Rodents and pests are both creative and enduring creatures – but they are intruders. To be fair, in many cases, we may be the actual invaders, for we build houses in the middle of their habitat and then desperately try to keep them from living in our space. How do we do it? We fill every gap and close every opening so that we can keep them from getting into our space. What do they do in response? They find another way in! It can be a battle if they have found your stuff to their liking. We may think of them as pests, but what they do is actually quite ingenious. A mouse can squeeze his body into a hole the size of a dime. He can pull his bones from joints to get himself from tight places. There is something admirable about that kind of tenacity. At the same time, such an ingenious behavior and tenacious approach doesn’t always work.
In this lesson, we want to think about the door to a relationship with God. We don’t want to neglect to point out that the letter from which we are taking our lessons, the Epistle to the Romans, already made clear the door to God. The simple term we use for that door is “Gospel” – a word used in our modern English to mean “the truth” but in antiquity it meant “good news”. No matter, to us it is both! The Gospel is the message that Jesus of Nazareth was not just a good man, but the dispatched Eternal Son of God, who came into the world to make it possible for men and women to have an intimate, personal relationship with the God of Abraham NOW, and enjoy conscious life with Him after this physical life is ended. That message was based on several component truths that must be grasped:
First, all men are sinners. We weren’t made that way; we became what we are in a revolt against God that took place many generations ago in the Garden of Eden. We don’t become sinners when we start sinning as children – quite the opposite. We sin as children without any need to be told how – because we are born sinners.
Second, because we have fallen from a guiltless state, we are unable to have a direct access to God because of the “law of sin and of death” that mandates that when sin occurs, some part of our free flowing relationship with God withers, and someone or something must die as a result – in part to symbolize the “death” of the life flow from God to us. In the atonement laws of Moses, animals substituted in a temporary way for the sacrifice that satisfied God for a time.
Third, God didn’t leave man with atonement – animal blood to temporarily cover our sin. He sent His Son to become a “Lamb” that was slain once for all as a perfect sacrifice for man’s sin.
Fourth, like all sacrifices, the one seeking relationship with God must believe the offering cares for the need – or the sacrifice is in vain (as it applies to them). We have to see the sacrifice as OUR sacrifice, and desire personally the relationship with God.
That elemental instruction of the Gospel was made plain in Romans 1-5. If you kept reading, you would then discover that the good news has implications for daily choices, life priorities and behavior in Romans 6-8. There Paul made plain that we are not to serve lust (Romans 6) nor list (Romans 7), but rather be led by the Spirit of God. As you continue studying the letter, you will quickly realize the next section of the letter (Romans 9-11) describes why the plan to transform lives is absolutely secure – because it rests on a FAITHFUL GOD who painstakingly works in lives for generations to tell His story.
As Paul watched his own countrymen defect from the faith in Jesus, he made plain that some began with the Christian movement, but did not remain with it – and that was no indication that the message was false. In fact, it was anticipated by God and prophesied by His holy ones of old. By Romans 10, Paul was describing the simple truth that NO OTHER DOOR existed to access God beside the Gospel. He argued that intruding NEVER works with God. He has made known in the Biblical record exactly what He requires for a man or woman to have a relationship with Him. As Creator, He has the right to require what He chooses (Paul made that point in Romans 9). As he continued his writing, Paul made clear another related truth…
Key Principle: No one intrudes into a relationship with God. By His grace, there is a door, but that is the ONLY way in.
Take a look at this as we study again from the letter of Romans in chapter 10. In that chapter, Paul was gripped in the heartbreak of watching his fellow countrymen walk away from God. He recognized the decline, and he felt he needed to explain it. The problem was that the Gospel, the story of salvation through Jesus the Jewish Messiah, was taking hold in the Gentile world, but under severe attack in the Jewish world. How could that be? The place where the story unfolded was largely rejecting the story – and people who were distant from the story were embracing the tale, as well as the salvation that Jesus offered. He felt he needed to explain why Jews were rejecting the message, and why that had no bearing on the truth of its claims.
Paul made the case that Jews were abandoning the message but Gentiles were coming to Christ even though they hadn’t been seeking the God of Abraham, at the end of Romans 9:
Romans 9:30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at [that] law. 32 Why? Because [they did] not [pursue it] by faith, but as though [it were] by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone…”
The first insight that we surely must gain from that reality is this…
Religion isn’t the way to God
Paul’s heart was broken because of Jewish defection from the message he brought to his people, and that was made clear in the beginning of Romans 10. He admits that Jews were religious, but not saved:
Romans 10:1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for [their] salvation. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.
