The Sin of the Churchly Types
Paul is an excellent psychologist. Paul, in the second half of Romans chapter 1, Paul aggressively condemns the sins of the Gentile world of his day. Even today, you can also hear the “amens” from the Jewish and other churchly types. They had been living “good” lives. Certainly, they were not involved in the nasty sins of Chapter 1. In fact, after chapter 1 they were feeling quite smug and superior. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 they could be thankful that they were “not like other men.” They had given up the outwardly evil and added into their lives a large helping of outward goodness.
It is when he has the “good” people on his side that Paul drops his second bomb in Romans 2:1. “Now if you feel inclined to set yourself up as a judge of those who sin, let me assure you, whoever you are, that you are in no position to do so. For at whatever point you condemn others you automatically condemn yourself since you, the judge, commit the same sins” (Phillips Translation).
The superior types, he points out, are also sinners. Of course, they are nice church members. They don’t let all their dirty laundry hang out. No, their sins are vegetarian sins. Compare with the really nasty people, they appear good in their own eyes.
But – and here is Paul’s point in Romans 2:1 – they don’t look so good in God’s sight. Their airs of moral superiority are also sins, even if it is invisible to them. Such people suffer from the sin of goodness, the sin of the Pharisee, the most hopeless of all sins. Christ’s Object Lessons correctly points out that “there is nothing so offensive to God or so dangerous to the human soul as pride and self-sufficiency. Of all sins it is the most hopeless, the most incurable. Such goodness feels no need to repent or to seek God’s grace.
Thus Romans 2 brings a major shift in Paul’s argument. Finished with speaking to prostitutes, perverts, and thieves, he is now ready to spark to the morally superior, whether they be Jews, Gentiles, or just plain church members.
The message of Romans 2:1 is clear – that all humans are sinners. Here is the significance of Paul’s statement that all are doing the same things. He doesn’t necessarily mean the exact same deeds but that all do sin. That brings us to verse 2 with its proclamation that “the judgement of God rightly falls upon those who do such things.” Put another way, everyone comes under the same judgment.
From the perspective of Romans, one of the most effortless things in the world is to judge other people. In verse 1 – 3 Paul exposes the rather twisted truth that it is easy to be critical of everybody except ourselves.
Well, you might be able to fool yourself, or even other people. But Paul tells us here that you can’t mislead God, whose “judgement is based on truth” (verse 2, NIV). The plain fact is, the apostle asserts, no one will escape God’s judgment, no matter how often they go to church or how vegetarian their sins are. All of us are sinners, and all will stand before God’s judgment seat (verse 12 – 17). Each of us can chose to present ourselves before Him either in our own goodness or in Christ’s righteousness.
By verse 17 Paul is ready to specifically address not merely those who think they are good but the Jews themselves and their false sense of assurance. Throughout Chapter 2 he has blasted away at Jewish self-confidence. First, he erased their confidence that they were beyond God’s final judgment (verse 1-16). Second, he removed their confidence based upon their possession of the law (verse 17_24). Third, he undermined their confidence in the value of circumcision as guaranteeing entrance into God’s kingdom (verse 25, 26). Then Paul had the audacity to say that Gentiles who obey the law would sit in judgment on the Jews (verse 27), completely reversing everything they had been taught about judgment. And in verse 28 and 29 he redefines what it means to be a Jew – that true circumcision is a matter of the heart rather than an outward act. It is spiritual rather than physical, as is baptism. The physical at best is only an outward symbol of an inward spiritual reality.