Sometimes it is easy to miss the big picture because we are too narrowly focused. For example, It is easy for a young couple to get caught up in the pleasure of a moment and miss the bigger consequences of their actions. It is easy to spend everything we have enjoying the present, and give no thought to the future. It is easy to get so wrapped up running around trying to provide the best experiences for our children, that we miss the eternal importance of establishing spiritual priorities.
In a similar way, when you do a careful, deliberate, and sometimes lengthy study of a book of the Bible, it is easy to focus on the present chapter and forget how it fits into the bigger picture. The Bible must always be read in its context. So, as we move into the second chapter of the book of Romans, it is important that we review and get the big picture. Paul has begun his letter by showing the need that men have for a Savior. I shared with you two weeks ago that there are three very popular excuses that people give when they are confronted with their sin:
- “I didn’t know it was wrong”
- “I’m a good person” or “I’m not as bad as other people”
- “I go to church”
In the first chapter, Paul addressed the first objection. He argued that everyone knows enough about God simply by observing nature. When we do not worship Him and serve Him, that is willful rebellion, not ignorance.
This morning we are going to look how Paul handles the second excuse: “I’m a good person” or “I’m not as bad as other people”.
THE IMPLICATION OF RECOGNIZING SIN IN OTHERS
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (2:1-4)
Up until this point Paul has been underscoring the sin of those who are the most blatant sinners. They tend to flaunt their sin. It’s often very public. Most people recognize that these actions are sinful and warrant God’s judgment. As we left the sanctuary last week most people agreed that the things Paul spoke about were sinful behaviors.
Paul tells us that recognizing the sin in others creates problems for ourselves. If we know that such kinds of behavior are sinful, then we are in essence condemning ourselves when we do the same things. Our first reaction, of course, is to say that we don’t do those things. We aren’t like “those people”. But Paul suggests we may be more like them than we want to admit. Our sin may not be as blatant but we are guilty of many of the same offenses.
Perhaps you have seen the various reports on the rampant nature of cheating in schools around the country. Students are using text messaging, taking pictures of their paper with their cell phone, using their electronic planners to store information, taking term papers off the Internet and much more.
Hopefully, you recognize that this is wrong behavior. It turns the notion of education into a sham because the only thing people are learning is how to get grades without learning anything. It is wrong because it is unfair to those who do their own work. And it is wrong because such behavior is deadly for the future of our country because those who learn to cheat early will most likely continue to cheat.
Just the other day I “Google-ed myself” on the Internet. In other words, I typed my name into an Internet search mechanism to see what it pulled up. It’s fun to do this every once in a while to see who is quoting from our website. On this particular occasion I ran across a sermon I had preached for Palm Sunday that had been taken by another preacher and preached (it seems) as his own message. It was a fluke that I even discovered the message. Rather than give the appropriate credit to his source, this Pastor was simply putting his name on my sermon. Is that any different from the students who cheat?
Aren’t we just as guilty of cheating or stealing when we,
- lie on an application to make ourselves look better (or in some cases poorer)?
- making copies of software, music, games, videos that we didn’t purchase?
- taking credit for something that was the idea of someone else ?
- getting ahead by saying negative things about our “competition”?
Paul’s point is simple. If we recognize cheating as sinful in others, we cannot escape condemnation when we do it ourselves. We could give many other examples. Jesus said when we hate another person we are guilty of murdering them in our hearts. When we lust after a person we are guilty of committing adultery in our heart. When other things are more important in our life than our relationship with the Lord, we are just as guilty of idolatry as the person who bows before a statue.
Much of the time we spotlight the faults and sin of others so that we don’t have to confront those things in our own lives. But the very fact that we recognize the wrong in others, is something that brings condemnation on our own actions. Our sin might be less blatant but it is still sinful.
Suppose I was $10,000.00 in debt. If someone else is $1,000,000.00 in debt their debt is greater, but it doesn’t that I am not in debt. Likewise, just because someone else murders a person, it doesn’t mean that since my hatred of another is not as bad as the murderer’s act, I am not guilty of sin.
REFUSAL TO ADMIT OUR SIN MAKES JUDGMENT WORSE
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.
Paul informs us that stubbornness (a refusal to admit that we are doing wrong) and refusing to repent (to turn away from sin and turn toward God and His standards) results in “storing up wrath against themselves” for the Day of Judgment.
We like to think that if we ignore something long enough, it will eventually go away. We think time will eventually erase the memories of our “mistakes”. We have learned to excuse each other for our “little sins” and figure that everything is fine. For example, we assume that because people “living together” has become commonplace, it is now OK to do these things. We think that since “everyone” has a bad day, it excuses our fits of temper. We have convinced ourselves that since everyone “pads their expense account” or “under-reports their income” it makes it acceptable.
Paul reminds us that God’s standards do not change. Society may accept certain sins as normative – God will not. The fact that we stubbornly refuse to call these things what they are, only increases the depth of our sin, and adds more fuel to the fire of God’s wrath.
THE SOBERING TRUTH ABOUT GOD’S JUDGMENT
There are of course people who believe there will no day of judgment. They conclude that since God is love He will never send anyone to hell. Upon closer examination, it is easy to see that makes no sense at all. How loving is a God who ignores wrong-doing? How loving would God be if He looked at the Holocost and said, “Oh, we’ll just ignore what happened there?” How righteous and good would God be if He saw the outright rebellion of men and did nothing? How could we call God just if He never addressed wrong?
Do we consider parents who refuse to discipline their children loving? Or do we see them as weak and neglecting their responsibility? Do we see employers who overlook the disrespectful and lazy work of some workers as loving? Or do we feel they are being unfair to the rest of the workers? If our government responded to Terrorist activity by saying, “Oh well, these things happen!” would we say our government was showing love or weakness?
