Why are you doing that? (Romans 10:2-3)

SCENE 1

The squirrels had been in my attic for a while now. I could hear them overhead, running the length of the attic as they played in my insulation. It was driving me crazy. I hated those squirrels. “How are they getting into my attic?” Then one day I was standing in the front yard and saw a squirrel cross the street and head directly toward my house. It climbed up the trunk of a small tree near the house, jumped onto a branch of the tree, which bent under the weight and then sprung back up, catapulting the squirrel onto the roof of my house. “Oh ho! That’s how they are getting onto my roof and into my attic!” So, the next Saturday I was out with my tree saw and started to cut down the tree that the squirrels were using as a catapult. My neighbor wandered over to me and asked,

“Why are you doing that?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why am I doing that?’ I am cutting down this tree because I don’t want squirrels in my attic!” He shook his head and smiled and said, “Cutting down that tree won’t stop squirrels. You know, squirrels can just climb up the brick on the outside of your house and get onto your roof.”

            I began to feel just a tiny bit stupid, realizing that he might be right, but I continued cutting down the tree anyway. “There,” I said, as the small tree sunk to the ground. “That will stop them!” My victory was short-lived, however. About two hours later, I felt chagrined and outmatched as I watched that same squirrel scamper up the corner of my house, using the brick as you or I would use a sidewalk, pop over onto the roof and then disappear into my attic.

            What had just happened? Because of my ignorance of the real nature of the problem, I had employed a strategy that could never get me the results I wanted. I wanted to get rid of the squirrels in my attic, so I cut down the tree. No good. Waste of time. Bad idea.

            Now, other than a little bit of humiliation in the eyes of my neighbor, my blunder had no real consequences. No big deal. Lost a tree and kept the squirrels. Oh, well.

SCENE 2       

For the next scene, we turn to the Bible as Paul is applying the truths of the gospel to his Jewish countrymen in Romans 10. Paul presents a troubling scenario. Paul writes, “For I testify about them (his Jewish brethren), that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge (10:2). For not knowing about God’s righteousness (that is, not knowing about salvation by grace through faith in Jesus the Messiah), and seeking to establish their own (by religious works), they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God (10:3).”

            So, what I want to do is frame this scenario in terms of the incident with the squirrels in my attic, because these scenes are similar. Let’s say that an observer was talking to one of Paul’s friends, who was a Pharisee.

“I see that you are really zealous about doing religious things. You fast twice a week. You tithe from all that you get. You pray long prayers on the street corners. You always wash your hands before you eat, and you never do any work on the Sabbath. Everyone knows that you give to the poor. I’ve heard you even cast out demons and occasionally do a miracle! But . . . “

“Why are you doing that?”

            The Pharisee replied, “Because I want to be righteous, of course!” The observer sadly shook his head and said, “Doing all these religious works does not make you righteous. In fact, no amount of religious works can EVER make you righteous. Do all your works, but your sin will remain.”

            The Pharisee said, “That’s nonsense! Anyone can see that I am more righteous than you! I know that my religious works please God.”

            Once more, the other man tried to get through. “Actually, in Isaiah 64:6 the prophet says, ‘All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.’ The only way to be righteous is to believe in Jesus the Messiah.”

            For a brief moment it seemed that the Pharisee was considering what had just been said. Did Isaiah really say that thing about the filthy garment? And if he did say that what might that mean for me? Could my Rabbi be wrong? Could I be wrong? Could this guy be right? Then the mental window slammed shut. “I don’t need to be taught by you!” he said. “I will continue to work my works!”

            What had just happened? Because of the Pharisee’s ignorance of the real nature of righteousness, he was employing a strategy that could never get him the results he wanted. He wanted righteousness, but he is trying to obtain his righteousness by his own works. No good. Waste of time. Bad idea.

            But it is right at this point that things radically change. For while my blunder with the squirrels cost me a small tree and a little bit of embarrassment, the Pharisee’s error will cost him an eternity in hell. You see, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe (Romans 10:4).” The only possible way to obtain righteousness before the Holy One, the God of heaven, is to believe in Jesus the Messiah. This is not a preference issue. This is not a question of semantics. This is not an issue where you go at your way and I go at it my way and then we will probably both get there eventually. If the Pharisee does not change his mind and repent and bow the knee to Jesus the Messiah, he will never obtain any righteousness. In fact, he will miss righteousness by an eternity.

