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Religion—What is it Good for?

Summit Life / J.D. Greear
The Truth Network Radio
May 12, 2023 9:00 am

Religion—What is it Good for?

Summit Life / J.D. Greear

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May 12, 2023 9:00 am

You’ve got a problem. We all do! Salvation through Jesus has always been available, but many people still have not received it because they’re not willing to admit that there’s a problem with their heart. In this message, Pastor J.D. walks through Romans 3 and helps us see how the law showed us our need for a Savior, but that we cannot do anything to be made righteous except believe in Jesus who kept the law in our place.


Today on Summit Life with J.D.

Greer. When everything is known about who we are, not a single one of us is going to be in a good place. That includes the most righteous people who have ever lived in our minds. Moses, Abraham, Job, Billy Graham, whoever it is in your book.

When all the secrets are exposed, there's nobody that is going to stand before God and be righteous. Welcome to Summit Life with pastor, author, and theologian, J.D. Greer.

As always, I'm your host, Molly Vitovich. Okay, let me be blunt for a second. You've got a problem.

In fact, we all do. You see, salvation through Jesus has always been available, but many people still have not received it because they're not willing to admit that there's a problem with their heart. Today, pastor J.D. Greer helps us see how the law showed us wickedness in our hearts and our need for a savior, but that we cannot do anything on our own to be made righteous. Our only hope is to believe in Jesus who perfectly kept the law in our place. So grab your Bible as we move into Romans chapter three with a message titled religion.

What's it good for? One of the things that I think I most enjoy about parenting now that I've done it here for, I guess what, 15 years, is that my kids are getting aware of how to anticipate the objections they know that I'm going to have to whatever requests they're making of me. So they go ahead and include the answers to those objections in the original quest. And so they'll be like, you know, dad, I want to go to a friend's house. And I know I've been a jerk to my siblings all day long, so I just went up there and reorganized my sister's closet and put all her shoes in alphabetical order.

And I know you're going to say something about my homework, but dad, I've already set my alarm for 4 a.m. tomorrow morning to make sure that I get up in enough time to finish it up before school. They anticipate the objections and they raise them and then they deal with them. What you see the apostle Paul doing in the book of Romans is laying out his case for why the gospel.

And Paul's been doing this for about two decades at this point in his life. And so he's very aware of the objections that people are going to raise to the gospel. And so along the way, he will raise the objection, he will voice it, and then he will spend some time addressing it. He begins in chapter 1 by showing that all mankind, all mankind has a problem. That is a deep inner rebellion that corrupts every one of our relationships. When he goes into chapter 2, he anticipates an objection that's going to be raised by religious people, particularly religious Jews. He knows that they're going to say, well, yeah, Paul, of course, man, those gentiles.

Man, there's some really messed up people. That is for sure, but not us. No, we were raised on the Bible. We were raised on religion. We got the word of God. We've got the heroes of the faith. We've got the temple.

We're different. So Paul takes an entire chapter, Romans chapter 2, to try to show that religion doesn't really remedy our problem. In fact, in many ways, religion just makes our problem worse. Now, I know that a lot of times people get confused when they hear a church leader, whether it's the apostle Paul or whether it's somebody like me, they get confused when they hear us rail on religion. And they say, well, wait a minute, isn't Christianity a religion? Isn't yours a religious job? Is it going to church by definition a religious activity?

And of course the answer to all those questions are yes. And so they say, well, why you hate non-religion so bad? It is because, and this is crucial, crucial for you to understand. It is because Paul draws a distinction, a very important distinction in Romans between religion and the gospel.

Let me introduce you to a chart. This is a chart that originally most of the stuff comes from a guy named Tim Keller, but I think it's really helpful in understanding what Romans is trying to teach you. He's trying to teach you that there's the gospel, which is the power of God. And then there's this man made substitute for it.

And they're not the same thing. Okay, so let's just walk through this. Religion operates off this premise. I obey, therefore I'll be accepted. If I obey well enough, if I keep the precepts, whatever religion you're talking about, I obey and because I obey enough, I will be accepted.