The reality of Judgment is a necessity. Paul states the fact of day of judgment as a reality that needs no debate because it is obvious that such a day must come. But what are the characteristics of God’s judgment?
It will be Righteous Paul says it is a righteous judgment. In other words, it will be a true and accurate judgment. When we judge others our judgment is skewed by our prejudice and our assumptions. We assume that others meant to do evil and we never meant to hurt anyone. God knows the truth. In verse 16 we are told that God judges the secrets of our hearts. God has ALL the information. God will treat no one unjustly.
It will be objective
6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.
God’s judgment is going to be based on what we did or did not do in our lives. In Matthew 25 Jesus separates the sheep and goat on the basis of how they treated other people. If anyone would stand before God on the Day of Judgment and say, “That’s not fair!” God could roll the tape of our lives and show us exactly what we did to deserve His wrath.
I’m told that Monday film day is like this with coach Lafferty. The coach has his critique of the game and when people say they didn’t “miss a block” or run the play incorrectly, Coach plays the tape . . . over and over until they acknowledge he is right.
But doesn’t the Bible say we are saved by grace and not by our works? Indeed that is exactly what Paul teaches. But that is not his purpose right now. We must remember the context. In Romans 3 Paul draws the conclusion that there is “none that is righteous, not even one.” Paul is not trying to prove that we can earn salvation by our good deeds. He knows that is impossible.
Paul says the good that is required for salvation is to persistently do what is right and do it for the right reasons of seeking the honor and glory of God. Here’s the question: “Has any of us ever done this kind of God without the help of God’s indwelling Spirit?
It will be Impartial.
9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism. (2:9-11)
The standard of judgment will be applied the same for the Jew and the Gentile. Today we have the feeling that people can get away with anything if they have enough money or influence. The system is not fair in the same way to everyone. The person who has an overworked public defender trying their case will not get the same kind of representation as the millionaire. God will judge everyone by the same standard. You won’t get cheated and you won’t be able to buy your way out of trouble.
It will be Appropriate
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law,since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (2:12-16)
There will be those who tell us that they did not grow up religious; they don’t know the Bible; or they grew up in disadvantaged circumstances. Paul’s tells these people that we will be judged by what we know, not by what we don’t know. If you grew up in the church hearing the message of salvation, you will be held accountable if you ignore it. If you knew the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount but ignored them, you will be held accountable.
However, if you did not know these things you will not be judged by that standard. However, Paul says, the requirements of the law are written on our hearts. We have been given a conscience and will be held accountable for going against what they knew to be right. We can deaden our conscience so that we no longer feel guilty but that doesn’t change the fact that we knew the difference between right and wrong. The very fact that we don’t live up to our own expectations shows that God’s judgment is just.
So, what should are we to conclude?
Sin is defined by God, not by us We have a tendency to think that we are OK if we are better than someone else. The fallacy here is that God doesn’t compare us to others . . . He compares us to His perfect standard. By that standard we all fall far short.
Just as there is no such thing as an “innocent native”, there is also no such thing as a truly “good person”. There are certainly people who are nicer than others and people that are more pleasant than others, but there is no one who is good in God’s eyes. There is no one who consistently does what is right with the intention of glorifying and bring honor to the Lord. Even our best deeds are tainted with selfish motives.
Understand the implications of what I’m saying. When a loved one dies we naturally want to spotlight all the good things they did. That’s a good thing to do. We should treasure the good in the people around us. But let’s never make the mistake that someone is going to get into Heaven because they were a good or even an outstanding person. If you are counting on the fact that you or a loved one is better than others to get you or them into Heaven, you are deluded. Apart from Christ, we are all sinners deserving Hell.
When we notice the sin of others it should prompt us to look at ourselves. It would be a good practice for each of us to hold a mirror to ourselves every time we recognize sin in another person,
- When we see someone who is arrogant we should ask: are there places in my life where I think I am better than others?
- When we see someone ignoring the Lord we should ask: are there areas of my life where God is ignored?
- When we see someone is “ripping someone off” we should ask: am I stealing from others in more subtle ways.
- When we see someone is engaging in abusive behavior we should ask: am I abusive to others with my gossip, criticism, and unkind words?
- When we know someone is struggling with some substance we should ask: is there something in my life that has control over me (food, my car, television, sports)?
- When we suspect someone is being unfaithful to their spouse we should ask: Am I giving my relationship the attention it deserves or am I giving my best to others?
There is a Way Out. When we only look at this one section of Romans it is easy to conclude that things are hopeless. If all of us sin constantly, and if sin leads inevitably to God’s eternal judgment, then we are doomed. However, the remainder of the book of Romans gives us the good news. Even though our sin puts us in a hopeless condition, God sent Christ into the world to pay for the sin and rebellion of everyone who will entrust themselves to Him. The whole point of exposing our sin is to drive us to Jesus. I encourage you to take a good look in the mirror. See your true situation. Decide today that you will run to Jesus. Turn to Him to save you from your own rebellion and make Him the Lord and Ruler of your life.
These truths stimulate holy living. This passage should remind us of the true nature of holy living. We need God’s help to live God’s way. And when we know we are doing wrong but don’t do anything to change, we are showing contempt for his kindness, tolerance and patience. We show that we lack a true appreciation of His grace. We mock the sacrifice of our Lord. People will have a right to question our faith.
So be determined in your discipleship. Be as dedicated to honoring the Lord as you are to your diet, exercise program, managing your money, or taking care of your car. Be as diligent in growing in grace and truth as you are to working on your golf game, rooting for your favorite team, or cheering for your children. We may not like the sinful people around us. But if we pay attention, we will be reminded that apart from God’s grace in Christ, we too would be headed to Hell. That’s a truth we must never take for granted.