Sermon: Rituals, Religion, and Transformed Hearts

“Rituals, Religion, and Transformed Hearts”
Romans 2:25-29
June 12, 2016

A few months ago a sealed leather trunk that had been stored in a museum in the Netherlands was opened and what the researchers found was astounding — 2600 undelivered letters, perfectly preserved from the 17th century. About 600 of those letters were never opened; so now — 400 years after they were written — they will be read for the first time using x-ray scanning technology that will allow the researchers to protect the integrity of the letters.

Because many of the letters were already open, they have been re-read and are being catalogued. The letters are a cross-section of European culture of that day, as one researcher noted: “Many of the writers and intended recipients of these letters were people who travelled throughout Europe, such as wandering musicians and religious exiles. The trunk preserves letters from many social classes, and women as well as men.”

One of the letters reportedly reveals the plight of a Dutch opera singer who had left the Netherlands for Paris and learned she was pregnant. She apparently had implored a wealthy merchant friend to write to the father of the child.

The letter reads: You can divine without difficulty the true cause of her despair. I cannot put it into so many words; what I ought to say to you is so excessive. Content yourself with thinking on it, and returning her to life by procuring her return.”

The letter is marked “niet hebben”, meaning the man refused to accept the letter (and perhaps the pregnancy). Thus, the fate of the singer and her child remains unknown—like the fates of so many of the letter writers, as the notes never found their destinations, sealed in the trunk for centuries.…

In 1702 a man wrote to warn his musician brother to not try to come through Paris while travelling in France as musicians had been conscripted into the army there. He wrote: “If you come here, do not bring your instrument or anything else.” [Accessed from Ancient Origins, 6/10/16.]

Talk about miscommunication — messages that were missed by 400 years. You have to wonder how many lives were negatively impacted by those missed letters — lives lost, sins unreconciled, love unreturned, misunderstandings unclarified, and opportunities missed.

We might be tempted to say that those missed messages were sorrowful and tragic. But there is another message that is far more tragic when it is missed. And it is the message of the gospel. If people misunderstand the gospel and its purpose, they will not only have regrets on earth, but they will have regrets for all of eternity. That is why we want to be so very clear about the gospel.

And that’s why Paul was so clear about the gospel when he wrote the church in Rome. Because he’d never been to Rome, this was a church that did not personally know him. But Paul wants to establish a base for his ministry as he takes the gospel westward to places like Spain, and he writes this letter to ask the Romans to consider being that base. But because they don’t know him, he sets out his understanding of the gospel and theology; and he begins his letter with an explanation of the sinfulness of men:

  • The unrighteous heathen are sinners (1:18-32)
  • The “righteous” Jew is a sinner (2:1-29)
  • All men everywhere are sinners (3:1-20)

The shocking part of this section is chapter two — how could those who had all the religious heritage and pedigree of Judaism be unrighteous? They are Jews; they have the Law of God; they are in the covenant of Abraham; they are circumcised. How could they be sinners under the condemnation of God?

Paul’s explanation is quite simple in this morning’s passage (2:25-29):

Personal rituals and religious heritage are utterly worthless to produce salvation.

In this passage, Paul addresses the Jew’s (remember he is writing this as a diatribe against one representative Jew who thinks he is righteous) misconception about the value of his heritage and his so-called righteousness. As he corrects that incorrect thinking, Paul addresses four different misconceptions about salvation and the gospel:

Misconception #1: Salvation is About Who You Are (v. 25a)

  • What circumcision is
  • Circumcision is valuable

Misconception #2: Salvation is About What You Do (vv. 25b-27)

  • Breaking God’s Law leads to condemnation (v. 25b)
  • Obeying God’s Law reveals God’s gift of salvation (vv. 26-27)

Misconception #3: Salvation is Man-Produced (v. 28-29a)

Misconception #4: Salvation is Man-Honoring (v. 29b)


Download the rest of this sermon on Romans 2:25-29.

The audio will be posted on the GBC website later today.

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