Have you ever been nodding along with someone who is griping about the bad things that other people do, and then discovered that they include some of your choices in their list of behaviors that they are complaining about? Ouch!
Romans 1:18-32, which was covered in the previous series of articles, gives us important context for Romans 2. That passage mentions the wrath of God, and how people have clear evidence about the certain quality of God, but some of them still reject Him. When they do not give Him glory and thanks, and instead turn to other idols, God allows them to reap the consequences of their sinful desires. This passage also covers some pretty ugly sins that those in this situation practiced.
After reading Romans 1, it might be tempting to get a little judgmental. It sounds like these people followed a path by choice: 1) they had evidence about who God is, 2) they chose not to recognize Him properly as God, and 3) they followed their sinful desires into a real mess of sin. If we are confident in our own choices, we might feel that they got what they deserved, but surely we aren’t like them, right?
Let’s start into Romans 2.
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
Romans 2:1 NIV
In this verse, there is a pivot from “them” (“those people” that were described in the latter part of chapter 1) to “you” (above). Now, it gets personal. Now, it becomes about us, and not about someone else. If this were a new topic, that would be one thing. However, the “therefore” ties together chapters 1 and 2, so we don’t get to separate the two discussions in our study of Romans.
Apparently, this is a style of writing called diatribe, where the author is teaching through conversation with an imaginary debater [ref. Cottrell, p.179]. I’m pretty sure that even if Paul was addressing a hypothetical counterpart, though, we can put ourselves in those shoes pretty easily.
In the same way, I can imagine the recipients of this letter – whether they were reading it themselves, or having it read to them – nodding along with chapter 1, thinking about other residents of Rome, and the crazy sins that went on around in that city. It would be easy to compartmentalize the descriptions of evil in chapter 1 as applying to others. But then, chapter 2 hits (even though they wouldn’t have had chapter divisions in the original text), and now they are forced to take their anger and judgment towards “others”, and consider whether or not it actually applies to them, also.
Have you ever done this when you read a list of sins in the Bible, or heard someone preach about them? Maybe you gravitate towards the sins that you don’t practice, and skim over the ones that you struggle with. It’s easy to focus on entries like “murder” and “they invent ways of doing evil” (from Romans 1:29-30), and gloss over sins like envy, being boastful, or having no mercy. When we consider the teachings of Jesus, where murder and unrighteous anger are compared, along with things like adultery and lust, maybe the “versions” of sins that we practice aren’t that different – at the heart level – from the sins of others that we tend to judge harshly.
So, how about this: The next time we’re appalled at what someone else is doing – whether in the news, or in person – what if we set aside that anger temporarily (even if it’s righteous anger), and just took an inventory of our own behavior that day? What if we gave up the opportunity to be judgmental, and took a step towards becoming more righteous ourselves? We don’t even have to improve our own choices in the same way as we are frustrated with others, but every decision towards living like God asks us to should be a step in the right direction.
And, for those who have accepted salvation through Jesus Christ, we don’t merely have to do this out of compulsion or fear of punishment (although both of these can be motivating). Instead, we can do so out of a desire to get to know and respect God more and more every day. In the end, we might not say, “Surely you don’t mean me” (see Matthew 26:20-25) nearly as often as we say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (see Luke 18:9-14).
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 9, 2022
- The Lookout, January 9, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.