SERMON FOR APRIL 26, 1998 FROM ROMANS 2:1-11

 

          This week, we move into chapter two of our study of Romans.  In order to understand this text, we must see it in its context.  Its near the middle of the first major section of the book which runs from 1:18-3:20.  In this section, Paul is establishing the tremendous need people have for the gospel by showing us that, apart His grace and mercy found in the gospel, we are all cosmic rebels against him and therefore subject to His holy wrath.  In the section we finished last week, Paul is addressing the needs of those people who we would call ďthe worldĒ or the ďgodless heathen.Ē  These are  people who have little if any use for the church and who are very openly godLESS.  Paul reveals Godís judgment on these people by saying that they have, in their unrighteousness, suppressed the truth about God.  They have reduced Godís influence in their lives to the barest minimum.  They have also sought out other, false gods which will serve their own self-centered agendas.

          Moreover, God in His wrath has given these people over to wicked pursuits, to sexual impurity, sexual perversion and to depraved minds.  As He allows them to pursue the wickedness, more and more sins are manifest as they attempt to satisfy their fallen desires through their purely godless, SELF-CENTERED lives.  In giving these people over to their desire for sin, he forces them to taste its bitter, self destructive consequences.  He also allows them to pile up for themselves more and more sin for which they will endure Godís eternal wrath in hell.

          If we are honest, when we read Romans 1:18-32 we will see ourselves in much of that.  I often suppress Godís truth when its something I donít want to hear, when it causes me to leave my comfort zone or make radical changes in my life.  We in the church can be masters at suppressing the truth of God when it crowds us.   The so called ďgodless heathenĒ do not have a corner on the ability to run to false gods.  The church is plenty good at running to food or possessions or hobbies or money to try to fill the void only the Lord can fill. 

          As for sexual sin, its far from a stranger to the church.  Fewer and fewer so called Christians marry as a virgin anymore.  Sexual sin in church leadership is rampant.  In a survey of pastors conducted in 1991, thirty seven percent of pastors said they had been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church. We would be naive to think that number is smaller amongst people in the pews than it is for those behind the pulpit.  Is anyone familiar with the church  willing to say there isnít an abundant supply of envy, greed, strife, deceit and malice in the body?  If there is no greed in the church then why do only four percent of evangelicals tithe?  If there is no envy in the church, why is there so much turf protecting and back biting?  Is gossip and slander the sole property of the world?  The church is tragically often a breeding ground for it. As for arrogance and boastfulness, there is at times little difference between the church and the world.  We are simply more subtle than the world in our expression of if.  We whitewash it by couching it in spiritual jargon.

          I donít sanction any part of this--it is a travesty and the over riding message the Spirit has for the church today is, ďrepent.Ē  I am simply trying to help us to be in a place where we can receive what Paul says as he moves to chapter two.  Letís read Romans 2:1-11.  ďYou, 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. 2Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?  5But 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. 6God "will give to each person according to what he has done." 7To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11For God does not show favoritism

          As Paul moves into chapter two, he is still discussing Godís wrath against sin, but he changes his target.  He has moved from denouncing the godless heathen, to those who are part of the religious establishment. In the section we finished last week, Paul is writing about the plight of people who sin and who, according to verse 32 ďapprove of those who practiceĒ these sins.  Here in this section, he is writing to people who sin some or all of the same sins, but who ďcondemnĒ those who practice them.  Its very much as if Paul, in writing his scathing denunciation of the godless heathen in chapter one, has had a ďreligious personĒ looking over his shoulder saying, ĒYou tell em, Paul.  Thatís right Paul--let have it--those godless heathen--they ARE wicked and evil--God is giving it to em and boy are they gonnaí get it when they see Him.  Iím right with you.  Keep up the good work, Paul.Ē  Now, in chapter two Paul turns and addresses that person.

          We know this is who Paul is addressing because in the first five verses of chapter two, he uses the second person singular.  This doesnít show up in English, but in the original its clear that Paul is addressing his comments to one person.  He has no one specific in mind.  He is using a style of writing which enables him to carry on a rhetorical conversation with a person who is religious and self righteous. 