The gospel flips that on his head. The gospel is the only religious message in the world that operates by saying, no, no, no, you're accepted by a gift of God's grace. And in response to that, you obey. You don't obey in order to be accepted. You obey with grateful joy because you have been accepted, which is the second thing.

In religion, motivation is based on fear and insecurity. I've got to do more so that God will bless me. I've got to do more so that God will let me into heaven.

I got to do more so I'll be a good Christian. But in the gospel, motivation is based on grateful joy. I obey because God has made me this and because I love him and I want to please him.

It's totally different. In religion, I obey God in order to get things from God. If I do enough, he'll give me blessing. But with the gospel, I obey God to get God, to delight in God.

And because I just want to resemble him and I want to live my life as a loving response to him. In religion, when circumstances in my life go wrong, I get angry at God or myself since I believe like Job's friends that anybody who is good deserves a comfortable life. So when things go wrong, I'm like, well, God, what's wrong with you?

Or maybe what's wrong with me? Let's see what the gospel and circumstances in my life go wrong. Yeah, I struggle. I struggle, but I know that all my punishment fell on Jesus. So I know that whatever is happening in my life, it's not because God has paid me back for anything because God paid Jesus back for everything in my life. And that while he may allow this suffering for my training, he will exercise his fatherly love within my trial and goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and all things are working together for good.

That's the difference. In religion, when I'm criticized, when I'm criticized, you get criticized sometimes, right? If you're a religious person, you get furious or you get devastated because it is critical. It's critical in your identity that you think of yourself as a good person. Threats to your self image must be destroyed at all costs because you built your identity on being seen as good. With the gospel, however, when I'm criticized, yeah, I struggle. Nobody likes to be criticized, okay? But it's not critical for me to think of myself as a good person because my identity is not built on my record. It's not built on my performance, but it's built on God's love for me in Christ. Therefore I can take criticism. I have the absolute approval of the only one whose opinion really matters anyway.

And so I can handle criticism from you because I've got assurance in him. With religion, my prayer life consists largely of petition. Give me, give me, give me, give me God, I need this. And God give me that.

And it only heats up when I'm in a time of need. That's when you really start praying. When you really got something you need from God. My main purpose in prayer is to try to control my environment, make it work out the way that I needed to. But see with the gospel, my prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration because my main purpose in prayer is not just to get something from God.

My main purpose in prayer is to spend time with God because I love him. In religion, in religion my self view swings between two poles. If and when I'm living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I'm also prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. Why can't they be awesome like me? If and when I'm not living up to my standards, however, that's when I start to feel insecure and inadequate.

That's the other pole. I'm not confident. I feel like a failure. But see with the gospel, my self view is not based on my view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ, I am simul justus et peccator.

And I know if you haven't boned up on your Latin recently, you don't understand what that means. It is simultaneously I am a sinner, but I'm also accepted in Christ. I am righteous at the same time.

I am so bad. I realized that Jesus had to die to save me, but I'm also so loved that he was glad to die to save me. That leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Those are two qualities that never go together anywhere else except for the gospel, deep humility and deep confidence. Usually they're kind of at odds, but in Christ, I'm humble and confident at the same time. I'm neither swaggering nor sniveling. In religion, my identity and my self-worth are based on mainly how hard I work or how moral I am. And so I got to look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to the other, whether that's the other religious or the other race or the other political party.

I just feel like the other is not as good as me. The gospel means that my identity and my self-worth are centered on the one who died for his enemies, who was excluded from the city, the community for me. I'm saved by sheer grace. So I can't look down on those who believe or practice something different for me because I was the outsider when Jesus saved me. Only by grace, you see, I am what I am.

I have no inner need to win arguments. With religion, since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, then my heart manufactures idols. It might be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, whatever. I absolutely have to have these things because they serve as my main hope. They serve as my main meaning, my happiness, my security, my significance. These are the things that I got to have. And these are the things that I pursue with the gospel. Well, yeah, I got many good things in my life. I love my family.

I love my job. I have spiritual disciplines I work on, but none of those good things are ultimate things to me. They're good things, but they're not God things. So see, there's a limit.

