Friday, 10 February 2012

THE VANITY OF RELIGION AND THE TOTALITY OF HOPELESSNESS

In this message we will cover the vanity of religion shown in the condemnation on the religious (2:17 - 3:8). As we have pointed out, Paul deals with condemnation in four aspects: on mankind in general, on the self-righteous in particular, on the religious specifically, and on all the world totally. This is very meaningful. From these aspects of God’s condemnation we can see four things: the source of wickedness, the way of restriction, the vanity of religion, and the totality of hopelessness.

I.     THE CONDEMNATION ON THE RELIGIOUS


Let us first consider the vanity of religion. Human culture is the best human invention, and within this culture the foremost item is religion. Religion is the apex of man’s culture. Human culture needs religion, for without it culture is wild. If religion were eliminated from human culture, culture would remain crude. Therefore, most people respect religion. Among the human race the two best religions are Judaism and Christianity. These are the typical religions. They are genuine, sound, and fundamental religions. Both proceeded out of the same source, the divine revelation in the Bible. Along with these two religions, we have Islam, a counterfeit of Judaism. Judaism was the source of Islam. The Koran, the sacred book of the Moslems, is actually an imitation of the Old Testament, although its contents have been changed in order to propagate lies. The Koran even speaks about Christ, saying that He is greater than Mohammed. According to the Koran, Christ was never crucified. As the people attempted to nail Him to the cross, angels descended and took Him away into heaven. The Koran even tells us that this Jesus will return. It is evident, therefore, that Islam and its sacred book, the Koran are counterfeits.

On this earth there are just three religions—the genuine religions of Judaism and Christianity and the counterfeit religion of Islam. Even with the two genuine religions there is still nothing but vanity. We do not need religion. We need a living Person. We do not need something related to God; we need God Himself. We do not need a way to worship God; we need the living Person of God to come into us. When God gave us the Bible, He had no intention of giving us a religion. God’s intention was to reveal Himself into us through the Holy Word, not to have a religious form. Nevertheless, the stronger a religion is, the more vanity it contains.

The word Christianity is sweet and precious to the ears of many Christians, and it is offensive to them for a man to say that Christianity is vanity. If you are offended by this, it proves that you are exceedingly religious. I do not say that Christ is vanity and I do not say that Christians are vanity, but I assert strongly that Christianity is vanity. We want Christ, Christians, and the church, but we do not want any “anity.” If we return to the pure Word in the New Testament, we find the term Christ and the term Christians (Acts 11:26). However, the terms Christianity or Christmas are not in the Bible. A kind of “anity” or “mas” has been added to Christ. Christmas is vanity. When people hang lamps on a little tree, that is “anity” and “mas.” That is vanity. We must beware of religion: religion is vanity.

A. Having an Outward Name


Now we need to consider a few matters about the vanity of religion. First, religion has an outward name (2:17). Some people attend Mass only once a year at Christmas time. Here we see an example of the vanity of religion: attending Mass once a year as a religious duty in order to keep the name of being a Catholic. What kind of believer is this? A believer with a mere outward name. If you are real in the spirit, meaning you are a genuine believer, that is wonderful. However, if you lack the reality and simply keep the outward name, it means nothing. It is vanity.


B. Knowing God in Outward Knowledge


We need such an inward and subjective knowledge of God.


C. Having the Scriptures Outwardly


The third item of the vanity of religion is having the Scriptures outwardly (3:2). Both Jews and Christians have the Bible, but the Bible, for many of them, has become a superstitious book. They hold the Bible in a superstitious way. Some Christians use the Bible to find guidance in an extraordinary way. They open the Bible, point their finger to a certain place, and follow the leading given in whatever verse they locate. I once heard of a superstitious person who opened the Bible and placed his finger on the verse which said that Judas went out to hang himself (Matt. 27:5). I wonder what he did. It is terrible and absolutely superstitious to handle the Scriptures in this way. All of these vain practices must be torn down.


Of course, most orthodox Jews and genuine Christians do not handle the Bible in such a superstitious way, but they do not take the Scriptures in a real and living way. They care for the teachings in letters; they do not care for Christ, the living Person. In John 5:39-40 the Lord Jesus told the Jewish religionists that they search the Scriptures for knowledge, yet will not come to Him for life. Today many Christians are in the same category.


D. Keeping the Outward Form in Letter


Some religious people keep the outward form in letter (2:27-28). Take the example of baptism. Many dear Christians cling to their concepts about baptism by immersion in water. I myself am strongly in favor of baptism by immersion according to the Scriptures and I would never baptize people by sprinkling them. However, this matter of baptism has almost entirely become a mere outward form. We must avoid all outward forms.


E. Lacking Inward Reality in Spirit


Religion is vanity because it lacks inward reality in spirit (2:29). Romans 2:29 says that whatever we are, whatever we do, and whatever we have must all be in spirit. If you are a Jew and are circumcised, your circumcision must be in spirit. If you are a Christian and are baptized, your baptism must be in spirit. Everything must be in spirit. The spirit here, of course, is the human spirit. Why must everything be done in our spirit? Because our spirit is the very place within us where God can dwell. The spirit is the site, the ground where God can act on our behalf. If you are a Christian in your spirit, this means you are a Christian with God. If you act in your spirit, this means you act with God. Without God, everything is vain; with Him, everything is reality. Therefore, we must return to our spirit. If we love other people, we must love them in our spirit. Otherwise, our love is not genuine. It is a political love. However, if we love in our spirit, our love is with God. Our spirit is the organ through which God can touch us and through which we can touch God. Everything we are and everything we do must be in our spirit. This is not religion; this is reality.


F. Doing Evils as the Unreligious


Eventually, the religious people practice the same evils as the unreligious (2:21-22). It seems that there is no difference between the unreligious people and the religious people. All are the same. Although the Jews were religious, they behaved even worse than the Gentiles.


In this portion on the condemnation of the religious, we see that religion means nothing, that it is vanity. Therefore, we must stay away from religion and have nothing to do with it. We need the living Person of the Triune God.


Source: Witness Lee, Life-Study of Romans, Message Four

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