That is worth considering. Religious zeal doesn’t save a person. Prayerfully ascending a stone stairway, weeping as I move upward on my knees, even if it is accompanied by beating my back with a whip and moaning about my sin is not the God-ordained method to open a relationship with God. It may leave me with bloody knees and a scarred back – but it isn’t the door God provided to get into a relationship with Him. Why do people seek religious zeal, then? There are two ideas we should recall:
First, they confuse what truth is. We must admit that it isn’t the AMOUNT of zeal or sincerity of belief in something that makes it true. You may feel something deeply, but that doesn’t make what you feel true. Truth is what conforms to reality – not what you wish reality is. You may FEEL WEALTHY, but your bankbook holds the story of your monetary standing. You may FEEL pure, but an exacting record of your thoughts and actions tell the truth about your heart. You may FEEL honest, but a precise record of every word you have thought and spoken when placed beside the truth you know will tell the actual story. We are living in a time when this basic premise is being obscured. People are saying often in public things they FEEL and making them TRUTH CLAIMS – even if they don’t conform to reality. The Bible claims that God deals in ACTUAL TRUTH, not in people’s self-evaluation of their own net-worth.
Second, it is SO appealing to come in through the door of religion – because we FEEL WE DID SOMETHING TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE RELATIONSHIP with God. In essence, in religious practice, we can easily claim that we earned the relationship with God by our labor. It feels like Heaven is a wage for our perseverance and dedication – and that is just another way for man to tell God what God SHOULD want. Rebellion is resetting the rules; it is establishing a different door than the one that God provided to enter and meet Him. What we need to remember is this: If God is Creator and Redeemer – we must come through the door He provides and according to His instructions.
Atonement isn’t the way to God – even if it ONCE was.
Paul continued addressing the problem Jewish people had during his time accepting the message of justification by grace through faith in the work of Jesus alone.
Romans 10:3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Here Paul claimed four truths:
First, that Jews did not truly understand the character of God’s righteousness. Anyone who supposes that a bottle of lamb’s blood is equal to the violation of the Holy One doesn’t truly understand the nature of God in an intimate way.
Imagine you were due for a very delicate brain surgery. The best surgeon in the world was flown in for this most difficult of all surgeries. You signed all the papers. You recognize that there is a good chance the surgery will fail and even that you may be making an exit from the planet. The surgical suite is meticulously maintained. The surgeon scrubbed every necessary part of his arms and hands. Masks were donned. Surgical scrubs were worn by the entire crew. The instruments of the surgery – from scalpels to saws were all sterilized with the best techniques known to man. What is all the fuzz about? The tiniest particle of impurity can DESTROY the carefully sterilized area and cause major health issues for you as a patient. Here is the truth: God’s righteousness is absolute – a factor much more complete than our most sterile man cleaned environment. The tiniest breach of righteousness destroys the perfection of the environment. God tolerates nothing imperfect in His righteous state. If one understands the exacting detail of God’s righteousness, they see the tiniest sin as a ‘BIG DEAL’ to God.
Second, the Jewish people sought to establish their own righteousness. They aren’t the only people in the world to ever try to do this. Every religious group that gets confused between revealed truth and their own rules does it. When people make up rules that help them participate in their faith, they also run into the danger of creating the feeling they ‘EARNED’ standing with God – in that way they can even misguidedly establish their own door to God. The problem is, only the one that God opens will get you in. Heaven isn’t a well-guarded bank, it is an “impossible to access” place designed by the Designer of YOU. He knows what He wants, and what you think He should want is utterly irrelevant.
Let’s say you are trying to lose a few extra pounds. The problem is that you have a metabolism that appears to be smarter than you do. When you eat less, it burns less. When you eat more but exercise more, it still packs on pounds. Late one night you are watching television because you can’t sleep. One of the world famous ads fills the screen with promises. “Eat whatever you wish – as much as you wish. Just take this little supplement, and you will shed pounds.” It sounds too good to be true, but you figure, “Hey, they are on TV, right? I mean there must be SOMETHING to what they are saying, don’t you think?” You order. Your supplements show up four to six weeks later. The only weight you lose is what leaves your wallet… A few weeks later you are watching late night TV again. After the pictures of starving children go off, a religious looking man in a nice suit fills the screen, and now he is standing in front of a big choir in what appears to be a church. He tells you that you can have a relationship with God, but you need to join his group – which incidentally costs a few dollars. Here is what I am saying: It won’t even work as well as the supplements you bought. If the man isn’t making clear that a relationship with God comes only through the grace of God (unearned) by means of believing exactly what God said about access to Him from His Word – He is offering a worthless message to a hopeless listener.
Third, the Jewish people would not submit to the door God provided. Here is the big problem. The more we believe another message, the more we reject the one God gave us. We can fuss all we want about our good works and how we are not as bad as someone else, but the bottom line is this: What has God said He wants you to do to walk in the door He has provided.
