What if the Apostle Paul was alive today? Would he be writing to us at Vine Street Christian Church trying to correct us; would he be thinking about what to say to you and me about our faith lives; and, would he try to explain the difference between our public religious life and our private relationship with Jesus? 

Here are 2 “annotated excerpts” from Romans, Chapter 2, (The Message) of what Paul might have to say to us today, if he only had the chance! 

God Is Kind, but Not Soft

Just because some people are on a dark spiral downward, doesn’t mean that you are on such high ground where you can point your finger at others. Think again! Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. After all, it takes one to know one. Judging and criticizing others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.

You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.

So, you see, you’re not getting by with anything. Every refusal and avoidance of God adds fuel to the fire. The day is coming when it’s going to blaze hot and high, God’s fiery and righteous judgment. Make no mistake: In the end you get what’s coming to you—Real Life for those who work on God’s side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance, Fire!

If you go against the grain of God’s ways, you will get splinters, regardless of which neighborhood you’re from, what your parents taught you, what schools you attended. But, if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up. Being a Christian won’t give you an automatic stamp of approval. God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind.

If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.

When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within all of us that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong. Each person’s response to God’s yes and no in known only by God, and will become public knowledge on the day God makes his final decision about every man and woman. The Message from God that I proclaim through Jesus Christ takes into account all these differences.

Religion Can’t Save You

If you’re brought up Christian, don’t assume that you can lean back in the arms of your religion and take it easy, feeling smug because you’re an insider to God’s revelation, a connoisseur of the best things of God, informed on the latest doctrines! 

I have a special word of caution for all of you who are sure that you have it all together yourselves and, because you know God’s revealed Word inside and out, feel qualified to guide others through their blind alleys and dark nights and confused emotions to God. While you are guiding others, who is going to guide you? I’m quite serious. While preaching “Don’t steal!” are you going to rob people blind? Who would suspect you? The same with adultery. The same with idolatry. 

You can get by with almost anything if you front it with eloquent talk about God and his law. The line from Scripture, “It’s because of you (Christians) that the outsiders frown on God,” shows it’s an old problem that isn’t going to go away.

Baptism, the sacred ritual that marks you as a Christian, is great if you live in accord with God’s law. But if you don’t, it’s worse than not being baptized. The reverse is also true: The non-baptized who keep God’s ways are as good as the baptized — in fact, better. Better to keep God’s law unbaptized than break it baptized. 

Don’t you see: It’s not the dunk in the water that makes someone a Christian. You become a Christian by who you are. It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of water on your skin that makes you a Christian. And your recognition – your identity as a child of God — comes straight from God; not from any religious order, denomination, or church.

Meet me on the road to Damascus,                                                                                               Pastor Bob <><