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. Now we know that God’s 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 God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?
Now everyone who is not yet a Christian is either a Romans Chapter One Person or he is a Romans Chapter Two Person. We have looked at Romans one and seen there a description of people who love and practice all kinds of immorality and even criminality. But thank God that that does not describe the whole non-Christian world. There are very moral people, like the Pharisees, who were anti-Christian but pro-morality. They could have listened to the description and denunciation of immorality in the last verses of chapter one and they would applaud the apostle, “Attaboy Paul! Go for it! Let them have it!” The Pharisees were the greatest moralists on the planet, but they despised Jesus Christ and his followers.
In Romans chapter two Paul targets another group of people who need to be convicted of their sin and repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Here his target audience is not the men who live in the gutter, desperately wicked people. Here Paul turns to folk who passionately hate unrighteousness of all kinds, who find moral depravity absolutely reprehensible. He is speaking to educated people, to the middle class bourgeois, the Welsh nonconformists, the American Bible belt, the Tea Party people, or in Paul’s own day he is addressing the Stoics under their leader Seneca, who was almost an exact contemporary of Paul, born around the same time, 4 B.C. Seneca could have met Paul and said to him, “I agree entirely in what you say about the depravity of many in Rome and Athens. Those people stink!” So in the second chapter Paul is turning away from those who live for the world, the flesh and the devil. Romans Chapter Two people are those who pull their robes around them, and sniff in disapproval at all kinds of wickedness and firmly condemn such carnality.
Who are these Romans Chapter Two People? Maybe Paul has his fellow countrymen, the Jews with their ten commandments, principally in mind, or he is thinking of every kind of moral, respectable and religious men – including the Gentile Stoics. I would prefer the latter view, in other words Romans Chapter Two people are not exclusively moral Jews but also moral Welshmen too, the moralists in the Principality. One reason I believe this is a preferable identification is that it isn’t until verse 17 that there is any mention of the Jews. So how does he describe a Romans Chapter Two person? A “mere man” (v.3) and so if today you are a mere man or woman and you are living a respectable and clean life then here Paul is speaking directly to you. You see how ‘in your face’ he is. Notice that the pronoun ‘you’ occurs ten times in our text. Before the foundation of the earth I believe God has been orchestrating and directing your life, and he has kept you moral with an admiration for righteous living. Thank God for that, but today God has also brought you here to point out to you the danger of relying on that alone, and God has given me this message about the dangers that a Romans Chapter Two Person faces. This is the message of the very portion of Scripture before us. What you have here is a wake up call, and it comes to you not from me but from the God who has brought you here. God is that real and near and personal in dealing with us, near to both me and you, and we are mighty glad that this is so. So Romans Chapter Two People are mere moral mortal men, people with their righteousnesses, and some of them, maybe the hidden target, and the incidental focus of these words, would be Paul’s kith and kinfolk and what he says would be very relevant to them because they prided themselves in keeping the law of God.
I am still talking of the background of Romans Chapter Two people compared to Romans Chapter One people. I haven’t got round to applying these verses to us yet, but first I want you all to see the similarities and then the fascinating contrasts between these two different groups of people. Let’s see the similarities first of all, and they are three fold.
i] Both chapter one people and chapter two people know that God is their Creator. The revelation of God in the world around about them, as well as the testimony of their consciences inside and within them produce the same response, that God is mighty and also that he is righteous. Both groups share that conviction – and so do all of you.
ii] Both chapter one people and chapter two people know that God is their judge. Chapter one and verse 32 says, “they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death.” Chapter two and verse 2 says, “we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.” So everybody – the wicked men of chapter one and the moral men of chapter two – all know that God is their Judge and so do all of you.
iii] Both chapter one people and chapter two people are contradicting both what they know about God and also what is right and wrong by how they live. Chapter one and verse 32 says that the immoral people, “continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” Chapter two and verse two says that the moral people of chapter two, “you who pass judgment do the same things.”
