A quote I often remind myself of when I’m feeling particularly annoyed at something or someone is, “the level of your irritation often reveals the depth of your idolatry.” It almost never fails that the true root of what I’m irritated about is something inside me that needs to be checked…my pride, an entitlement attitude, wanting to be served rather than serve, envy, jealousy, etc. Along the same lines with regard to judging others, in Romans 2 Paul is challenging the Jews – and us -- to check our judgment of others.
You see the Jews have carried on the idea from generation to generation that they were God’s chosen people with an underlying assumption that they were morally superior and God would judge them differently than the rest of the world. In turn, they harshly judged non-Jews. Though most of us are not of Jewish origin, as Christians, we too can sometimes assume we have a moral authority to judge others. But Paul is saying this isn’t the case…that God shows no favoritism and all will be judged according to their works. Which in effect means that we are all equally doomed. No matter how “good” we think our lives and works are, they will never meet God’s standard of perfection.
We can agonize over the fact that we will never meet the perfect standards of a holy God and feel hopeless because it is impossible. Or, we can look at is as being the most freeing fact in the world. Because God made a way for us. The pressure is off of us. It is all on Jesus. And He did it for us perfectly.
If we could even almost do it ourselves, we would never fully surrender. We would keep trying and trying…one step forward, two steps back, but never getting anywhere substantial when it comes to our own salvation. Like the addict who keeps trying to save themselves but keeps falling back into the pit. They have a love-hate relationship with the pit. But as long as they think they can muster up the power on their own, they never reach out for help…even when help is all around waiting to be called on. Until they reach rock bottom and realize they will die in this pit and there is no way out in their human strength. And at that point, they reach out for help. We are all in this pit of a sinful world and sinful lives…just trying and trying to claw our way out; trying to cover it all up with good deeds and religious activity. But only Jesus can pull us out of the pit, clean off all the dirt we accumulated in it, and give us a new life with new hope and new power. Only Jesus. So, who in the world are we to judge?
Paul is saying, “In passing judgment on one another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” He is saying if we think we can judge another by any law or moral code, we are only judging ourselves because we can’t live under it perfectly either. There is no law and no standards of right living we can attain on our own apart from Jesus. And when we let Jesus do in us what He came to do, we find freedom. Freedom to actually live. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and the grace which others are just as entitled as we are.”
God, forgive me when I have a judgmental heart (and mouth). When judgment begins to boil up, help me immediately look internally instead, grateful for what your blood on the cross did for those things I should be rightfully judged for. Thank you that You are judge, and I am not.
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