SCENE 3

            The final scene is a lunch discussion between me and Jack. Jack is a business associate of mine. We have developed a bit of a friendship and know a little bit about each other. I know that Jack is a Catholic, and we have had a couple of discussions about each other’s religious views. On this occasion, I have steered the conversation in the religious direction again.

            “So, as a Catholic, what sorts of things do you do? In other words, what religious things do Catholics do?”

            “We have talked about this before, Roy, but anyway. We do confession and we do the Mass every Sunday with the Eucharist. We do some ‘our Fathers’ and some ‘hail Marys.’ Some people do the rosary. We pray to various saints. Like that.”

“Why are you doing that?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why am I doing that?’ I am doing these things because I don’t want to go to hell!”

At that moment, I felt like the neighbor who was telling me the truth about squirrels or like the “other guy” who was telling the Pharisee the truth about righteousness. Jack said that he wanted to avoid hell, but he was pursuing a strategy that guaranteed that he would arrive there. He had adopted the Catholic plan which promises that good Catholics will avoid God’s wrath by doing religious things. For Catholics, trying to do your best and obeying the Catholic Church will at least get you into Purgatory. These are the inventions of the Catholic Church that keep people from hearing the truth.

So, I tried to explain to Jack that this was not a preference issue. I tried to tell him that there was no such thing as Purgatory (“Jack, I think you have a hole in your parachute.”) I told him that Jesus died to atone for sin, so there is no longer an ongoing sacrifice needed through the Mass. The priest has no authority to forgive sins or to give you any sort of penance that you can do to remove your sin. But my words fell on hard ground and we basically left the restaurant a tiny bit incensed with one another and probably a little more polarized.

The lesson from this is that we must be clear about what is wisdom and what is absolute truth. With regard to salvation, we must insist that there is no room for compromise or personal preference. When the fireman crashes your door down with an axe, it is not so he can debate with you whether your house is on fire. For everyone of us, our house is on fire, and there is only one way to safety. His name is Jesus.

For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe.

Romans 10:4

SDG                 rmb                  9/4/2020

2 thoughts on “Why are you doing that? (Romans 10:2-3)

  1. Protestants believe that in order to be saved we do not need to become righteous. In fact, no matter how hard we try we can never meet God’s high standard of righteousness. The only solution is we accept (by faith alone) free gift of Christ’ righteousness imputed on us, covering our unrighteousness. When we die, instead of looking at our unrighteousness, God will see that perfect righteousness of Christ and based on that He will let us enter heaven. Their famous saying is “we enter heaven solely based on what Christ did on the cross and not based on anything we do”. Protestants say salvation is one time event and through faith alone. Even when you die with sins, you still go to heaven, because your sins will be hidden under perfect righteousness of Christ.

    In contrast Catholic believe that to enter heaven we need to be righteous (Mat. 25:46). Definition of righteous persons is given in 1 John 3:7. By ourselves we can never become righteous – Scripture says through Christ we are made righteous (Rom. 5:19), apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Scripture says we lose our righteousness through sinning (Ezekiel 33:12) and there are deadly (mortal) and non-deadly (venial) sins (1 John 5:16-17). That is why Catholic believe that through Sacrament of Baptism we are cleansed from sin (Acts 2:38) and through Sacrament of penance (instituted by Christ in John 20:22-23) our sins committed after Baptism are forgiven and make us regain back our righteousness. This is repeated through out our life as we do sin again. Salvation is therefore a process where God saves us through faith (Eph. 2:8) and through sanctification (2 Thes. 2:13). Catholics will say “we enter heaven based on what Christ did on the cross AND what He (and God) does in us, i.e. we are transformed from unrighteous state to righteous one”.

    for more detail read my post at https://vivacatholic.files.wordpress.com/2020/04/justification12apr2020.pdf

