Revelation of the Sin of Good People: Part 1 of 4 (series: Lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
Repentance means an about-face, turning one’s back on sin and heading in the opposite direction.
1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge. In the last chapter Paul painted a picture of the deplorable condition of the heathen. The apostle knew, however, that there would be a whole class of men who would say “amen” to what he had said about the heathen. These were the self-righteous moralists.* So Paul expands his argument to show that the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (1:18) includes the moralist as well as the depraved heathen. The moralist† is inexcusable when he judges the heathen for sin but is blind to his own sin. He only condemns himself when he condemns another.
For you who judge practice the same things. It is obvious that the moral man was not involved in the sexual deviations of the heathen or else Paul could not call him a moral man. But he was inwardly living in an identical manner as the heathen was living outwardly. Perhaps the moral man did not commit adultery, but did he lust? Our Lord put them in the same category: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27–28). Maybe the moral man did not steal, but did he covet? Stealing and covetousness are listed together in Mark 7:21-23: “For from within, out of the heart of men, go forth evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickednesses, deceit, licentiousness, a wicked eye, injurious language, haughtiness, folly; all these wicked things go forth from within and defile the man.” Maybe the moral man did not commit murder, but did he hate? The Bible says if you hate your brother you are guilty of murder: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (I Jn 3:15). No one dares judge another while he is doing the same thing because he is then condemned by his own judgment. Fallen man can see faults in others more readily than in himself. Things hideous and repulsive in the lives of others seem quite respectable in his own eyes. But the fact that he can judge sins in others shows that he knows the difference between right and wrong. If he knows that it is wrong for someone to steal his wife, then he knows that it is wrong for him to steal someone else’s wife. Therefore, when someone commits the very sins he condemns in others, he leaves himself without excuse.
The sins of cultured people are essentially the same as those of the heathen. Although a moralist may argue that he has not committed every sin in the book, he should remember the following facts:
1. He is capable of committing them all.
2. By breaking one commandment, he is guilty of all. “For whoever shall keep
the whole Law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10).
3. He has committed sins of thought which he may never have committed in
actual deed, and these are forbidden by the word.
†Moralist, moral man, and good man have the same meaning in this passage and stand for unsaved Jews and Gentiles.
2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.
The judgment of God is according to truth. When God judges it is always according to truth or in accordance with the facts. The moralist may attempt to hide the facts, but God always exposes them. What the smug moralist needs is a lesson on the judgment of God, and Paul gives that lesson in verses 2–16. The first point is that the judgment of God is according to truth. It is not based on incomplete, inaccurate, or circumstantial evidence. Rather, it is based on the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The searching eye of God always ferrets out the truth.
Against those who practice such things. Paul is talking about the crimes listed in chapter 1. He is pointing out that if we know the word of God, yet we refuse to obey His word and instead do those things, then by our self-willed action, we bring God’s condemnation and judgment down on us. God doesn’t wink at wickedness or treat sin lightly for Jews or Gentiles.
3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?
And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things? Those who think they are exempt from God’s judgment because they have not used the immoral excuses described in chapter 1 are tragically mistaken. They have more knowledge than the immoral pagan and therefore they have greater accountability. For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ Law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? If someone has sufficient knowledge to judge others, he condemns himself because he shows he has sufficient knowledge to evaluate his own condition.
That you will escape the judgment of God? The judgment of God is inescapable on those who condemn others for the very sins they practice themselves. Their capacity to judge others does not absolve them from guilt. In fact, it increases their own condemnation. The judgment of God is inescapable unless we repent and are forgiven. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” (Heb. 2:3).
4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
The contemptible attitude of the Jews stood in stark contrast to the goodness of God. God had shown abundant kindness and patience despite the nation’s persistent rebellion and rejection of His will. Judgment had only been postponed, not overlooked. This delay is an evidence of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering. His goodness means that He is kindly disposed to sinners, though not to their sins. His forbearance describes His holding back punishment on man’s wickedness and rebellion. His longsuffering is His amazing self-restraint in spite of man’s ceaseless provocation.
God’s kindness as seen in His providence, protection, and preservation, gives opportunity for repentance, but the Jews interpreted it as a sign of immunity from judgment. But instead of giving immunity, the goodness of God, is aimed at leading men to repentance. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
Repentance means an about-face, turning one’s back on sin and heading in the opposite direction. It is a change of mind which produces a change of attitude, and results in a change of action. It signifies a man’s taking sides with God against himself and his sins. It is more than an intellectual agreement with the fact of one’s sins; it involves the conscience too, as John Newton wrote: “My conscience felt and owned my guilt.” It never occurs to the moralist that he personally needs the goodness of God just as the heathen does. He is unaware of his need for repentance.