          Some scholars believe, Paul is addressing only Jews in Rome who are part of  the church and who feel very good about the fact that they are Godís chosen people.  He mentions them in verse 17.  Paul is not only addressing self-righteous Jews but any so called spiritual or ďreligiousĒ person who is more caught up in condemning the shameful acts of others and clucking their tongue at the wickedness of the world, than with crying out to God for mercy on them and grieving at their dreadful plight. To the degree that we do that, this text very much applies to us.  If we look down our noses at the world and yet fail to earnestly seek after the face of God, this text is a powerful warning to us.  The Lordís basic message to us in this text this morning is this:  God is impartial in His judgment on sin, bringing His wrath against both the godless heathen and the religious self righteous.   Paul addresses a person who thinks he is right with God and as Paul denounces the sins of the world, they chime in with their mutual disgust at these horrible sins.  In this section, Paul strongly rebukes this person  by exposing three lies they have, in their own self righteousness, believed about God as it relates to them and their own sin.  He rips away the self-deception by pronouncing the truth about God and how he relates to ALL sin, not just the sins of the so called ďheathen.Ē  This morning we will look at this first lie Paul exposes.

          The first issue Paul addresses here is not fundamentally the issue of judging other people although that is clearly wrong.  Jesus makes that clear in Matthew chapter seven. The issue he is really hitting on here as he develops his thinking here is found in the question he asks in verse three.  He says, ďSo when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape Godís judgment?Ē   This is a very good question because when we self righteously judge other people, we assume that we are in a position free from judgment.  Paul is simply asking ďDo you think that by clucking your tongue in disgust at the sins of the world that this will insulate you from God dealing in justice with your sins?Ē  Eugene Petersonís translation of the New Testament, THE MESSAGE brings this out. He renders this text beginning in the second half of verse one this way, ď...judgmental criticism of others is a well known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors.  But God isnít so easily diverted.  He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what youíve done.  You didnít think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard?Ē  This is a hard text.  Whether in the earthly ministry of Jesus or here in Paulís writings, God reserves his harshest rebuke for self righteous, religious hypocrisy and this is all about religious hypocrisy.

          The first lie-exposing truth he gives in verses 1-3 is:  When we self-righteously look down on ďsinnersĒ we are not insulating ourselves from Godís wrath against our own unrepentant sin.Ē  When a person is self righteous, they will without exception look down on the sins of others.  The reason for this is simple.  A person who is self-righteous is simply a person who believes they are righteous in themselves.  They may know in their head and say with their mouth that their righteousness is as filthy rags and that they are nothing and can do nothing apart from Christ.  But in their heart, they feel pretty good about where they are spiritually.  A person who feels they themselves are righteous will naturally judge others because a person who is genuinely righteous in themselves has every right to judge others.  The problem is, the only person who is genuinely righteous in themselves is God.  And from the righteousness that He has within Himself, He judges. 

          People who feel they are righteous in themselves others will without exception be judgmental people.  This is perhaps the best test of whether or not you are self-righteous.  There are few people in this room who would want to openly admit to self-righteousness, but the proof is in our attitude.  If a self righteous person, by virtue of their internal attitude, will judge others, then to the degree that we judge others and look down our noses at other peopleís sins, is the degree to which we are self righteous.  If you have a critical heart which looks first for the flaws and faults in people rather than to discover their virtues, then you are self righteous.  If you are particularly good at picking out a personís weakness and then use that knowledge for anything other for praying for that person, then you are self righteous. 

          If you werenít self righteous then you wouldnít look down your nose at others.  The reason is because if you knew in your heart that the only righteousness you had was the righteousness of Christ, then you would be very slow to judge others because you would know in your heart that they are just like you apart from Christ.  And it is impossible to look down your nose at someone who is on your same level.  You cannot judge others unless you first elevate yourself above them--that is a classic sign of a self-righteous person.  If we have a critical or judgmental spirit, its simply our self righteousness flowing out of our lives to others. 

          Now, this does not mean that all people who notice the flaws of others are self righteous.  Its impossible NOT to notice the sins of others in many cases.  The issue is, when you see the otherís sin, what is your response?  Is your consistent response to cry out to God for mercy because that personís sin is an expression of, and target of Godís wrath?  Is your response a grieving heart because you know the sin they are pursuing is a dead end street which, unknown to them, is destroying them moment by moment?  If that is your response to the sins of others, thatís not self righteousness.  Its simply the way one sinner who, by the grace of God has seen the light, responds to another sinner still in darkness and that is fine.  Jesusí complaint against the Pharisees was not that they were able to discern the sin of others.  His problem was that when they saw the sins of others, they did nothing to minister to them.  They simply hit the reject button on them and used their wickedness to make them feel better about themselves.

