I suppose hypocrisy is so easy to spot in others because it’s something pretty much all of us are guilty of. A man in the church passes judgement on the young folks for not tithing, and yet his offerings always come with strings attached. A Sunday School teacher gossips about a young mother for not taking her children to Sunday School, and yet never prays for or reaches out to the woman. A family stands out on a street corner protesting same-sex marriage, and yet their own marriage, rife with infidelity, deceit, and superficiality, looks nothing like their stated “biblical model” of marriage. An alcoholic looks down on a drug addict. A compulsive gambler says a pedophile lacks self control. Hypocrisy is everywhere. Throw a rock in any direction – you’ll likely hit a hypocrite. We’re all walking this earth with logs in our eyes.
In Romans 2:1-16, Paul dramatically changes the pronouns for sinners in his letter from them and they to a much less comfortable you. He doesn’t seem to do it in the Gentile-to-Jew sense, but more so in the direction from world-to-reader. In other words, it is time for you (the reader) to now focus on the four fingers pointing back at you rather than the one pointing at the world.
He says it’s time for some self examination.
It’s not something the original recipients of this letter were necessarily prepared for, and it’s not something most folks in today’s church are particularly excited about exercising. But from this passage in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, there are some important truths we need to understand about God’s judgement.
First, God’s judgement is unavoidable.
2:1 So you can see there are no excuses for any of us. If your eyes shift their focus from yourselves to others—to judge how they are doing—you have already condemned yourselves!You don’t realize that you are pointing your fingers at others for the exact things you do as well. 2 There’s no doubt that the judgment of God will justly fall upon hypocrites who practice such things. 3 Here’s what is happening: you attack and criticize others and then turn around to commit the same offenses yourselves! Do you think you will somehow dodge God’s judgment? 4 Do you take the kindness of God for granted? Do you see His patience and tolerance as signs that He is a pushover when it comes to sin? How could you not know that His kindness is guiding our hearts to turn away from distractions and habitual sin to walk a new path? (Romans 2:1-4, THE VOICE transition)
It’s like someone who attends Weight Watchers meetings – the weekly weigh-in is looming. Maybe it’s like the quarterly job performance review you have to prepare for, and you know that your numbers aren’t very impressive. Or maybe it’s that last self-fooling floss job you do before a dentist visit. You know the dentist won’t be impressed. You just know he’s going to judge you. These things all loom over us and cause us to be uncomfortable for the same reason: we may have done something that misses the mark. It’s going to happen.
Most of the time, we are able to at least subconsciously categorize folks in such a way that we dismiss ourselves from our own wrongdoing. “I’ve never killed anyone, so I’m a pretty decent guy.” We think that just because we behave better than others that we won’t be judged as harshly as them. But what is the standard of measurement there? If we’re honest, we judge others’ behavior based on our own creation of right and wrong. We define evil in the world as that which is worse that ourselves. We want everyone who is worse than us to receive justice. But once we are forced to reckon with our own wickedness, justice is suddenly uncomfortable. The truth is that everyone is deserving of God’s judgement, because the minimum requirement for righteousness is perfection.
Thank God for the grace of Jesus!
Second, God’s judgement is unbiased.
ROM 2:5 But because your heart is obstinate and shameless, you’re storing up wrath that will count against you. On the day of His choosing, God’s wrath and judgment will be unleashed to make things right. 6 As it goes, everyone will receive what his actions in life have cultivated. 7 Whoever has labored diligently and patiently to do what is right—seeking glory, honor, and immortality—God will grant him endless joy in life eternal. 8 But selfish individuals who make trouble, resist the truth, or sell out to wickedness will meet a very different fate—they will find fury and indignation as the fruit of living in the wrong. 9 Suffering and pain await everyone whose life is marked by evil living (first for the Jew, and next for the non-Jew). 10 But if you do what is right, you will receive glory, admiration, and peace (again, first for the Jew, then for the non-Jew). 11 God has no favorites. (Romans 2:5-11, THE VOICE translation)
Imagine a scale. On one side, you have the standard weight: God’s righteousness. Everyone will have a chance to put their deeds – their lifestyles, their choices, their secrets, their actions – on the scale opposite God’s righteousness. It is in this final measurement that everything else is set aside. Status will have no weight here. Reputation will have no weight here. Other people’s perception of you will have no weight here. The only thing that contributes to the weight you add to the scale is whether or not you had access to God’s Word, and whether you did anything with it.
The kicker here is that no amount of good deeds will balance the scale. No amount of church attendance, self sacrifice, happy thoughts and rainbows will make you level with the righteousness of God.
But look carefully at what Paul is saying here. He is not saying that good deeds (righteous living) will save you. Why? Because none of us could possibly pull off a life so holy that God would see us as equal. That is where the grace of Jesus comes in. We aren’t saved by our deeds, we are judged by them. And when we are judged by our deeds, we are reminded that our Savior has already balanced the scale for us. We are saved by grace.
Third, God’s judgement is universal.
ROM 2:12 If one lives life without knowledge of the law—the teachings of the Torah—he will sin and die apart from the law. If someone else lives life under the law, his sin will be judged by what the law teaches. 13Here’s my point: just because a person hears the law read or recited does not mean he is right before the one True God; it is following the law that makes one right, not just hearing it. 14-15 For instance, some outsiders who are not required to follow the law often live quite naturally by its teachings. Even though the law wasn’t given to them, in themselves they have the law. Here’s the thing: their lives demonstrate that God has inscribed the law’s teachings on their hearts. On judgment day, their consciences will testify for them, and their thoughts will both accuse and defend them. 16 This good news given to me declares that thisaffirmation and accusation will take place on that day when God, through Jesus, the Anointed One, judges every person’s life secrets.
This is a fascinating passage of scripture, because in these five verses, Paul addresses an issue that so many Christians wonder about: “What about people who never hear about the Bible?” There are so many scenarios throughout history where it is safe to assume that a given group of people were never exposed to the Word of God. So what about them, come judgement day? Paul tells us they’re included in the process. Why? Because every person is born with the same standard of morality. We all bear the image of God. We may have messed it up with our wickedness, but we are His creation nonetheless. While not everyone receives the detailed Word of God, we are all born with an inmate sense of right and wrong. Even so, we continue to miss the mark, with or without the Bible. According to Paul, not having ever heard of the Bible is no excuse. Whether a person lives by his or her own conscious or by the Word of God, he will never weigh up to that standard.
Thank God for the grace of Jesus.
In Christianity today, too much energy is spent in defending Christianity, and not enough energy is spent on promoting Jesus. So much energy is spent in placing a set of moral values on a society that has no interest in adopting them. What we can gather from this portion of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is that whether a person has or has not heard the Word of God, he/she will still be held to the same moral standard, because that standard is hardwired into our very being. The difference comes when a person decides whether he or she is going to accept that 1) they will never measure up to that standard, and 2) Jesus has already balanced the scales for everybody.
That is what we should be promoting.
When we demand that the world adhere to Christian values, we are engaging in hypocrisy. Why? Because we can’t even live up to that standard ourselves. It is only by the grace of Jesus that we can walk this earth with a hope for salvation.