You decided after much bugging by your spouse that you would finally go on a cruise from one of our lovely Florida ports. You don’t really want to go, but it seems to make your spouse happy, and offers the ‘air’ of romance to your marriage, so you figure…”Why not?” You book the state room with a lovely balcony. The third day of the cruise you take an excursion to do some scuba diving. The company has everything arranged and off you go in the little skiff they provide to go out to sea. For whatever reason, the man steering the little vessel doesn’t warn you about a big wave approaching, and you are not seated properly in the boat as it moves swiftly through the water. The wave hits hard, and you fly out of the boat. You are a decent swimmer, but the water is pretty rough, and you hurt your arm as you were hurled from the boat. Now you are struggling a bit, hurting and disoriented from the sudden toss overboard. The skiff slows and turns. The operator tosses you the lie preserver. You look at it and decide you don’t like the color. He circles the boat toward you and you decide to backstroke in the other direction, yelling at him because he won’t provide rescue the way you want it to be. You blame HIM, and he is watching you drown in your own objections. That sounds ridiculous, but it is happening all over the world right now. People are sinking in sin, rejecting the life preserver because they think they should have the right to decide its shape, its color, its make.
The fourth truth is the most significant, the only door that works is Jesus. During that last night of Jesus’ earth ministry, He shared with His men about the place to which He was about to go. John 14 recorded these words:
John 14:1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, [there] you may be also. 4 “And you know the way where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
Look closely at what Jesus said. He told the men He was leaving, and He was about to be preparing their place in Heaven. Thomas wanted to location and the directions. Jesus gave them – I am the way there, and there is no other.
A second truth about the way to God was offered in Romans 10 that is also worth our time and attention…
There are significant differences between the old system of atonement and the completed system of justification by grace through faith in the Person and work of Jesus.
Atonement required continual practice and devotion to the system that must be repeated throughout one’s life while justification by grace through faith in Jesus provides complete cleansing based on the open confession of submission to the Person and work of Christ:
Romans 10:5 For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. 6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”– that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus [as] Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”
The Law provided an education in substitution and clearly established the need for covering of one’s sin before a Holy God. It even provided a temporary solution for sin by instructing a people in continual blood sacrifice and a regular calendar of performances of those sacrifices. It was effective, and really made many things clear that would not have been without the help of God in special revelation at Sinai. The Jewish people were to learn important lessons: the seriousness of sin in the law of sin and of death (when one sins there must be death) and the need to be clean to have an intimate walk with a Holy God.
People that do not understand these concepts because they have been raised far from God’s Word will struggle with the Gospel, not because they don’t want to follow God, but because they do not see the point of the story. They may even be offended that God chose to allow His own Son to die in our place – judging that to be a cruel requirement. Men who know little of God’s story feel the right to judge Him based on their own sense of righteousness and truth. To the believer that sounds foreign and offensive, but we are seeing it more and more as young people are being educated according to pagan thought processes.
Look at the verses. God related the problem with atonement law is that it is a closed system. Once you are in it, you have to stay connected to all the requirements – because it has no self-completion. Yet, the message of faith in Jesus can also be confusing. After all, where exactly is Jesus now? Who can bring Him into the room to testify of His message today? That is the idea behind Romans 10:6-7. Yet there is a solution, and it is found in Romans 10:8-11…
Jesus will testify within you. He will transform you. Your desires will change and your hungers will change. He enters when you ask Him to do so, and He transforms as you yield yourself – choice by choice – to Him. The confusion is that so many people CLAIM to follow Jesus, but are walking a path entirely unfamiliar to anything Jesus would say or do.
Last night I stood in line in Walgreens, getting a few items. Behind me were two young women. The woman who was making the purchases was talking to her friend, and evidently hadn’t learned appropriate words that weren’t what my mom would have called “potty mouth”. She expressed dismay and excitement with the same debased language, assuming her bodily functions were appropriate for casual conversation. When we walked outside, I saw her enter her car with her friend – a car decked out with the name of her church and some pretty interesting Christian sayings on its bumper stickers. I wondered if she considered herself a follower of Jesus but thought that maybe Jesus didn’t care about her mouth. If that sounds “judgy” to you – you may have little true knowledge of what Jesus sounds like. What I know for sure, is that He never sounded like that.
When we speak of a “church” we are not speaking of a denominational outpost or weekly meeting, but an public expression of people who come together to submit to Jesus as both Messiah and Master of their lives. Any group that claims to be a church that does not follow what the Word of God teaches is a false expression, period. If the standards of that work don’t follow the standards of the Word – they reveal they are not following Him – regardless of what they say they are doing.
Inadvertently, the grace in the message of the church has become part of the reason for the misunderstanding in our culture of the righteousness of God. Stressing that God desires a relationship given freely in Christ but failing to make clear the egregious nature of sin before God has led to a populace in America that confuses Jesus with Fred Rogers of “Mr. Roger’s neighborhood”.