Then let us see the differences between the peoples of Chapter One and Chapter Two.
i] The immoral people of chapter one go on doing the things they know to be wrong and they also approve of others who do wickednesses – “Good on you mate!” (1:32).
ii] The moral people of chapter two similarly do things they know to be wrong while condemning others who do those wickednesses (2:1 and 3). So they compound their self-righteousness with hypocrisy.
So here are the two groups who are here today, and the first group says, “We hate all this moralistic tosh; let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” The second group magnifies moral living and even sets itself up as judge and jury and passes sentence on immoral people. So let us apply the opening verses of Romans 2.
- MORAL PEOPLE MAY CONDEMN THE UNRIGHTEOUS, BUT THEY FAIL TO LIVE AS THEY SHOULD LIVE.
i] The first characteristic of Romans Chapter Two People is hypocrisy. We are only too familiar with behaviour such as I’ve described aren’t we? We have met it since we were children, hearing good-living people rubbishing others. There is one great example of this in almost every family occasion. You are all out in the car going somewhere, your mother sitting with Dad in the front and you children in the back seat, and you are wearied by your father’ constant invective about other drivers on the road; “Look! Who does he think he is Michael Schumaker? What an idiot! Get going George, get going, the light is green. Where is he going, left or right? Make up your mind! Doesn’t he know this is a 30 m.p.h. zone? This is a pedestrian crossing big boy, but you can’t cross until your light is green,” and so on, the background of every family trip. There is a diatribe for the entire journey on other road users condemning them. But then you notice your Dad speeding at 40 in a 30 m.p.h. zone. You notice him overtaking on a bend. You notice him almost colliding with the car in front as he’s looking out of the side window. You were there when a police-car pulled him over. That judgmental attitude, only too familiar to us, is exactly what Paul is describing here in the opening verses of chapter two, “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 thing.” (vv.1&2).
A blog was published this week about what was the country’s largest police training centre in Ashford, Kent, which trained tens of thousands of officers from 1973 to 2006 but now is closed down. The place is described as a drink and sex fest, beer was stolen from the bar, signs were removed from doors, fireworks were thrown from the roof, a panda car was allowed to cruise down a hill to see how fast it could go. The police who pass judgment on us are as guilty of bad behaviour as anyone.
Or consider the sex abuse scandals of the Roman Church by priests who have been telling their congregation how they should live and condemning sin, and we Protestants also are just as bad with preachers leaving their wives for other women. Or think of the scandals of social workers in whose care children and battered wives are killed. “At whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same thing” (v.1).
I am speaking here not just of the falls of moral men but the falls of experts in morality – devoted fathers, policemen, social workers, priests and preachers, people who have been trained in the ethical evaluation of others. People who are not head-hunters and cannibals and stone age men, people who cannot plead ignorance as to what is right and wrong but those who have enlightened consciences. The Word of God is saying that when they judge others they are in fact passing judgment on themselves and finding themselves guilty. So their first challenge to our judging others is one of hypocrisy, of double standards, the people of Romans Chapter Two are pointing out a little speck, the toe of a fly, in the eye of another, whereas there in their own eye is an entire camel.
ii] The next characteristic of Romans Chapter Two People is ignorance. They are indifferent to their own sin but they think they can spot the sins of others. I have had help here from some observations of James Montgomery Boice (Romans Volume 1, pp.205&206). A moral man may appeal to the fifth commandment, and he tells you how much he approves of honouring one’s father and mother. But have you never, ever, dishonoured your parents? Have you never, ever, spoken to them in a dishonouring way, acted in a dishonouring way? Have you always been properly thankful, respectful, and obedient to them?
You appeal to the sixth commandment, which forbids murder, and you feel good about this because you have never actually murdered anybody. But have you forgotten that God looks on the heart and judges by thoughts and wishes as well as by actions? Have you never been angry enough with somebody to want to murder that person? Jesus said on one occasion that even disdaining your brother, “You idiot!” is sufficient to incur God’s wrath for breaking this commandment (Matt. 5:21—22).
You appeal to the seventh commandment, but are you guiltless here? This commandment forbids adultery; but many have done this, and others have desired to do it, or imagined it, or plotted it. Jesus said that we are guilty of adultery even if we merely lust after another person (Matt. 5:28).