There's a limit to how much anxiety, how much bitterness, how much despondency, despair that they can inflict on me when they are threatened or they are lost. That is the difference between religion and the gospel. The gospel Paul says, which is the message that because you could not save yourself, God sent Jesus to die in your place and save you. That is the power of God and to salvation. Religion on the other hand is a man-made substitute that stands in the way. And rather than remedying the problem of our sin, it actually makes it worse. You see the core of our sin is the sense of pride, rebellion and independence from God. That's the core of our sin, pride, rebellion and independence from God. Religion caters to those things.

And if anything, it just makes those things worse. So now as we round the corner to come into chapter three, Paul hears in his head another objection raised by his Jewish readers. So what he does in chapter three is he stages a mock argument where he plays both sides of the argument.

And he says, well, here's what the Jewish person would say, the religious person, and then here's how I respond. This mock argument, he pictures the Jews standing there with their Hebrew Bibles open saying, well, wait a minute, wait a minute, Paul, are you saying that all this is worthless? I mean, wasn't this book, wasn't it inspired by God? How could it be worthless if it was inspired by God? Are you saying that all those stories about Abraham and about Moses and Daniel and David and Queen Esther, they were all of no benefit and that we should unhitch ourselves from these stories? Or the way we might say it today, you might say to me, well, wait a minute, J.D., are you telling me that growing up in church was no advantage? You're telling me that teaching my kids to be religious, maybe even paying thousands of dollars for them to go to a Christian school, you're saying that that's all worthless, maybe even harmful to them? By the way, the fact that you and I feel ourselves having this objection shows that we are reading the Apostle Paul correctly. I've noticed a lot of people seem to try to soften up what Paul is saying throughout Romans, like, well, Paul doesn't think that religion is actually that bad. But Paul intends to make his case against religion so strongly that he brings you to this question, which is why he has to stop to deal with it.

So the fact that you and I have this objection too, you're like, well, we must be reading it right. You're listening to Summit Life with J.D. Greer. To learn more about this ministry, visit Before we continue with today's teaching, I wanted to remind you of a great resource that we are offering this month to our Summit Life family.

It's Pastor J.D. 's latest book, Essential Christianity. This book is perfect for anyone who wants to deepen their knowledge of Christianity, whether you're a new believer or a seasoned Christian. You'll also receive a free companion study guide to help you dig deeper into the book's content and personalize it for yourself. You can get your copy of Essential Christianity with a gift of $35 or more to this ministry by calling us at 866-335-5220 or by visiting us online at Don't miss out on this great opportunity to grow in your faith and share with others along the way. Now let's get back to today's teaching here on Summit Life with Pastor J.D.

Greer. Does religion have any value? Religion. What is it good for, right? Is it absolutely nothing?

What is it good for? That's Paul's question. Romans 3, verse 1. So what advantage, what advantage does a Jew, the religious person, what do they have?

What is the benefit of circumcision? Paul's answer, well, considerable in every way. First, they were entrusted with the very words of God.

It is true. God himself inspired this book, these stories word for word, but their purpose, and this is key, their purpose was to point Israel and us to our need for Jesus, not to equip us with some strategy or technique that would remove our need for him. All the things that God gave to us, all the stories, all the rituals, they were designed not to give you something to master by which you could earn your place before God. They were designed to bring you to the place where you would cry out, I have no hope of ever being accepted by God and restored to you apart from your grace. In other words, the rituals were not to drive you up with pride in your accomplishment.

They were designed to drive you down with humility, aware of your need. But verse three, Paul imagines the Jewish religious person saying in response, but Paul, if the law was supposed to lead us to Jesus, well then hadn't God failed? Because so many Jews have not believed the gospel.

Paul's response, verse four, absolutely not. Even though Israel in large part has failed to believe, God has still kept his promise to bring salvation. In fact, God took Israel's unbelief and has turned that into an opportunity for Gentile salvation because the Jews in large part walked away.

That created this open space for Gentiles, non-Jews, people like you and me mostly to be able to come into this and to experience salvation. So what Paul says, verse three, is God took Israel's unfaithfulness and used it as a way to show even greater faithfulness on his part. Well then, the religious person responds in verse five, if Israel's rebellion led to Gentile salvation and that was all a part of God's great plan, how can God still be angry at the Jews?

