I make my bed every morning and my laundry is nice and neat. I put away dishes for my mom even though I didn’t dirty them. I pick up my niece once a week and take her to school. I smile and wave people in front of my while I’m driving, even when I don’t have to. I hold doors for handicapped people. I make dinners for my elderly grandparents. I give money to noble causes.
I don’t get drunk. I don’t sleep around. I don’t do drugs. I don’t have road rage. I don’t yell at my coworkers when they screw up. I don’t evade taxes. I am not dishonest with my boss or clock in for more hours than I actually work.
I play by the rules. I’m a good person.
For the most part I get to check out when I think about “big sins” or read Romans 1. Or when the pastor preaches a sermon on it and talks through that long list of abominations at the end.
Seekers of evil.
Nah, not me. I don’t do that stuff.
But then Paul doesn’t stop with those things. He goes on to write chapter 2. And that’s the gospel for the “good” people.
“You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”
When I start comparing myself to really “bad” people, I start getting a little prideful, standing on my moral high ground looking down at them. Or rather, the ugly pride that is already in my heart is revealed.
When we treat the end of Romans 1 as a checklist of things we don’t do and begin to believe that because of that we are good, it reveals that we are forgetful and judgemental and self-absorbed. Because we are people with dark hearts point out the dark hearts of others. It’s the pot calling the kettle black. It’s the epitome of hypocrisy. When we agree that people who do such things should be condemned, we agree that we should be condemned, because really, really, if we stop and take a good look at our own hearts, aren’t there shadows of Romans 1 pervading every fiber of our inner selves? If we’re really, really honest, do we not know that we live in the shadows even while we present ourselves to be pristine and clean? The hooker on the street corner, the vulgar drunk at the bar, and the cheating embezzler aren’t so different than usafter all. Not once our outsides are stripped away and our hearts are laid bare.
And when we forget the depth of our rebellion and live in pride, condescension, and judgementalism, that’s sin. And it’s sin that provokes God’s wrath just as much as homosexuality, murder, abuse, and other heinous evil.
Yes, God is concerned with those actions. But God is not just concerned with actions, he is concerned with where those actions indicate our hearts are at. Murder indicates that someone’s heart is far from God and full of hatred. And judgementalism indicates that a heart is far from God and full of forgetfulness that it needs a Savior.
In Romans 2, Paul lays out the argument that no matter who we are, we are all under the same standard. It’s very simple. Those who stand before God and are good will receive reward and life. Those who stand before God and are evil will receive punishment.
Sounds pretty straightforward. But don’t start adding up all your good deeds just yet. Paul’s point here, is that NO ONE is actually good. Not according to God’s standard. So yea, the good will receive life, but the person who is fully good does not exist. Everyone deserves God’s wrath.
So here is the beginning of the gospel for good people: You aren’t good enough.
Placing our betts on being good enough to get in to God’s good graces is never gonna be enough. Because we aren’t measured by a standard of comparing ourselves to other. We are measured by a God whose holiness plumbs incomprehensible depths.
We can’t hope to fix our dark hearts and make them good enough. Our hope lies in a new heart, a heart given by Christ.
So next time we want to judge the person next to us, we should stop and think, because we have a lot more in common with them than we would sometimes like to admit. There is a time to stand for a cause, and God would encourage us to stand against evil. But let us stand up in humility, knowing that our own hearts are just as evil as the evil against which we stand. Let us remember that by standing up we are standing up to cry out for all mankind, ourselves included:
Have mercy, oh God, for we have sinned.
There’s only been one good Man. Keep studying Romans to find out just how good He is.