When God promised to make Abraham the father of a great nation, there were a lot of discouraging things Abraham could have thought about as he considered his future. But according to the Apostle Paul, Abraham didn’t think about those things. Instead, he chose to focus on God’s power. Depending on God alone like that can be scary, but Abraham did it. Unlike Abraham, most of us prefer a faith where we depend a little bit on God and a little bit on us.
We tend to see people in categories: the successful and the unsuccessful, the intelligent and the dull, the beautiful and the ugly, the fit and the fat, the rich and the poor. Our natural impulse is to assess everyone around us, ranking ourselves against them. We scoff at those “beneath” us and resent those “above” us. But before God, we are all sinners. And there is only one kind of sinner.
Sin destroys God’s glory in the universe and overturns his justice, a justice God tells us is the foundation of his creation (Psalm 89:14). Our sin leaves us legally guilty before God. And our good works, relative to this massive damage, are even less impressive and relevant than our hypothetical robber’s recycling habits. For creation to remain good and sustainable, justice has to be upheld.
In the conclusion of his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul expresses a desire to make Jesus and his kingdom first in everything. He is asking the Colossians to pray for three things that anyone who wants to be obedient to the gospel should be praying as well.
Religiosity is like this strange disease—when you have it, it makes everyone around you want to vomit. Even the Apostle Paul, in some ways, thought religious people were capable of some pretty terrible things. The Gentiles and unchurched people could see that under a thin veneer of religion, Jews had the same corrupt heart as everyone else. And, if anything, their religion had just made them worse. There are five qualities religion produces in people then and still today.
We aren’t quite so wise when it comes to our hearts. The law, you see, sweetens up our behavior without changing our hearts. But God wants us to be so naturally righteous in our hearts that we wouldn’t need a law to do what is right. We’d instinctively do it.