Read Romans 2.
At the end of chapter 1 we read, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (v. 32). That verse concluded a lengthy description in chapter 1 about why God’s wrath and judgment is being revealed against human wickedness. Humanity rejected God, therefore God has allowed wickedness to flourish within the human race. Rather than being fearful of God’s judgment, however, people keep on sinning and approve of others who sin.
Here in chapter 2, Paul turned from those who approve of sin and those who practice it to those who condemn and judge sinners (v. 1). Since those who approve of sin and sinners are condemned in chapter 1:32, we might expect that those who condemn sin and sinners would be approved by God.
No, said Paul, “because you who pass judgment do the same things.” There are no points for righteousness awarded to sinners who condemn other sinners. We may comparatively evaluate ourselves to be better than other sinners, but we still deserve God’s judgment because of our own sins (v. 3) and lack of repentance (v. 4). Instead of earning favor with God for judging other sinners, the self-righteous sinner is “storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath” (v. 5). All humanity–Jew or Gentile, self-righteous or self-declared sinner–are headed for judgment before Jesus Christ (v. 16). In verses 17-29, Paul narrowed his focus to his fellow Jewish people. He pointed out that even the most upstanding Jewish person has broken God’s laws (vv. 21-24) and that God wants people who inwardly, genuinely belong to God, not people who have the religious symbols of godliness (vv. 25-29).
As I discussed yesterday, Paul seemed to be laying out his doctrine of the gospel to these Roman believers so that they would receive him and support his ministry when he came to them. This chapter, then, was designed to show how Jewish people are under God’s judgment, too, just like their Gentile counterparts in chapter 1. This passage applies to Jews who reject Jesus in order to live self-righteous lives, but it also applies to anyone who thinks himself to be righteous by comparison to others yet who still sins.
Agreeing with God’s word about what is sinful is not impressive to God; what matters to God is obedience (v. 13) and we all fall short there. Tomorrow we will see the remedy to this in Christ. But even if we’ve received that remedy, we should take to heart the things said about the self-righteous in this passage. If you have any moral character at all, you will be able to find lots of examples of people who fall short of your moral virtue. But, if you have any honesty at all, you will have to admit that you fall short daily of your own standards, not to mention God’s moral standards. Instead of judging others in order to feel good about ourselves, God wants us to acknowledge our own failures to be perfect. Then, just as God showed compassion to us in Christ we should reach out to other fallen people around us with compassion and the hope that is found in the gospel.
Have you ever thought about the people around you not as your spiritual inferiors but as people who need God’s rescue to save them?
When we remember that we are all in the same moral boat as everyone else, speeding relentlessly toward God’s wrath, it gives us a greater humility about ourselves and a greater compassion for those who are bound in their sin and in need of salvation. So check yourself when you find yourself disgusted with others; they are not any different than you and I are, except that we have salvation in Jesus Christ.