The Failure of Religion – Gospel in Life

The Failure of Religion

Tim Keller |  February 22, 2009

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  • Repentance
  • Sin
  • Salvation
Romans 2:1-6; 12-26
RS 312-03


We’re tracing the storyline of the entire Bible. We started in Genesis, where we learn what’s wrong with the human race, and we’ve come to Romans, where we learn what God has done about it through Jesus Christ.

Here at the beginning of Romans 2, Paul does a turnaround. It’s so surprising and shocking I don’t have much to introduce. I’ll start to explain it, and it’ll draw us right in.

This chapter tells us three things: 1) the failure of religion, because of 2) the terrible beauty of the law and, therefore, 3) the need for a regenerated, new heart.

Romans 2:1–6, 12–26

This section of Romans 2 talks about two major themes: God’s judgment and the true meaning of faith. According to Paul, God’s judgment is unavoidable and always fair. It’s important to turn away from our wrong actions and attitudes, because being stubborn and refusing to change can lead to trouble. Paul also says that just following the rules of a religion isn’t enough. True faith means not just hearing God’s laws, but also obeying them. It means having a heart that has been changed by God, not just following a list of dos and don’ts.

1. Why religion isn’t enough

Paul teaches that it’s wrong to judge others, especially when we’re guilty of doing the same things ourselves. This kind of hypocrisy is often seen in religious people who think they’re better than others. Paul uses the story of the prodigal son to show that everyone, whether they’re obedient or rebellious, needs God’s forgiveness. The story helps us realize that we all have flaws and we all need God’s help. It’s a reminder that the gospel is good news for those who admit they need God, but it’s a warning for those who think they’re good enough on their own.

2. The deep meaning of God’s law

Paul talks about God’s law in a way that goes beyond a list of rules. It’s about having a heart that wants to do what’s right. It’s about living a life that’s beautiful in God’s eyes. If we don’t live this way, we’re just as guilty as those who break the rules. Even if we don’t know the law, we still know what’s right and wrong, and we’ll be held accountable for our actions. This shows us that we all need a heart that’s been changed by God.

3. The transformation of the heart

Paul emphasizes the need for a spiritual change, which he symbolizes with the idea of a heart that’s been “circumcised.” This means having a heart that’s been made new by God’s Spirit. This change comes about as we give up our sins and accept the righteousness that Christ offers us through his death. This leads us to live a life that’s guided by God’s laws, but without the guilt and fear that comes from trying to earn God’s favor. This understanding helps us to be humble, forgiving, and to avoid judging others harshly.



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