Have you never stolen? Never shaded the figures on your income tax in order to pay less than you actually owed? Never kept the change when you were given more than you should have received? Never borrowed something and then failed to return it, even though you remembered it late?
Have you never lied? Never misrepresented the truth, never exaggerated or distorted? Or what about the tenth of the commandments, which says that we must not “covet”? To covet means to itch for something that someone else has, just because he or she has it and you don’t, and you are envious and ache for it. There is no one in our society who is innocent of this, because our entire advertising and marketing industry is based on it
There are also the first four commandments, those that deal with God and our responsibility to worship him. Who here has never placed another god before God? Who here has never made an idol of something? Who here has not misused God’s name? Who has remembered even a single Sabbath day, not to mention every Sabbath day, by keeping it holy? Righteous men and women you are condemned by the law of God. Your problem is culpable ignorance of the divine requirements. When you say that you stand up for morality and condemn others as immoral then you are condemning yourself. You are judging yourself by your own standards. You have to judge yourself as God sees you. We saw our family doctor this week and he took Iola’s blood pressure, and he said it was a bit high and needed to see her in two weeks again. “I don’t suppose you have a blood pressure machine at home?” he asked “Yes we do,” I told him. “Then keep track of Iola’s blood pressure each day.” I keep track of my own at the same time! However, this machine at home we got by mail order years ago. It is small and unreliable. It could well say, 200 over 100 or it could say 80 over 40. It actually gives neither of those readings, but we are not confident that what it is telling us is true, and so we will take it with us to the doctor in a couple of weeks and we will judge what it says by the superior excellent standard of our doctor’s own blood pressure machine. We will know then whether the best thing we can do is to discard ours completely.
In the same way you have to judge your assessment of how good you are by the far superior reading God gives us in his Word of our morality. That is the criterion, not your own unreliable self-assessment. You have to learn to look at yourself as God sees you, as he reads your heart and has seen your file. The weakness of Romans Chapter Two People is that they’re not judging themselves by divine standards. An acquaintance of mine went up a high building with his son and from the viewing gallery they looked down on the road. The boy said to his father than the cars looked like toys, and his father asked him if he could tell the difference between a person six feet tall and a person five feet tall – “Point the tall ones out to me.” He told his father he couldn’t tell from there. They came down to the road later and were walking on the pavement, and the father repeated the same question, “Can you tell the difference between a tall man and a short man?” “Of course,” he said, and he pointed out a number of tall people. On a human plane we are make all sorts of accurate evaluations of others concerning their race and education and beauty and wealth and morals, but from the point of view of the high and holy one who inhabits eternity whose name is holy all men are at the same level. They are the same in creative privilege, but they are also the same in moral depravity. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one. When we want to magnify the moral worth in ourselves then we point the finger at people we consider to be worse than ourselves. “I am better than him, and I’m all right.” We are like the Pharisee praying in the temple who saw the tax gatherer and he thanked God that he wasn’t like him at all, far superior to him, but that is scant comfort when we change and begin to see ourselves as God sees us. He says that there is none that does good perfectly. None love God with all their hearts. None loves his neighbour as himself. We People of Romans Chapter Two are as lost as the People of Romans Chapter One.
2. MORAL PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE JUDGED BY GOD AS WELL AS THE IMMORAL.
Paul says, “Now we know that God’s 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 God’s judgment?” (v.3). God is assessing us all now. Are we true Christians trusting in Jesus’ blood and righteousness? Or are we Romans Chapter One People or Romans Chapter Two people? God is assessing us now and he knows because, Paul tells us, that God’s judgment is based on truth. So we are in the process of being judged now, and at the end of history our Lord shall return. We don’t know just how or when he will come. But we do know he is coming. We also know two things that will happen then. One is the resurrection of our bodies. The other is the last judgment.
What is a judgment? A judgment is a determination that a thing is good or bad, or that an act is right or wrong. In some cases, as we know, persons are judged to be right or wrong, good or bad, guilty or innocent. Of course, we think at once of courts. A man or woman, maybe wearing a robe, enters a courtroom and mounts the bench. This magistrate, when no jury is present, makes judgments of innocence or guilt. He has the power to find you guilty of driving without a license or of being drunk and disorderly.