Weren't the Jews just playing their part? Paul's answer, verses six and seven, that's a stupid objection because God will judge each person for their own unbelief and rebellion. How God's sovereignty works through human choices to accomplish his purposes is indeed a mystery. It is, but the fact that it's a mystery does not remove the fact that God will always hold us each accountable for our own choices. You get that, right?

I mean, sovereignty is a mystery, but you get that even in the midst of sovereignty that we're responsible. I was traveling back on a trip I was on trying to get back. I was supposed to be back on plenty of time because I had to speak at NC State and Oklahoma State to about 2,000 students that night. And so I had plenty of time in my travel schedule, but my airline Delta, which I think is one of the better airlines for whatever it's worth, ride it through Atlanta because that's always where you go.

Pulling out, it's looking good. We're on the tarmac. We're in line when the pilot comes on and says, you know, there's something wrong with the plane.

I remember it being relatively minor in my mind, something like the toilet not being able to flush correctly or something like that. I mean, we could get there. We could still get there. It was like a 44-minute flight or something. And so he's like, but we have to get it fixed until, you know, we can't take off until it's fixed. And evidently the only tool that can fix this problem is located in Madagascar. And they're going to have to send a plane over to get it. And we're just going to have to pull off the side of the tarmac and wait till they get there with the tool to fix this thing. I've exaggerated that last part, but that's what it felt like because we had to pull over for, I mean, it was probably two, three hours that we just sat there waiting on some tool to come and fix this little part of our plane. Well, I, you know, eventually I figured out I was not going to be able to make it back on time. So I called up a friend and I was like, Hey, I'm not going to be, I'm not going to, it's not going to be there tonight.

There's 2000 students. So they're going to be in this place and somebody has got to speak to them. Can you pinch hit for me? Well, my friend was able to do it. He goes in. The reports I get back is he just did an unbelievable job, preached a great message. I remember like, you know, hearing about people coming to faith in Christ that night, they ended up hearing a much better sermon than had I actually made it back. So now in retrospect, it seems apparent to me that God was sovereign in having my plane get delayed so that my friend could preach a better message for me. And I recognize God's sovereignty, but does that remove Delta's responsibility in the debacle? Should that repair guy who was apparently taking a three hour nap and ignoring all of his text messages. So should he suddenly declare himself some sort of spiritual hero for making this happen?

No, I can still be frustrated at the inefficiency of their repair process. In other words, I can say God is sovereign, but Delta is still responsible. Amen. That's what Paul says here. But more on that in chapter nine, this little section is just supposed to be an appetizer of what he's going to spend like three whole chapters getting into in Romans nine, 10 and 11.

Okay. So Paul ends this little imaginary Q and A. He ends this little imaginary Q and A with his fellow Jews by concluding verse nine. What then, what then are we, are we, are we Jews who have the law? Are we really any better off in our hearts than Gentile sinners?

Not at all. For we have already charged that both Jews and Gentiles are both under sin, Romans one and Romans two, as it is written. Now what Paul does next is he compiles a list of quotes from Old Testament Hebrew scripture sources that talk about the depravity of man. And the reason he puts them all as quotes from the Hebrew Bible is he's trying to show these religious Jews that this is not some new teaching he's introducing. That the law and the prophets the whole time have been trying to point out that man has a need that religion cannot fix. And it's only God himself who can fix it.

So he begins this list of quotes by quoting from Psalm 53. There is no one righteous, not even one. Righteousness here refers to our legal standing before God.

Sin, he says, has ruined everybody's legal standing before God. When everything is known about who we are, not a single one of us is going to be in a good place. That includes the most righteous people who have ever lived in our in our minds.

Moses, Abraham, Daniel, Esther, Job, Billy Graham, your grandmother, whoever it is in your book, whoever is the most righteous person. When all the secrets are exposed, there's nobody that is going to stand before God and be righteous. Just think about it, right? I mean, what's it going to be like when all of your thoughts are displayed and all the secrets of your life are known? I mean, how would you like it now if there was a little monitor on the side of your head that just put into text form everything that you were thinking at any given moment, right? What would that be like if people knew what was in your mind? What's it going to be like when all those thoughts get exposed? He said, that's what's coming.

