Middle school girls at a slumber party aren’t the only ones who judge themselves to be better than someone else. People do it all of the time in relation to their self-evaluation of the depth of their sin. It usually takes some form of “I might not be perfect, but I’m not as bad as ____.”
Actually, that whole statement is probably true. The person making it is likely nowhere near as bad as whatever person or group he/she is comparing. Big deal. The problem is that the first half of the statement is equally true, and it is totally damning.
As we wrote about on Monday and will return to again in the third week, every sinner needs perfect righteousness in order to be received by God. And being pretty good just ain’t going to be good enough. Besides that, the situation is likely far worse than the self-righteous person believes.
I told the story Sunday of recently being in California for a pastors conference and staying several days with a good friend who lives in West Hills, north of Los Angeles. In driving through a somewhat remote mountainous area of many canyons, he told me that it was the location where Hollywood shot a lot of their movies. This reminded me of a picture I saw recently of an error in the Gladiator movie, where, in one scene, if you look closely, you can see a jet aircraft in the sky! Not so perfect.
And that is how it is with many people’s lives. Even those who have a guidance of the residue of the image of God in them — their conscience — when looked at closely will fall far short of righteous. And the passage today condemns such people who feel good about themselves as compared to greater sinners around them.
2:1 – 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. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, 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, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
5 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. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have 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. 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.
12 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. 13 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. 14 (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. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
This passage has some complexity to it. It is saying, beyond the issue of those with a self-righteous judgment, that obedience to the law is what is required. But here is the problem: nobody obeys it perfectly, except the one person who did. More on these ideas as we go along.
Would the original audience in Rome have felt that verses 13-15 referred to a way God will judge non-Christian Jews and non-Christian gentiles?