Other people make judgments too. Teachers judge whether your mathematics answers are right or wrong and whether your performance in a history exam is good or fair or whether you have done well enough to be awarded a Ph.D. Eisteddfod judges determine who sang best or who submitted the winning cake or painting. Umpires judge whether a throw beat the batsmen to the crease or whether the bowler bowled a no ball.
As Cornelius Plantinga points out, you yourself make judgments every day. You judge safe distances on a bike. You judge whether clothing fits right and whether it’s appropriate for a party. You determine what books and music as well as which friends you want. A judgment is a determination, or assessment, of some act or thing or person. We deal with judgments all the time,
The trouble is that human judgments are flawed. Sometimes they are plain wrong or even wicked. More often they are partly slanted by our own prejudices. Most courtroom judges, for example, are honest and wise. But a few can be bribed to help criminals go free. Most teachers are skilful and caring. But a poor teacher might have it in for you just because he didn’t like your older brother. Could Eisteddfod judges be prejudiced? The losing choirs think they can be. Soccer fans tell referees loudly that they need a visit to an optician. You and I sometimes make wrong judgments about distances, clothing, friends, books, music, churches, worship and preaching.
The Bible says that at the end of history there will be a perfect judgment, a last judgment, a final judgment, Paul calls it in our text “God’s judgment.” All those who will then be raised from the dead, plus those who are still alive at the second coming—billions of people—will be judged. The judges will be Jesus Christ and God the Father, the God of the universe and the King of history will judge.
This time there will be no slip-ups, no bribes, no prejudices, no slanted judgments when God evaluates how we have done many things. Paul tells us in our text, “God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.” So it will be a perfect judgment when the loose ends of the world will be tied up and the friends and enemies of Jesus Christ exposed. The sheer truth of all our histories will be publicly revealed. We don’t know exactly how it will go, but the Bible makes one thing clear: people will be judged according to their confession of what they have believed, whether their hopes were all truly in Jesus Christ’s perfect life and his atoning, forgiving death and whether their lives matched their confession. How had they lived? Had they done good or evil? Did they show compassion, kindness, fairness, unashamedness of the gospel and love for those who were brought by God’s providence into their lives – these will be acknowledged by Father and Son, “Well done good and faithful servant!” You did that to “the least” of Jesus Christ’s brothers and sisters. While hypocrisy, hatred of others, hard-heartedness, meanness, cruelty, and dishonesty will be accounted as evil, especially when done to the least, the poorest, the most vulnerable, and condemned.
Of course, we are not saved by our good works. We are saved by grace and through faith. But we are judged according to works. For works done out of love for the Lord and for his glory and by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit are all the evidence of genuine faith. People sometimes have more faith than they think. Their works show this. And sometimes people have less faith than they think. Their lack of works shows this. In other words, we can expect surprises at the last judgment. How will it be for you” Are you passing judgment on others and disdaining them, and yet you are doing the same things yourself? Oh ignorant hypocrites! God knows what you are doing for he knows everything about you! Don’t you see that you need a Saviour and need him now?
- GOD’S GREAT KINDNESS TO YOU SHOULD LEAD YOU TO REPENTING.
Paul concludes our text with the most important and searching question, “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?” (v.4). He is talking to the Romans Chapter Two People and they are moral men and women who are very quick to condemn other people for their sins, and yet are themselves sinners who need divine mercy. Paul reminds them of how lovingly God has treated them all through their lives. He has been kind to them; their health has been good; he gave them great parents; he prospered them in their business; he gave them children and friends and peaceful years – all the time they were badmouthing others and ignoring him. How kind he was, and also how tolerant. They defied him and ignored his Son and his day and his Book and his people and his gospel. They could say the most preposterous things about Jesus Christ and about how people become Christians. He tolerated it all; he did not strike them dead. And how patient he was as the years went by he still brought Christians into their lives and spoke to them through conscience and gave them a sunset touch or two, and how did they respond to all of this? Paul tells us that the Romans Chapter Two man showed contempt for all God’s kindness, tolerance and patience. But God did not give up on them. He speaks to them once again and this is what he says, “Don’t you realise that my kindness to you for so long has had this end in view, that you repent. I have encouraged and blessed you so much even in your stubbornness and rebellion and indifference in order to make it easier for you to repent. If I had whipped you and deprived you and brought all sorts of cruel judgments into your life then I could understand you thinking, “Who would want such a God?” But I have been so kind and tolerant and patient towards you. Can’t you repent? What is repentance? “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience.”
