“When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.”
– Luke 7:1-10
In Part 1 of this devotional series, we learned how God brought Rich Stearns to a point of decision by using an executive recruiter’s question: “Are you willing to be open to God’s will for your life?” We will see how he responded to this probing question later in this series. For now, we’re simply seeking to see four biblical truths that we can learn from the men in this text.
First, we learned from the servant that we are all sick spiritually, dying physically, and in need of the Great Physician. We also learned that we are greatly loved by our Creator (see Part 2). Now, we will turn our focus to the group of elders in this passage to see what biblical truth we can learn from them.
The elders were the religious leaders of Israel. The men who spent the majority of their time in the synagogues. It was to them that the religious traditions and rituals had been entrusted. What one significant truth can we learn from these elders? Religion makes God a debtor. What do I mean by this? Look carefully at verse 3. The elders said to Jesus, “This man deserves to have you do this (come to the aid of his servant).” Why did they say he deserves this? They pointed to all that he had done, which substantiated their opinion that he was a good man. That is what religious people do. They always point to good works. Paul writes in Romans 4:4 “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.”
When you work, you expect to be paid. You’ve earned it. Similarly, people who believe they earn their way to heaven by good works are, in essence, making God their debtor. They put God in a position of owing them. Religious people believe a person can earn his/her way to heaven by being good – by living a moral life. Though they will not express it this way, what they really believe is that they deserve God’s favor. In essence, God owes them eternal life. They go to church. Maybe they’ve even taught Sunday school. They are law-abiding citizens. They give to good causes. Certainly, they are headed to heaven. How could someone so good possibly end up in hell? This is the way they see things – their worldview. Good people go to heaven. Bad people go to hell. Are you able to see how religion makes God a debtor?
Do you know what the real underlying problem is for many people? It’s religion. When I use the word religion, I’m not really referring to Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam, although those are all religions, and cause the same problem. What I’m in fact referring to is churchism. Churchism is the religion of Americans who go to church because of tradition. “It’s just the right thing to do.” Churchism is a form of religion. More importantly, you need to understand this about all religions: Religion blinds people to their real condition. Religion is like the paint that covers a rotting building. It simply masks the real problem. Going to church, reciting liturgy, saying prayers in unison and partaking of communion are often simply activities that are no more life-saving than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it sinks. These activities don’t solve the real problem. Read the words Jesus directed toward religious people in Mark 7:6-8. Jesus replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
Churchism subtly teaches that salvation comes by what you do. On the other hand, biblical Christianity teaches that salvation comes, not by what we do, but by what has already been done. This is why Jesus said just before he surrendered his spirit on the cross, “It is finished.” Do you see the difference? Billy Graham once said, “Religion is like the vaccine that stops you from getting the real thing.” The real danger of religion is that it tells you “You’re okay!” when, in fact, you are still headed for hell.
In John 3, we meet a very religious man by the name of Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a good, moral man. He was Israel’s teacher. In fact, his name means “The superior one of the people.” If ever a man could get into heaven by being good, it was Nicodemus. Notice what Jesus said to this very religious man, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). Religious people cannot and do not understand the gospel because they have not been born again. They are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:14 states, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Due to ignorance and blindness, religious people strive to earn God’s favor the only way they know how…by trying to be good. For them, access to heaven is gained like everything else in life—you must earn it. In their religious striving, they rely on works for salvation rather than on God’s grace. In so doing, they make God their debtor.
One day, perhaps in the not too distant future, hundreds of millions of religious people will line up before Jesus at the Great White Throne Judgment and attempt to gain access to heaven by their good works. Jesus describes the scene. In Matthew 7:21-23, He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” First, notice that religious people are very familiar with the name of Jesus. That is why they will be saying, “Lord, Lord.” They know a lot about Him, but the problem is they don’t really know Him. Secondly, notice they point to their so-called “good deeds.” In essence they are saying to Jesus, “Look at all the good I did. I deserve entrance into heaven.”
Thus, the real problems with religion are: 1) instead of giving sight, religion causes blindness, and 2) instead of softening the heart, religion hardens the heart. Sadly, many churches today have become incubators that imprison people in a controlled environment that is without the Spirit and without the Truth, which results in people who grope about in darkness. This explains why Jesus quoted Isaiah in Matthew 13:14-15, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.” Churchism causes people to believe that God owes them because they see themselves as good, when the truth is that God owes no one. We are the debtors, and there is only One who can pay the debt that we all owe to God.
Next week, we will seek to learn the key biblical truth from another man—Jesus. Stay tuned! Amen!