Good or Evil Sinners
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. (Romans 2:1)
The truth of this verse finally began to sink into my understanding a number of years ago when I carefully examined the context to find the real meaning for myself. It comes immediately after a long list of descriptions about aberrant behaviors that Christians love to condemn. Paul was well aware of the religious penchant for scorning others while piously assuming a role of righteous indignation and superiority. I believe that is why he baited this trap in the way he did so as to expose the diabolical nature of how hypocritical religion can blind us to our own faults while thinking to condemn the faults and sins of others.
The reason this came back to my attention this morning is because I find myself facing situations in the next few days where I will again have to grapple with how to properly relate to people living lifestyles similar to what Paul describes in Romans one. These people are not just strangers advocating acceptance of homosexuality or adultery as normal today while feeling resentful and even attacking all who might question their choices; these are relatives living in these lifestyles. And that requires that I reexamine my own spirit and beliefs and disposition to discover why I find it so hard to relate to them the same way Jesus related to such sinners when He walked this earth.
I know that it is clear I cannot take my cue from the way most Christians treat such people, claiming to hold the higher moral ground. The example of religious people, even those beyond Christendom, is nothing to be admired but is along the lines of satanic if anything. What I need to discern more than anything else is why I have such difficulty coming into harmony with the way Jesus sees such people. When these people are children and relatives or ones we have chosen to invest our lives into who have made choices that steer their lives into paths of self-destruction, it creates compelling reason to wonder how I might find myself in the cross-hairs of Paul's warning in the verse quoted above.
I am about to be immersed with people that I will have to relate to quite closely who for the most part are very open to what many call alternative lifestyles. We must attend the funeral of a close relative who suddenly died in his prime from questionable causes while living in what many would call 'open sin,' though generally today that term is viewed with disdain. Unspoken questions in many minds will be very close to the surface and there is no doubt that I may become a lightening rod for suspicion since my own lifestyle in their thinking represents all who look down on and condemn their kind.
Yet I do not want to be a hypocrite or one who condemns those living in sin. It is true that I have spent most of my life immersed in religion and my reactions have been largely shaped by the legal views of God that kept me from experiencing the power of His love to soften and transform me. Consequently I find myself handicapped when it comes to loving others unconditionally as I am coming to see that God loves me. This is all rather new to me, and although I am thrilled with the things God has been revealing to me over the past few years, I find that my own reactions to people who have chosen radically different paths from my own is still out of harmony with what I see in the way Jesus related to people who were not in harmony with the principles of heaven. That is what alarms me the most.
That is why as I was waking up this morning this verse came to my attention. And as I recalled what God showed me in this passage a few years ago I knew that it was time to revisit this again and allow it to sink even deeper into my own heart and experience. For the Word of God is a sword meant to not only expose what is deeply hidden inside but also directs me to the Source of healing and help. It is not enough simply to be aware of my problems or even the problems of others around me; if a diagnosis fails to additionally provide an effective means by which we can be cured, it only mocks us in our brokenness – which is exactly the conclusion that many sinners have come to in their own hearts.
Because we as Christians have failed to go beyond merely pointing out sin in other people's lives while largely ignoring even greater sin in our own lives; and because Christians seem so fond of condemning faults while promoting dark views of an angry God, doing little to offer realistic answers to the haunting questions that drive so many deeper into sinful lifestyle choices, the credibility of God's plan of salvation is seriously damaged. It is no wonder so many are skeptical of the claims of Christianity to offer hope to sinners when so many people claiming to be Christians fail to act like Jesus acted toward dysfunctional people longing for relief from their deep inner anguish of spirit.
What Paul is trying to expose here is that most religious people are actually caught in the very same trap as those they are so eager to condemn. At first that sounds completely bizarre, for how can the two extremes be in the same boat when the pious accusers clearly do not participate in such things as homosexuality or sleeping with others outside of marriage? At first glance it seems that Paul was a bit confused or maybe he was just making a strong statement for emphasis. But I believe there is vital truth in this statement that is largely ignored because those on the pious side are too uncomfortable to perceive their own faults by taking this passage seriously.
I discovered a key that unlocked this verse for me was when I began asking probing questions about what Paul might have been talking about here. When Paul claims that those who judge or condemn others are doing the very same things, it seems clear that he was not referring to the activities he had just described as results of rejecting God. In Romans one Paul had just ticked off a list of behaviors that most Christians find repulsive and seek to avoid. So how could Paul claim that religious people are doing the very same thing? But the key here is that these symptoms are not the things Paul was referring to when he spoke of us doing the same thing. What Paul was talking about as the same were the choices behind those symptoms that were the real causes of such behavior, not the behaviors themselves.
That is when it started to become much more clear to me what Paul was warning about. When I began to carefully analyze the things Paul listed as causes of such sinful lifestyles instead of focusing on the lifestyles themselves, it became evident that he was right in saying that those who condemn others are in fact doing the very same things. The difference is that the outworking of those choices in the lives of those who chose to be religious instead of acting out their dysfunction in alternative sexual lifestyles, simply reveals different symptoms resulting from the very same problems.
It is becoming more clear to me now that we have so long confused symptoms with causes we have a very hard time perceiving truth. I have been learning a lot about the differences between God's kingdom and the alternative counterfeit kingdom and the ways in which they function. One of the main differences is that God's kingdom operates on natural principles, what we call laws of cause and effect, while Satan's kingdom relies on artificially imposed rules with imposed punishments or rewards as incentives for compliance. With this in mind, it becomes a little easier for me to understand why Paul said what he said in this passage.
