As I mentioned in my post “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God,” this week I am tackling the thorny subject of judgment. Like I said in that post, it seems that some Christians specialize in judging others – judging other Christians and judging those wicked, ungodly, pagan sinners that roam the streets looking for their next chance to do evil.
But, is this what God wants from us? Does he want us to judge others?
We talked about this with the church a few weeks ago when we were studying Romans 1. That’s the famous passage in which Paul spells out how hideous those sinners are:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:18-27 ESV)
We Christians love to point out the sins listed in those verses and wag our fingers at those who practice such things. Of course, we often forget the list of equally hideous sins that Paul lists next:
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32 ESV)
You see, Paul’s purpose in listing these sins is not so that we can judge people who commit such things. In fact, that’s the OPPOSITE of Paul’s purpose.
In the very next passage (which was not part of a separate chapter when Paul wrote it), he tells his readers not to judge people who sin, because they (we) do the very same things:
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? (Romans 2:1-3 ESV)
Oh, we may not practice a certain sin – one that we may point our figer at or judge – but we do practice some other sin that is equally as hideous in God’s eye.
So, why did Paul write that long list of sins if we are not supposed to judge people who participate in such things? He wrote that list to show us just how awesome the good news of Jesus Christ is. Although we often separate it, notice how parallel these two parts are:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:16-18 ESV)
Although we all practice ungodliness and unrighteousness, because of the good news of Jesus Christ (the gospel), the wrath of God is not being revealed in the lives of those who trust him (live by faith). Instead, in our lives, God is revealing his righteousness. Now, that’s good news! Instead of wrath, we get righteousness.
As someone pointed out, this idea is very similar to what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
When we recognize the sinfulness, ungodliness, and unrighteousness in the world around us, it should not cause us to judge, but to rejoice in the fact that God is revealing his righteousness in us (in spite of the sinfulness, ungodliness, and unrighteousness in our own lives). This is definitely good news!