“The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:24)
Paul addresses the most religious people of his day. The Jews have their religious rites and rituals neatly laid out. They think of themselves as “guides to the blind, a light to those in darkness, correctors of the foolish, and spiritual teachers” (Romans 2:19-20). They are the spiritual giants of their day. Yet, Paul says that their lives have caused the rest of the world to blaspheme the name of God!
How could this be?
Most of us know that we can put on a good show while our inner lives are a shambles. As leaders or lay-people, we can engage in religious practices while our hearts remain corrupt and our motives remain impure.
All of us are prone to spiritual shallowness. It seems relatively easy to modify our behavior, but frustratingly difficult to transform the heart. And that’s what Paul puts his finger on.
Left to our own devices, we will create self-justifying religiosity. We’ll clean up the outside, and create impervious layers to hide our decrepit interior. People will see our church attendance, our giving, our Bible reading, our small group participation, and our service projects. We’ll learn the language and culture of our local church, and happily tell others how they should live. We’ll lobby government officials, march for life, speak out against things that offend us. Activism has always been easier than renovation of the heart.
But religiosity is not redemptive.
Within many of us lies a sixth sense. We may not be able to readily explain it, but we know when something “just doesn’t add up”; when something about someone is “just not quite right.” Much as we think we have buried or hidden our brokenness, it has a way of peaking around the corner of our lives.
In those moments, when our impurity, greed, anger, envy, jealousy, lust, idolatry, or immorality poke their way to the surface, everything we say about the power of God to transform a life, gets diminished. And our listeners — our family, friends, and colleagues — walk away from God. “Meaningless words,” they conclude.
During Lent, we have an opportunity to examine our hearts; to peel back the layers and look sincerely at what we have left. Some of us have unwittingly become religious practitioners without hearts turned towards God. It’s entirely possible.
What dark corner of your life needs a broom and a flashlight today, that the name of the Lord might receive glory?