In the counterfeit way of thinking, which is what most religious people rely on, sin is an issue about performance and behavior. Sin is viewed as breaking arbitrary laws and thus incurring imposed punishments from whatever authority made the rules. Anything outside of this interpretation is viewed with great suspicion for it can threaten to undermine the whole system of control and fear which is what keeps that whole system operational.
In God's family-style, relationship-based government, people relate to others based on natural principles of cause and effect where love is the basis for motivation and thriving is encouraged. When principles are violated, there is no need for artificial punishment, for natural law always has its own inherent consequences that do not need to be imposed to be experienced. Thus the only arbitrary part of His relationship to us is in preventing us from experiencing the full natural consequences of our bad choices in order to give us additional time to see the real truth about His goodness and turn away from what is destroying us so we can be restored into the life-giving relationship that we need with Him.
When people claiming to follow God's ways grasp this truth and begin reflecting this view in their attitudes and relationships to those living in open sin, we will begin to see far more success in seeing sinners wanting to embrace God's ways and truth. And part of this process of changing the way we relate to sinners is in recognizing that religious people have the very same problem of mistaken notions about God as those they are so eager to condemn. The only difference between the two groups is that some people turn to more colorful kinds of sinful lifestyles in their rejection of the truth about God while religious people may turn to legalism, hypocrisy or self-righteous delusion as their dysfunction.
By condemning sinners and comparing themselves with them to appear to be more righteous, religious addicts betray the fact that they are just as deluded about the real problem of sin as the sinners they condemn. It gives them no advantage with heaven to practice intensely regulated lifestyles based on religious traditions while looking down on those who have chosen more openly sinful lifestyles. Pride, selfishness, arrogance, haughtiness and all such sins are actually more offensive in God's eyes than the sins of sexual immorality as described in Romans one condemned so eagerly by the self-righteous. The reason these religious sins are more offensive is not due to some scale of sinfulness used by heaven but because these sins are so much more resistant to cure than the open sins of those who realize their lost condition.
It is the blindness caused by religious deception that is so dangerous to those who view themselves as taking the high moral road while looking down on others. However, this should also be a warning for those who are tempted to condemn the self-righteous when they come to see this truth themselves. Open sinners are just as likely to fall into the trap of condemning religious people as religious people are tempted to condemn open sinners, for both are trapped by the same web of lies about God. Although they have chosen different expressions of dysfunction that is inevitable when turning away from the real truth about God's character, the lost condition of both groups is just as serious.
What both kinds of sinners desperately need is a fresh revelation of the real truth about God's kindness, mercy, love and compassion. Both classes of sinners are malfunctioning because they are living in reaction to lies about God causing them to look elsewhere for identity or value. This is why it is so urgent that both 'wicked' sinners and pious sinners come to see that the problem we all have is not about breaking a list of rules and incurring the wrath of an offended God waiting to punish us; our common problem is that anything outside the kind of agape love that flows from the heart of God will produce dysfunction and ultimately death for all of us.
It matters not whether one strives to become good, religious, pious or any other 'good' option or plunges into open sin. Both classes of people are malfunctioning because they refuse to believe the real truth about God's love for them and allow that love to bring them into harmony with the principles of reality and life that governs everything in the universe. To live out of harmony with the natural laws of reality is to set one's self up to experience the natural negative results of violating those laws. And were it not for the intervention of God constantly preventing those natural consequences from taking full effect, none of us would be alive even now, including the devil.
Right after Paul points out the truth that religious addicts and open sinners are actually all in the same boat as far as sin is concerned, he puts his finger on the real issue so that we all can be led to repentance. And what is the core problem that all of us face?
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. (Romans 2:4-5)
Lest any be confused by common false assumptions about God's wrath, Paul has three times just finished explaining what wrath actually means in the previous passage. Wrath is when God finally allows people to experience the natural consequences of their rejection of His ways and releases them to the effects of their own choices by withdrawing His artificial protection from around them He has kept there all their lives. When it becomes clear there is nothing else God can do to allure sinners away from the lies they have embraced about Him and prefer instead their own version of reality, turning away from the ravishing love He longs to bestow on them, God will finally respect that choice and will sadly withdraw His protection. Then the forces of evil and the consequences of violating natural law will be fully experienced and it will be seen that God was never the problem but it is sin that brings pain, suffering, dysfunction and death.
This is the truth that I need to understand much deeper in my own heart as well as with my head. This is the perception of reality that can set us free from the myriads of lies that lead us into sinful lifestyle choices or into false religious piety and pride. Both extremes are living outside of God's life-giving circuit of love and are in equal danger of losing eternal life. Both kinds of sinners are in need of embracing the real truth about God's kindness, goodness, righteousness and love. Both classes are deceived by the false system of thinking that pits supposed good against evil and that was so well represented by the Tree that our first parents indulged in at the beginning of history. Both the good and the evil in our society are filled with false notions about God that end in death if they do not turn away from from that Tree and feed only on the Tree of Life alone.
I want God to dwell in me, to make me a channel of life, hope, comfort and truth to people who have chosen different lifestyles from my own. I want to be used by God to help others – both open sinners and religious addicts alike – to see the amazing truth about the kindness of God and the true nature of life as heaven views it so that the lying deceptions of the enemy will lose their grip and that those I love can come to see God as attractive instead of someone to be afraid of as they have for so long. I want to so experience the transforming love and kindness of God in my own soul that my interactions with other sinners will inspire hope and life and desire for change in their lives as they witness the transformation that that God is producing in my own spirit and disposition. I want the grace of God to transform me into the kind of witness that ceases to bear false witness against God but rather speaks well of Him so that others will long to know Him too.