I listened to the professor pray while I sat beside the open window, more interested in the breeze partly drying my forehead than I was in participating – with so many people around me praying I stopped sensing the need to do it myself. I listened as he lectured through the Bible while I looked through the window, watching a few students lounging on the grass under the shade of a tree – with so many people reading the Bible to me I stopped sensing the need to read it for myself. I was a pastor in training, attending a Christian university preparing me to lead people closer to Jesus, clearly [in my mind] one of God’s elite, absolutely [in my mind] positioned above the average Believer. In reality, I had become so infatuated with my title, “Bible student and pastor-to-be,” that I had lost touch with Jesus.
In Romans 2:1-11 Paul addresses a group of people who had come to rely on their title rather than on their faith. To summarize Paul’s message: Your Title Could Be Hurting You.
To understand how and why your title could be hurting you, Paul reveals something about his original audience…
I. God’s found children were acting like God’s lost children
In Romans 2:1, Paul writes, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” NIV.
In the Old Testament we read how God, beginning with Abraham, established a nation for Himself. The nation’s purpose was to reveal the love of God throughout the world. Unfortunately, rather than leaning into the relationship they became overconfident in their title, “children of Abraham.” The Jews had become complacent and condemning instead of loving. Regarding behaviour, there was little difference between a Jew and a Gentile, but for the name of a long past ancestor named Abraham. Their title had become a stumbling block.
Arrogantly I walked down the stairs, passing God’s other elite, being polite with His other called-ones, to my mailbox. I couldn’t have remembered the last time I prayed or read the Bible for myself. It couldn’t have mattered too much to me because I was a Tyndale student, soon to be pastor. [In my mind] God was obligated to me.
II. God’s found children would receive the same penalty as God’s lost children
In Romans 2:6 & 11 Paul writes, “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’ … God does not show favouritism” NIV.
God didn’t choose Abraham because he was more special than any other person. Abraham was the son of an idol maker, probably preparing himself to take over the family business one day. It was Abraham’s faith that was rewarded, not his character. Unfortunately, Paul’s contemporaries understood things differently. They believed that their ability to trace their family tree back to Abraham meant that God was obligated to bless them, regardless of behaviour or faith. Their title had blinded them to their responsibility for their spiritual bankruptcy. The only thing that takes away the penalty for our sinfulness is our faith in Jesus. Titles just don’t work.
Thankfully, the mailroom was empty, because I wasn’t prepared for the note a friend had left me. On a small piece of paper, folded over to ensure privacy, was written these words, “You can take 1000 steps away from God, but it’s only one step back.” I paused for a moment as I read the simple sentence. I had not given any other sentence as much attention that day as I had this sentence. For a moment I had realized that this pointed toward an eternal sentence that could only be avoided by the one thing that I had been avoiding. I stood there, in the empty mailroom, unmoving, and unable to simply listen anymore.
III. God’s grace is given equally to everyone
In Romans 1:4 Paul writes, “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” NIV.
It was never the titles “Jew” or “Gentile” that swayed God’s judgement or inspired His love. Titles have never mattered to God, they only matter to us. God searches for faith. When He finds that a person’s faith is in Jesus He grants a deep fellowship (or friendship). Friendship with God is available to everyone, equally, exclusively based on faith in Jesus.
Breaking the statue-like stillness, my first action was to bow my head, then bow my knee, and then pray. I suddenly remembered that I’m forgiven, not entitled. God didn’t entitle me with a nameplate “soon-to-be-pastor,” He forgave me and embraced me because of my faith.
There are many days at Tyndale that I will never recall. This one day, I will never forget. As I put the note in my pocket I did my best to stuff my title into my mailbox.
IV. What you can do to protect yourself from your title
I can be a lot like Paul’s original audience. I can lean so heavily on my own declaration of faith, and my title as a “Christian” or “pastor” that I can become complacent in my behaviour or in my personal engagement with Jesus.
If you’re like me this text may help us both. Here are four things we can do to protect ourselves from our own titles:
1. Acknowledge your knowledge of the truth
You read your Bible, and you know the truth. You have no excuse for pursuing anything other than your personal fellowship with God.
2. Assess your misalignment with the truth
With a few moments of reflection, you can discern where your lifestyle and heart are not pursuing a fellowship with God.
3. Admit your accountability for any misalignment
Take a moment to confess where you have gotten off track. Ask for forgiveness, and prioritize your fellowship with God.
4. Accept grace
Remember that “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (Romans 1:4 NIV). God wants you. He died for you so that you can have many more chances to pursue Him. Failure isn’t fatal with God. Accept His grace and keep pressing forward.
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