          Paul exposes one reason why people judge others.  In the words of Eugene Peterson, judging others is ďa well known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors  If you are spending time and energy focusing on the sins of others, you can neglect your own sin.  A judgmental attitude is a great place to hide from your own sins.  You canít hear God speaking to you about your sins, if you are consistently involved in noticing the sins of others.  You canít feel the Holy Spiritís conviction of your own sin, if you are busy holding convicting others.  You canít hear the Judgeís righteous verdict on your own sins, if you are presiding over your own SELF righteous court of justice.

          Self righteousness gives false assurance.  The degree to which we are self-righteous is the degree to which we have a skewed view of where we really are with God.  Paul implies in verse three that judging the sins of others is a way we try to escape Godís convicting work in our own lives.  To put it simply, judging others is to put ourselves in Godís position. Whenever we judge others, what we are doing is this:  we are going up to heaven, sitting next to God on his Judgeís bench, putting our arm around Him and saying-- ďtsk, tsk, tsk, we donít think much of that, do we Lord?Ē  Its as if God isnít the least bit, or not nearly as concerned about MY sins as He is the sins of others.  Do you see how deceived we are when we judge others and in so doing think that we are in the place of God and therefore insulated from Godís judgment on our own sins?

          This is self-deception in one of its most blatant forms and Paul just nukes it here in this text.  He says,  ďYou, 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.  Now we know that Godís judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape Godís judgment?Ē  Paul lays a broad side to this deception., That is, he points out how foolish and wicked trying to insulate yourself from Godís judgment by judging other is.  Letís look at two ways He does this.

          Point one is--Judging others doesnít protect you from Godís judgment because you do the same things the sinners do.  For those of you who donít buy that, study the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus tells us that our righteousness must ďexceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees  The reason the Pharisees thought they were so righteous was because they had reduced personal righteousness to purely external expressions.  Thatís why in the sermon on the Mount, part of Jesusí  message is devoted to exposing the way the Pharisees had lowered the bar of Godís standard.  The Pharisees thought as long as they didnít physically murder someone they were innocent of murder, as long as they didnít actually physically commit adultery with someone, they were righteous in their sexuality.

          Jesus destroys that by pointing out that righteousness of the heart is Godís standard.  If you have never killed someone that doesnít mean you arenít a murderous person in Godís eyes, if you hate others.  If you have never physically committed adultery, that doesnít mean you are not an adulterer in Godís eyes.  NO! The standard is internal and if we are not meeting that standard, then in Godís eyes we are doing the same things the world is doing.  And Paul says when we judge others for what we do, we are condemning ourselves.  Four fingers are pointed back at us.   If, by Godís grace, we have that internal righteousness, we will NEVER judge others because it will be crystal clear to us that this righteousness is from God and NOT us and that disqualifies us from others.

          The second reason why it is so foolish to think we can insulate ourselves from Godís judgment by judging others is:  Godís judgment is based on truth.  When Paul says this in verse two what he is saying is, ďGod has one objective standard by which he judges ALL people--truth  And it runs like a hot knife through butter against ALL sin, be it my next door neighbor or mine.  Verse 11 makes the same point, ďFor God does not show favoritism.Ē  We are deceived if we think that we have some special intimacy with God that allows us to stand next to Him with our arm around Him and look down at the sin of others.  That is only in our imagination--it does not correspond to the truth--it is a fantasy.  This is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 7:23.  ďMany will say to me on that day, ďLord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?Ē  These people are in the church today doing all sorts of ministry and thinking to themselves, ďYou and me God--all the way--you and me.  We have something unique, something special.Ē  When they see Him face to face they are in for a terrible shock, because the Lord they thought they had this ďspecial thingĒ with is in reality mad at them and will say to them, ďI never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.Ē  There are many, many people in the church today living under this deception.  We cannot insulate ourselves form Godís judgment by judging others.

          Where are we in relation to this?  Do we cluck our tongues at the sins of the world or for that matter the sins of our brothers and sisters?  If we do so, we are self righteous and that means we have some level of false assurance of where we are with God.  Are we so deceived into thinking that just because we look down at someone else, that puts us on Godís level, immune to His judgment against our own sin?  Are we so deceived into thinking that God will use a different standard to measure us by than what He uses to measure others by?  Have we allowed ourselves to be deceived in this way?  The answer is found in this:  are we judgmental about the sins of others, looking down our nose at them, or are we like the tax collector who stood before the wall and beat his breast and said, ďHave mercy on me, a sinner?Ē  May Godís truth pierce through the fog of any of our self deception and cause us to see ourselves and God according to truth.

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