Getting Judgment Right

Romans 2:1-4 “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 realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”

It makes us feel better about ourselves to find someone we think is worse. I once knew a woman who made herself miserable dwelling on two complaints: 1) Everyone is concerned only about themselves and unwilling to help me, and 2) everyone judges me. To her, the whole measure of whether a person was good or bad was based upon what they were willing to do for her. It didn’t matter how much others were inconvenienced or had to sacrifice if she needed the help. It didn’t seem to occur to her that she was just as unwilling to be inconvenienced by or make sacrifices for these same people she asked.

 It’s all around us all the time, one case of the pot calling the kettle black after another. One politician or political party complains about the moral mess created by those in power, only to create their own cesspool of scandal when it is their turn to rule.

We aren’t getting Paul until we see his fingers pointing at us. Survey after survey shows that we Christians are almost indistinguishable from our non-Christian neighbors in behavior and attitudes. We destroy our marriages at the same rate as the world around us. We watch the same trash on television that everyone else does. We abuse alcohol and drugs at about the same rate as the unbelieving world. Research by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith suggests that there is little or no difference between the belief system (the belief system!) of a typical American Christian teen and his non-Christian counterpart.

The point is not to let us breathe a little sigh of relief because we aren’t worse than everybody else. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” the saying goes. But at least my non-Christian neighbor could plead ignorance in certain cases. I can’t. “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?”

God’s judgment forces us to give up this self-delusion about how we compare to others. It forces us to admit that we have no real reason for looking down on others. It’s not that we have failed to identify their real sins. It’s just that, time after time, we have shared in those same sins.

What, then, do we deserve? Modern marketers tell us we deserve all kinds of good things. The maker of one pain reliever claims that you deserve headache relief. You would probably be happy to learn that, according to author Jerry Mundis, you deserve to earn more. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I have even learned that I deserve the highest quality janitorial service available.

Romans 2 convinces us that our sins deserve one thing: God’s judgment. But that’s not the life we have experienced. “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” The kindnesses of God in our lives are impossible to enumerate. When I take a breath, it is not the burning, sulfurous atmosphere of hell I inhale. It is air that is pure enough and rich enough to sustain my life a few moments longer. I am surrounded by friends and family who love me. I have lived in a smallish, one-bedroom apartment as well as a 2000 square foot house. Both were pleasant enough places to live. Neither one was the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

For the sake of argument, take all of that away, and still God has been tolerant and patient with me in the extreme. Each new sin is still forgiven. He already accounted for it in the infinite payment for sin Jesus provided by his sacrifice on the cross.

I am a believer by God’s grace, though getting my heart and mind in line with God’s own has come slowly. Improvement is unsteady, and eruptions of anger, pride, lust, doubt, impatience, worry, greed, and envy are far more common than I care to admit.

Still, God forgives. Still, he works with me. Still, he isn’t too disgusted or frustrated to claim me as his own. It seems as though his patience is inexhaustible! I can’t help but share David’s observation in Psalm 103, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”

This is the repentance to which Paul says God’s kindness wants to lead us–not just regret over our sins, but an awareness of the great grace we have been shown and an unshakeable confidence in the God who has shown us such love.

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