February 6, 2018

Heart, Not Religion

Romans 2:17–21

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17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?

Heart, Not Religion

Central Truth

When the church we attend, the Bible we read, and the good works we do become more important than the God we serve, all of those things become meaningless. Jesus doesn’t care about our religion; He cares about our hearts.

Devotional | Romans 2:17–21

My buddy was having serious phone trouble the other day. He Googled what could be wrong (never a good idea), and just about every article told him that he would have to replace his phone. Distraught, he made a beeline...

My buddy was having serious phone trouble the other day. He Googled what could be wrong (never a good idea), and just about every article told him that he would have to replace his phone. Distraught, he made a beeline for the Apple store where an associate took it to the back. It was like watching his child go in for surgery. Although he expected the worst, they came back and said his phone had clumps of dog hair in it, and they cleaned it out. His phone made a full recovery.

We have a tendency to do this in our faith. We expect the biggest hindrance to Christianity to be atheism. However, there is something that does more damage to Christianity worldwide than all the atheists combined: religion. Paul addresses the religion of the day by stating three privileges that the Jews received.

The first of those privileges is their title: Jews. They were proud of their name because it showed that they were God’s chosen people. I know I can be guilty of this. I can be so proud of the church I attend that I can talk more about Watermark than I talk about Jesus. The second of their privileges is their Book or their Law. The Jews were commanded by God to meditate on His Law day and night, but they were more concerned about knowing the Law than they were about knowing the Author of the Law. The third privilege was their good deeds, and this is where verse 21 comes into play. Paul attacks their hearts. You see, all of the privileges of being a Jew—their name, their Book, and their good works—were outward. They were external. But Jesus didn't care about their religious adherence even to good things.

The biggest threat in our faith isn’t found in the hearts of non-believers; it's found inside of us. When the church we go to, the Bible we read, and the good works we do become more important than the God we serve, all of those things become meaningless. Jesus doesn’t care about our religion; He cares about our hearts.

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Bio | Ben Pukas

Howdy, partner! At least I think that’s how you communicate here in Texas; forgive me if it’s not. I just moved here, and I’m still learning. I was born and raised in Florida and attended the University of South Florida (Go Bulls) where I majored in finance and economics. However, the Lord had different plans for me and called me into ministry. I moved to Dallas this past August so I can be in The Fellowship at Watermark. I love to watch and play sports, but I also have a sensitive side; my favorite movie is The Notebook.

Discussion Questions

1. Why do you think the Jews that Paul was writing to put such an emphasis on their outward appearance?

2. Can you think of any other privileges that Paul doesn’t mention here that we can make more important than God?

3. It was mentioned that our church affiliation can make God take a back seat in our lives. What are other privileges in your life that God created to be good, but not ultimate?

4. Bible reading is something that is extraordinarily important in our daily walks. When can trying to understand more of the Bible actually become sinful? How can we all be like the Jews from Rome?

5. The Bible says in Matthew 7:16 that they will know us by our fruits. So how then can doing good works be religion? How can we guard our hearts against the pride we develop from the praise of our good works?


21 Comments available

Krysta Nelson 5 months ago

Loved this devotional! One of my favorites so far in JTJ! Wonderful questions that made me truly analyze my priorities. Thanks so much for sharing, Ben!

Elizabeth Lariscy 5 months ago

Thank you, Ben for a great devotion. The central truth is so basic and yet so true! Good luck in your ministry, my fellow Floridian! You have moved to a place with a loving church body practicing Christlike love and not religion. God bless!

Alma Barber 5 months ago

I am so thankful that we are all leveled at the cross. That God looks at the heart. The heart of EVERY person. The heart of the common man-those that are considered “from the other side of the tracks” (like myself) and not just the highly educated elite. Sadly, many churchgoers today, Pride themselves in their “knowledge” of The Word, (and their accomplishments-the college they went to, the degrees they obtained, their affluence and eloquence -and ALL things superficial-for appearance and approval’s sake) but their hearts are far from God. We may very well fool others… but never God. I pray He helps us (all) to seek Him above all things. To desire, hunger and thirst for Him, like NOTHING else. To make our relationship with Him -walking with Him, talking with Him -our number one priority…and not our “Christian” service. Not even our calling.(Matthew 22:36-40)

greg jones 5 months ago

Question five is actually two questions but I would answer them both in a similar way. Know the difference between “they” will know us by our fruit, and “us” will know us by our fruits. They know us, the way Jesus was known as a friend to sinners.

Lisa Olsen 5 months ago

It’s easy to carry around the Bible, take it out and read in front of others, take 5 minutes to do a devo to check it off of our list of “to-do’s” for the day, but are we worshiping the creator of the Word and taking seriously the commands in it?Q5-I believe good works become religion when they are done to be approved of either by God or by others, instead out of a devoted love for Christ. Basically, if we look at good works as our means of salvation. I believe asking the Holy Spirit for help, glorifying God while doing the work, both inwardly and outwardly and letting others know that this is to the glory of God, not ourselves.

Lisa Olsen 5 months ago

Q2-Any and every privilege can become an idol. I think some top ones on the list in our society and culture are status, money and appearance. Q3-work, family and friends.Q4-Years ago I read an article that said if we worship the Bible instead of the God of the Bible, we are sinning. I had never heard anything like that before, so I was taken aback. But I understand now that this means that reading just for the sake of reading (especially when we are doing so to win the respect of others) or reading to gain knowledge without the Word of God actually transforming our heart, is no different then reading a textbook to gain knowledge.

