If you have kept up over the last few posts, you’ll know that we can’t disregard G_d; hoping that once we come to the end of the line here on earth a celestial dirt nap will be the only thing that awaits us. There is a G_d. There is an afterlife. There is a judgment. Nature (by her very nature!) proclaims that there must be a Creator with each panoramic sunrise and in the beauty of the changing seasons. We see the Creator at work during the moment of birth in our children. We recognize Him in the power of a storm or the peaceful serenity of a warm spring day. Disregarding Him is a fool’s gamble at best - hedging our bets against indeterminate odds while knowing all along we can’t afford the cost of doing so.
We are also unable to distract G_d by pointing to the examples and/or failures of others as a method of improving our perceived worth in His eyes or our own. We will be judged on an individual basis in the end, and the chalk-line of comparison will not be with our neighbor, but by the example of holiness set forth by His Son.
Maybe we can make our own selves righteous? Is there a way that we can meet G_d on His own terms? If we do enough good deeds and live our lives just right, dotting the proverbial I’s and crossing the T’s; maybe by doing so we’ll be alright? We can keep the Ten Commandments and go to church religiously. We can teach Sunday School and get an attendance award. We can give charitably to the church and to the Salvation Army at Christmas. Heck, let’s go all out and be baptized while we are at it! That should do it.
It amazes me how many people believe this to be possible. Ask people are they saved, have they been born again, and most of the time they bring up baptism or church affiliation without answering the question. This is especially true here in the South, where church attendance is still synonymous with being a ‘good person’. We hold onto our baptismal certificates and church letters much the same way that the Jews of Paul’s day held onto their circumcision. “For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.”
For a Jewish boy, his circumcision was proof that he was one of G_d’s chosen people. It was ceremonial and it was important. After a while, it reached a point where the ritual of circumcision over-rode everything else in spiritual matters. You could live life how you pleased, but by merely being circumcised you had all of the eternal bases covered. It sounds far-fetched, but again, there is very little difference in the way we live our spiritual lives today; clinging to our own rituals and church dogmas. When we live our lives in that manner, in a very real sense we are disrespecting G_d, substituting an ordinance or ceremony for what He would have us do in our hearts.
How meaningful is the wedding ring worn by a man that continuously commits adultery against his wife? Can a mere symbol make up for a lack of sincerity in one’s own heart? The idea of such a thing is ludicrous, but we can easily fall victim to that thought process.
We cannot work our way to Heaven. There is no teaching that instructs us from G_d’s Word that we must meet Him halfway by performing certain acts on schedule or by performing a certain church ordinance. Paul writes to Titus: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done...” Try as we might, we will never be good enough. We will always miss the mark, no matter how careful we are or how well we live our lives.
So far in Romans we have learned that we cannot disregard G_d. We’ve learned that we cannot distract G_d, either. Now Paul tells us that we can’t disrespect G_d by substituting our own works, doctrines, or creeds in an effort to make ourselves right before Him. By chapter 3 he’s laid it all out on the line for us – “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of G_d;” We have gone astray. We have failed. Maybe it wasn’t intentional on our part, and it could be that we’ve always had the best of intentions in this area. But in the end, Paul reminds us that we have ‘come short’ of G_d’s glory. All of us.
But there is a way to be right with G_d. It is not a Baptist way, a Catholic way, or any religious way in general. We simply must be born again.