is a gift of God, not of works so that nobody can boast. So in that sense, no.

But in another sense, yes. Because listen, your life is the best illustration of what you actually believe. You see, faith is more than just words. Faith is more than just a creed. Faith is a heart change. Repentance is not just walking an aisle. Repentance is not just praying a prayer or raising a hand. Repentance is a heart change. Conversion is not joining the church. Conversion is not getting baptized. Conversion is the Holy Spirit taking up residence in your heart and making your heart new. And what that means is that after you have been truly converted, truly saved, good works will always follow that conversion. Because when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in your life, it will make a difference and other people will be able to tell it.

In other words, you could say it like this. Paul teaches that we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone. It always comes accompanied with good works. Paul teaches that we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.

It's always accompanied by good works. Or I love how Jerry Bridges says it, holiness is not a condition for salvation, but it is always part of salvation. In a sense, God could put each of us on trial in heaven and he could say, has this person's works demonstrated the effects of a true conversion? You see, there are two testimonies to what you actually believe. There's the testimony of your mouth and there's a testimony of your life. And if the testimony of your life disagrees with the testimony of your mouth, then God takes the testimony of your life as a more reliable indication of what you actually believe.

So in that sense, yes, you will be evaluated by your works. Your mouth says you're born again. Does your life say that you're born again? Your mouth says you're a new creation.

Do your actions say that you're a new creation? Your mouth says you love God. Does your heart say that you love God?

So this is the million dollar question. What does your life declare about your belief in or your surrender to Jesus? Not what does your mouth say, but what does your life say? Because on that final day, it is your works that will show the reality or the non-reality of what you believe.

It is what you did away from the church service, what you do inside your heart, the conversations you have with your friends when nobody else is listening. That's what's the best indication of what you actually believe about the Lordship of Jesus and your love for God. You see, Paul says, verse 13, the hearers of the law. In our day, he might say the possessors of the Bible. The possessors of the Bible are not the ones righteous before God. It is the doers of the law that will be justified. It's not not having the law or knowing the Bible that matters. It's whether you obey the laws from the heart. That's what makes you right with God.

Then he drives the point home from another angle. Verse 14, he says, just having the law doesn't save you. I'll prove it to you. You Jews are not the only ones with the law. And follow his logic here. He's like, if just having the law saved you, then if you were the only ones with the law, then that would make a difference. But you're not the only ones with the law. When Gentiles who do not by nature have the law do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts.

Their consciences confirm this. The Gentiles, they may not have had a Bible, but they got a law also that God stamped on their conscience. Paul says the Gentiles have the law written on their hearts. And hey, the Gentiles obey that law sometimes too, just like you do. So if having the law and obeying it sometimes is enough, then Gentiles are in the same boat with you because they do all that too. They've got a law written on their hearts and sometimes they obey it. But possessing the law is not what makes a person right with God.

It is only doing the law from the heart, if that were even possible, that would make somebody right with God. He's pointing to the fact that underneath the heart of the religious person is the same corrupt heart that exists in the Gentiles, just a religified version of that heart. And when you pull back the external layers of religion one day, you're going to find the same corrupted mess in the heart of the religious person that you found in the Gentile world. You see what he says in Acts, verse 16, on that day when God judges what people have kept secret, what religious people kept secret, the motivations of their heart, what they were like on the inside, according to my gospel, through Christ Jesus. One day God is going to expose the hearts of both Jews and Gentiles alike. And on that day, we're going to see that all that religious observance was one thing, and we're going to get down into what their hearts were really like. And that's not going to be a good day for anybody, neither Jew nor Gentile, because the heart, the human heart, all of our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. On that day when our hearts are revealed, neither Jew nor Gentile is going to have a leg to stand on. Here's how the 16th century reformer John Calvin summarized these verses.

This is great. We can prove from this passage, Romans 2, that nobody's justified by works. For if they alone are justified by the law who fulfill the law, it follows that no one is justified, for no one can be found who can boast of having fulfilled the law. In other words, he's saying to the religious person, stop thinking of your Christianity. Stop thinking of the prayer that you prayed or the amount you go to church or the amount of Bible you know as if it's going to save you, because it is not. It's not.

It's not. Those things wouldn't make you right before God. Religion can't save you. That's the title of our message today from Pastor J.D. Greer on Summit Life, and it's a truth to remember as we grow in relationship with God. So, J.D., you've recently released this new book called Essential Christianity.

Can you tell us the story behind it, and how did you come to write it? There were several streams that went into the river that became this book. Stream one is I had a desire to put something into the hands of my non-Christian friends who really wanted to have just a thoughtful presentation of the essentials of the Christian faith. Stream number two is I wanted to be able to give a book like this to our church here in the Raleigh-Durham area to equip them to give it to their friends and family and neighbors. What are the essential questions, and how do you answer them in a way that takes the believer deeper but also answers the questions of the unbelievers? So that was the second and maybe the third stream. I sort of combined two of them there.

But here's the fourth stream. I was preaching through the book of Romans, and I was amazed at the clarity with which Paul answered these fundamental human questions. So I've been hearing great stories from people in our church and from you, the listeners here at Summit Life, and hearing incredible stories about how the gospel still has the power to radically change. So we would love to get a copy to you. Just reach out to us at

Thanks, JD. We're excited to share Essential Christianity with you, and the book walks through 10 of the most important questions and concepts about Christianity by looking at truths from the first 12 chapters of Romans. And to complement your reading, we'll send you a discussion guide that can be used to explore further with friends, co-workers, or family members who have questions about the faith. We'd be happy to send you this Essential Christianity bundle today with your gift of $35 or more to this ministry.

To give, simply call us at 866-335-5220 or visit to make your gift online. I'm Molly Vidovitch inviting you to join us tomorrow when we'll continue this message called Religion Can't Save You on Summit Life with J.D. Greer. Today's program was produced and sponsored by J.D. Greer Ministries.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-10 10:38:59 / 2023-05-10 10:50:32 / 12

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