The day's coming when all these secrets are exposed. I had a friend, his name was Daniel. And when he was in the seventh grade, he said, you know, he said, I was a part of a big family. We had like six kids in the family.

So, you know, it was eight people in my family. We go to Olin Mills. You remember back when you used to get family pictures of Olin Mills?

They always said you wear the same sweater and you'd lean on each other and stuff. But we didn't, we didn't have like digital pictures back then. So you didn't take like a thousand.

You took a limited number. He said, so he said, right before the photographer would snap, you know, the picture, he said, every single time at the last second, I would make some kind of goofy face, or I'd look off in the distance, or I'd put bunny ears or something. He said, because we had so many kids, he couldn't, you know, he wasn't noticing every time I did that. He said, I just thought that was so funny. He said, six weeks later, when the proofs come back and my mom goes in to look at them and realizes that this hundred dollar photo session that I've ruined every single one of them.

He said, you know, when you're in seventh grade, you think about things being funny now. You don't think about what they're going to be like in six weeks when everything gets exposed. What Paul is alluding to here is there's a day when that kind of moment happens, where all the things that we thought were done in secret are fully told and fully exposed. And on that day, nobody's going to stand there and say that they are righteous. There is no one righteous, no one who has ever been born in the world, except for Jesus Christ.

Nobody has ever been righteous, not even one. There is nobody, he says, verse 11, who understands sin has corrupted our minds. We saw this in chapter one, our self-centered hearts warp our ability even to perceive the things of God. I've told you before, think of it like the bigot whose prejudice against a certain group of people causes him to look at every single member of that group in a distorted way. He can't see the virtues.

He can't see certain people for who they are because he's so bigoted against this whole group of people. In the same way, our sin makes us distort and corrupt the truth about God. One of postmodern philosophy's biggest contributions to modern thought was its recognition that so much of what we perceive, so much of what we perceive is determined by the shape and the biases of our heart. That's why two people can look at exactly the same set of evidence and come to two entirely different conclusion based on the biases they bring to it.

I mean, you can see this every single night, right? By just flipping on MSNBC or CNN and Fox News. You've got the same set of evidence and you've got people on one side losing their mind in one direction, and you've got the same set of evidence, people losing their mind the other direction. How you interpret the evidence has more to do with the state of your heart than it does the actual content of the evidence. One of the postmodern philosophers named William James wrote this essay called The Will to Believe. And what he said, he said, he said, ultimately, what we believe is less determined by the evidence and it's determined by what we want to believe. What we will to believe determines what we actually believe.

Now, postmodern philosophy patted themselves on the back for this great discovery about human nature. Romans one has been saying that from the beginning, right? What we see about God is more determined by the shape of our hearts than it is the evidence for God. It's not that our ignorance of God gives us hardness of heart. It's that our hardness of heart makes us ignorant of God. Sin warps our minds so that we are unable, naturally speaking, even to understand the things of God. And because of this, he says, there is no one who seeks God. Religion. What's it good for? That was our subject today from Pastor J.D.

Greer. If you missed any part of today's teaching or if you'd like to catch up on the rest of our series through the book of Romans, you can listen online for free anytime at As we continue through this teaching series on the book of Romans, we are so excited to offer you our latest premium resource, Pastor J.D. 's latest book based on the book of Romans called Essential Christianity. It's an excellent way to help sharpen your understanding of the faith. And it's also a great tool to facilitate conversations with anyone you know who might be curious about the gospel.

So why wait? Reserve your copy today by calling us at 866-335-5220 or by visiting us online at While you're on the website, don't forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter. Get ministry updates, information about new resources, and Pastor J.D. 's latest blog post delivered straight to your inbox. It's a great way to stay connected with Summit Life, and it's completely free to subscribe.

Sign up when you go to I'm Molly Vidovitch. Hope you have a great weekend of worship with your church family, and be sure to join us next time as we finalize the answer to today's question.

Religion, what is it good for? Right here on Summit Life with J.D. Greer. Today's program was produced and sponsored by J.D. Greer Ministries.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-12 11:23:01 / 2023-05-12 11:34:11 / 11

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