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment on my blog. I appreciate your more thorough explanation of the Catholic position. In response, I wanted to clarify some points in the biblical view (“what Protestants believe”) and expand a little on what I had said in my blog post.
      The Catholic view that you expressed in your comment is in complete agreement with the Jewish error which Paul laments in Romans 10:1-4. Like the Jews in Paul’s time, Catholics have tried to establish their own man-made standards of righteousness and their own means of righteousness, but like the Jews in Paul’s time, that effort is futile. In Adam’s sin (Genesis 3), all mankind lost ALL righteousness and became completely unrighteous. As a result of Adam’s sin, sin and death entered the world. “Therefore, just as through one man, sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12).” Our righteousness has been irretrievably lost because of sin, and we cannot get it back. Having sinned against the LORD God, we have reaped the consequence of unrighteousness. The Bible states, “There is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10).” “There is none who does good, there is not even one (Romans 3:12).” “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment (Isaiah 64:6).”
      In contrast to the Bible’s clear teaching, Catholics believe that righteousness can be merited through various “sacraments,” like baptism and penance and confession and extreme unction, and through attending the Mass and partaking in the Eucharist, and so on. But the Bible explicitly condemns this merit system. “For by the works of the Law (Jewish merit system) shall no flesh be justified in His sight (Romans 3:20).” “Knowing that a man is not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law, since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified (Galatians 2:16).” Just as the Jewish system of “works of the Law” relied on man’s best efforts to earn them God’s favor, so Catholics rely on their own works to merit for them God’s favor. Thus, for Catholics, uncountable violations of the commandments of the Holy One of Israel are offset by man-made works, and so the Catholic earns his righteousness. But the primary problem with this is that it makes Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross for sins unnecessary. “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law (through human merit), then Christ died needlessly (Galatians 2:21).” In other words, if all that is needed for me to become righteous is a few works and my best efforts, then why in the world did God send His only begotten Son to this sinful planet to be nailed to a Roman cross between two thieves?
      So, the next logical question would be, “If all my best works cannot earn me righteousness; and if I have irretrievably lost all my righteousness because of my sin; and if God is too holy to look on evil (Habakkuk 1:13) and if He will surely punish every sin; and if ‘the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18),’ then how does anyone have any hope of salvation or of ever being righteous?” THAT is the question that the Bible itself asks and THAT is the reason the Bible was written. Since you and I have lost all our righteousness, we will never again have a righteousness of our own (Philippians 3:9). So then, the only possible righteousness must be an alien righteousness given to us from someone who is already approved by God as being completely righteous. That is what you and I need if we will ever enter heaven – we need an alien righteousness that can be imputed to our account. Isaiah found this righteousness, for he says, “I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).” Isaiah, the man of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5), had been wrapped with a robe of righteousness. Where did Isaiah find this robe of righteousness, this alien righteousness? Saint Paul talks about this a lot in Romans. According to Paul, “The righteousness of God has been manifested, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. We see, then, that the key is not works or trying to merit righteousness, but the key is faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, this is a central theme in Romans. We find out that even Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews, was credited with righteousness based on his faith (Genesis 15:6, quoted by Paul in Romans 4:3). Paul then extends that to everyone when he says, “For the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (4:5).” The biblical view consistently declares that unrighteous people merit nothing from God except His judgment, and that their only hope is to place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ so that His perfect righteousness would be imputed to them. In another place, Saint Paul talks about “the great exchange,” where Christ dies for the sins of believers and gives to them His righteousness. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).” Saint Peter teaches the same thing, for in 1 Peter 3:18, the apostle declares, “For Christ also died for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.” Christ, the righteous one, died for the unrighteous (us) to bring us to heaven, to God.
      These are just some of the passages in the Scriptures that make clear that there is no way for any human to merit salvation or to earn righteousness. This alien righteousness must come from outside us; it must come from the Lord Jesus Christ on the basis of our personal faith in Him.
      In your comment to my blog post, you presented the “Protestant” view and the Catholic view as if they were two equally valid options for getting to heaven. In essence, you said, “Here’s choice A and here’s choice B, and they will both get you to heaven.” You presented the two views, but you did not tell us which one was the correct view and why. But you see, this discussion is not a disinterested gentleman’s debate about religion. What is at stake here is eternity with God in heaven or eternity separated from God in hell. So, while I appreciate your explanation of what Catholics believe, I must reject Catholicism because it is false. It is not false because I want it to be false. It is false because it fails to deal with the serious issue of man’s sin and condemnation and the coming judgment of God against sin. In contrast to Catholicism, man cannot merit his way to righteousness and those who continue on that path must surely fall under the judgment of God and will perish in hell. As explained above, the only way for a man or woman to be righteous is through faith in Jesus Christ. “For there is salvation in no other name (than the name of Jesus); for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” – the apostle Peter in Acts 4:12
      Rmb 9.9.2020

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