Lisa Olsen 5 months ago

Thank you, Ben! What an awesome devo…one of my favorites yet! I love the Central Truth and your vulnerability when you mentioned that you have a sensitive side and that your favorite movie is “The Notebook”. Love it! Rarely do I want to answer all of the discussion questions, but this time I do! Awesome questions! Q1-Pride. Pride in its sinful form causes us to see ourselves above others. Nothing I did in of myself converted me to Christianity. In fact, I have a long list of sin, struggles and addictions that I am just now choosing (by God’s grace) to be freed from. It is all God’s grace and his reaching down to rescue me, despite my falls and failures. But if I forget that, it’s easy to walk around with my Bible, speak “Christianese” and make my outward appearance more shiny then my inward.

greg jones 5 months ago

Great devotional yesterday, great follow up to it today. There is a difference between sharing an opinion with God and sharing a relationship with God. God has opinions because he loves, He doesn’t love because he has opinions. Keeping his opinions doesn’t earn his love, and He has an opinion about our reasons for getting that wrong.

Selena Thompson 5 months ago

Hi Ben! Thanks for a great devo this morning. Q#2/3- In my life I have a tendency to make the privilege of marriage more important than God. Often, I forget that my husband is a gift (@wordsfromwags) but should not be the ultimate person I worship. Although God created marriage and having a great one is what He desires for my life, He reminds me often that walking with and resting in Him will bring about the privilege of having a great marriage so that HE is glorified in it. Have a great day journeyers.

Christina "Chris" Gray 5 months ago

Powerful, thought provoking devotional! Thanks for spurring us all in towards love and good works with the right heart attitude of devotion to our Lord God Almighty. Keep On Ben!

James Rener 5 months ago

Good Morning JTJ, and great Devo Ben. Q1 - I think that the Jews put such an emphasis on their outward appearance because they were wrapped up in their own demeanor. It seems they were going around boasting of themselves, but the Lord knew what their intentions were, and what their hearts truly desired. You can fool a man, but you can’t fool God. Are our intentions true, authentic and solely for the glory of God, or are they to make us look better in the eye of a man? Who are we really fooling anyways? Friends, Family, Ourselves? “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart”. - Proverbs 21:2

Aaron Young 5 months ago

thank you for the encouragement and realignment of priorities this morning!

Michael Scaman 5 months ago

In Romans 2 , Paul started with a judgement of works to a judgement including secret thought and now talks about an inward nature.

Even in these verses here one can boast in God a wrong way and doesn’t show an inward change of salvation.

The people Malachi spoke to were surprised to hear they 1) they despised God’s name 2) they were robbing God 3) they were bored with worship and 4) they cried at the alter but apparently not over their sin God’s view and their view of themselves in collision.

Michael Scaman 5 months ago

Inward change starts with changed appetites, a desire to listen to God’s word, and new longing and humility and results in the fruit of faith working in love. While no one is ‘saved by their fruit’, fruit is an important sign of life.

Paul said in Col 1:5,6 that the fruitfulness, the results of faith working in love goes back to the day they understood the grace of God in truth.

Trey Collins 5 months ago

This section illustrates a common problem in the Christian faith. We can be mechanical doers of “faithful things” because we know how to do them. We are trained to do them. We’ve grown up doing them but often they are a show or a publicity stunt. God calls to teach others not to steal, but are we stealing ourselves? What other word besides stealing can go there? For me its trusting in God and letting go of control. Praying for you this morning Ben!

Mary Anne Smiley 5 months ago

Yep! Howdy Ben! Spot on reminder of what is the most important thing! Thank you so much for the reminder! Great job!

Sue Bohlin 5 months ago

Hi Ben, and welcome to hurricane-free Dallas! Good devo, thanks. What struck me about this passage was how Paul highlighted the way Jews could focus entirely on themselves within the context of their supposed connection with God . . . but what’s missing is the relational aspect of connection to a very relational God. This is one of the things that most sets biblical Judeo-Christianity apart from all other religious systems–because no other religions emanate from a relational, personal, intimacy-inviting true God.

Ronnie Oldfield 5 months ago

Welcome to Texas Ben and thanks for leading today. Try saying Pahd Nah to get some West Texas street cred. Love question five. Not good at math but to me fruits do not equal works. Fruits for me is how well I am loving on the people I encounter at street level each day. How faithful am I to engage them and roll into a spiritual convo. How am I with building relationships with hurting people who need to hear about the hope available to them. Just doesn’t seem like “work” to me. Thanks for an awesome devo.

Hope Harris 5 months ago

Love this statement Ben: “Jesus doesn’t care about our religion; He cares about our hearts.” Amen

Lindsey Driscoll 5 months ago

Excellent questions Ben! Q4- By God’s grace I have parents and church community who taught me cripture from an early age. But, this can make me like the Jews they Paul is addressing in Romans, who has head knowledge of God and may tell other that what the law says, but does not let scripture change their heart.

Hugh Stephenson 5 months ago

I love the opening of this passage, “But if…”. You almost know what’s coming next. Keller suggests swapping “Jew” for “Christian” then rewriting the passage.

Recently, Amy read me John Piper citing Francis Schaeffer’s piece on the Invisible Tape Recorder. Paraphrasing and updating, what if there was an invisible Go Pro camera on my head that began when I was a small boy and ran until I died. When I stood before God He said something like, “Let’s be fair. Let’s just watch this video”. Uh oh. I have spent several days reflecting on this. I do not like what came into my mind.

This passage lists negative behaviors of hypocrites. What if I turned it around, deeply and humbly sought knowledge & truth, sought to teach others & sought counsel on the log in my own eye? Surely my witness for the gospel would be more effective.

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