Repentance is an about turn in our relation with God. A pensioner driving a car in an unfamiliar part of the city turns the wrong way onto a one-way street. He drives along for a hundred feet and then sees two lanes of cars coming straight at his bonnet. He slams on the brake pedal, flips the gears into reverse, lurches backwards onto the pavement, waits for the traffic to pass, and then turns around the opposite way and follows them. That’s repentance.
A hiker in Snowdonia tries a shortcut through as it is getting dark. She keeps bearing left, as she thinks she should, but the path disappears, and the darkness deepens, and there are precipices about. She begins to feel waves of panic washing over her. So she turns around and goes back the way she came into the danger. That’s repentance.
A father watches his prodigal son stride off down the road to a far city. Day after day the father looks through the window and sometimes walks out to the gate and peers down that road. He keeps watching and aching and hoping. He keeps praying that if his son is lost in the far city, he will not lose the memory of his home. And one day perhaps years later, shading his eyes against the late afternoon sun, the father spies a figure in the distance. The approaching figure droops and hesitates, but there is no mistaking who it is. Overwhelmed with need, arms extended like a finishing sprinter, the father rushes toward the son he wants home. That’s repentance. Come home to God the Father!
The son and the hiker and the driver all repent. Repentance is more than simply turning a corner or turning over a new leaf. To repent is to stop in your tracks, pivot one hundred eighty degrees, and head back. To repent is to turn completely around. Sometimes it happens quickly; sometimes it takes years. Why should you do that? Because you are a recipient of the kindness of God throughout your life. Stop turning your back on him. Turn around and face him on your knees.
Most of us have heard of repentance. We may have the feeling that it is somewhat unpleasant. We are wrong. It is entirely unpleasant. Repentance is no fun at all. And yet we have to do it. In fact, as C. S. Lewis once said, repentance is a special problem to us because only bad people need to do it and only good people can do it. God helps us by changing our estimation of himself from low and cold to sorrow for our sinful attitude and a determination to please him. God changes our hearts and gives us repentance.
We tend to put it off and put it off. We like our sins too much to forsake them. We are like a small outboard fishing boat headed downstream towards the Niagara Falls. Our tendency is to let the stream carry us. That’s easiest, especially if we don’t know or don’t care about the danger. We tend to go with the flow.
Repentance in such a situation is a hard and delicate move. We have to see our danger, shift into reverse, and turn around. Turn! Please turn! You are going to meet God whom you have been ignoring! Turn and make him your friend now by confessing to him your judgmental spirit. Head against the current. Don’t do what all your buddies are doing. Don’t be dead fish. Fight the flow. Be strong for Jesus Christ. Take courage!
I have given you all these pictures. They describe what repentance or conversion is like. Repentance is like a U-turn in traffic. It is like a hiker’s retreat or a runaway’s home-coming. Repentance is like a boat backing upstream, full-speed astern. Repentance is new life. Repentance is conversion. It is turning around old to new, from unbelief to trust. It means feeling the pain of those we’ve dissed and rubbished and judged. It means running away from that evil attitude. It means taking delight in what’s right. It means starting to think of ourselves as being driven by a new engine, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Why do we have to do these things? Because without them we will perish. We are encouraged to do so by the Lord’s goodness to us, all through our lives, but even now in bringing us to hear this message telling us what has gone wrong, and how now we need to put things right, and turn with confession of our sins to God asking him that we might have him as our very own Saviour, and continuing to pray that until we know he has heard our prayers and changed us.
9th February 2014 GEOFF THOMAS