Jesus never stood for “nice guy of the year” award – and wouldn’t be elected by current standards if the Gospel record is accurate, as I believe it is.
There is another startling difference revealed in these verse, but you have to really grasp the idea they contain. Atonement offered relationship to people who became part of ONE people (the Jews), while justification allows anyone access to God through the same door – but ONLY that door. Paul wrote it this way:
Romans 10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same [Lord] is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”
The process of the Gospel then is this:
• First, submits to Jesus and is transformed by His mastery (Romans 10:9-10).
• Second, they find satisfaction and complete identity in Him (Romans 10:11-13).
• Third, they share their faith with others (Romans 10:14-16). Paul wrote:
Romans 10:14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” 16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” 17 So faith [comes] from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Virtually every believer I have ever met would offer a hearty “Amen!” to the idea that the Gospel needed to be preached, shared and spoken – yet few give the Gospel. We talk to many people during the week. We share about news, weather and even politics – but seldom do we share Christ. Yet, it isn’t because we don’t believe, and it isn’t because we don’t care… or is it?
Paul wrote that the Gospel is a message that must be proclaimed. It must be verbally shared. Some must feel the tug of God and be sent… Now look again at the excuse people gave – even in the first century: SOME FELT IT WOULDN’T BE BELIEVED.
Jesus promised that if you faithfully and lovingly gave it, the message would not return without use. A Biblical world view (faith) comes by hearing the message of the Word and having that hearing energized by the Savior within.
Our lesson closes with an admission, though. There will be resistance. Some won’t listen. Some are hardened by life, others by blindness in the Spirit. Paul’s own countrymen were experiencing that blindness:
Romans 10:18 But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; “THEIR VOICE HAS GONE OUT INTO ALL THE EARTH, AND THEIR WORDS TO THE ENDS OF THE WORLD.” 19 But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says, “I WILL MAKE YOU JEALOUS BY THAT WHICH IS NOT A NATION, BY A NATION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WILL I ANGER YOU.” 20 And Isaiah is very bold and says, “I WAS FOUND BY THOSE WHO DID NOT SEEK ME, I BECAME MANIFEST TO THOSE WHO DID NOT ASK FOR ME.” 21 But as for Israel He says, “ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE.”
Do you see what God promised about the Gospel’s reach? He said the message of the Gospel would go around the globe. Have you ever considered that truth as one of the great evidences of the faith – that a small and backward people would bear a child in a stable who was executed under the auspices of Roman power, but His story would become the backbone of western history’s energizing belief? It would give birth to European nations and eventually to our own country.
Atheists are quick to point out that not all the founding fathers of our nation were Theists – and it is true that Jefferson and some others were Deists. What they were NOT was a large group of atheists. They believed in moral truth. They believed in Divine purpose and destiny. They believed in human dignity, and inalienable rights of human beings as the basis of our legal framework and rights. The current teaching of some of our best modern minds have left little so powerful as their ideas, rooted in Scriptural language and thought.
We end this lesson with a word about Divinely-promised jealousy. Israel was passing into a time when their Scriptures would be launched to the nations – but not by them. This was being done in the name of One their leaders publicly despised. That could not have been easy to stomach.
Here is the point: God is working a plan. Religious behavior won’t tunnel beneath the wall around God. Good works cannot vault across the deep divide between God and man. Pedigree won’t get you into a relationship…
No one intrudes into a relationship with God. By His grace, there is a door, but that is the ONLY way in.
His name is Jesus.
There’s a website called museumofhoaxes.com that lists “The Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All Time.”
One was called the “Swiss Spaghetti Harvest”: In 1957, the respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in, and many called up wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. To this question, the BBC diplomatically replied that they should “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
Another great was “Smellovision”: In 1965, the BBC featured an interview with a professor who had just invented a device called “smellovision.” This miraculous technology allowed viewers to experience directly in their own home aromas produced in the television studio. The professor offered a demonstration by cutting some onions and brewing coffee. A number of viewers called in to confirm that they distinctly experienced these scents as if they were there in the studio with him. Since no aromas were being transmitted, whatever these viewers thought they smelled coming out of their TV sets must be chalked up to the power of suggestion.
A generation later came the “Left-Handed Whopper”: In 1998, Burger King published a full-page advertisement in USA Today announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a “Left-Handed Whopper” specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper, but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customer. The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new sandwich. Simultaneously, according to the press release, “many others requested their own ‘right-handed’ version.” (Original source unknown).
Yes, people can be trained to believe almost anything, and sadly they ARE being trained that way. But the truth is alive and well. Salvation is available – but there is only ONE DOOR. That isn’t myth. It isn’t urban legend – it is the Word of the Savior Himself.