FALSE ADVERTISING: THE CONDUCT
You can claim anything. You can say you are Superman. Well, maybe you are. But what I want to see is you leaping over tall buildings and bending steel girders and stopping a train on its tracks. If you can’t do that, then your words are meaningless. That’s the way it is with religious people that claim to be right with God but their conduct doesn’t match up.
This is the matter Paul is dealing with, as he confronts the Jews about their self-righteousness in Romans 2. Their words were so much hot air. Their claims were empty. Paul knew—He was a Jew himself. He had been a proud Pharisee, smug in his religious pedigree.
He also knew that behind the pious profession was the heart of the hypocrite. The Jews did not practice what they preached, “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” (Rom.2:21a). They believed the right things. The God they worshipped was the true God. The Scriptures they believed in were God’s Word. The doctrines they cherished were correct. The moral standards they taught were right. These were orthodox and so far as it went that is good—the problem is that it didn’t go far enough. It brought intellectual agreement without transforming power. Far from being a problem confined to the Jews, there are many others cut from the same fraudulent fabric, and the Apostle wrote of them, “Having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim.3:5a).
“But, I’m a good person!” Are you now?
You can be a thief without robbing a bank. “You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?” (Rom.2:21b). Recall the religious racketeering that took place in the temple. The moneychangers, that so infuriated Christ, had turned the house of God into a “den of thieves” (Luke 19:46). We steal when we don’t give an honest day’s work for a day’s wage; when we don’t pay employees what they’re due; when we borrow and don’t return—and in a multitude of “respectable” ways other than holding a gun to someone’s head and saying, “Give me your money!”
You can be an adulterer without sexual intercourse. “You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery?” (Rom.2:22a). We flood our minds with filth through what we watch on TV, access on the internet and read in magazines. Our passions are inflamed through lecherous looks and we tease through innuendo. Jesus said this, “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt.5:28).
You can be an idolater without bowing before an image in a shrine. “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” (Rom.2:22b). The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, tells how four of his countrymen led a wealthy Roman woman to make a significant contribution to the temple. Then they pocketed the money. The Emperor Tiberius was so angered as to drive all the Jews from Rome. Those coins would have born the imprint of an emperor claiming to be a god, or the image of some other mythical deity from the Roman pantheon. The Jews who would have never worshipped such an idol had no qualms about spending money with pagan association. Scripture warns of “covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col.3:5). Multitudes today worship at the altar of materialism.
When we profess one thing and practice another it dishonors God and discredits our testimony: “You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ as it is written.” (Rom.2:23-24). I wonder how many unbelievers will stumble into hell, tripped up by the hypocrisy of those who claim to be heaven-bound, but engage in hellish behavior.
Are we guilty of false advertising?