, , 2nd Wednesday in Advent
Most of this Reading can be seen as an explanation of the words of Christ: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Saint Paul starts right out by saying, “You have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself.”
Here we must add that the kind of judgment Paul condemns is not the kind that shows people the righteous judgment of God’s law. Paul is referring to the kind of judgment where I might look at another man and see his sin and says how that man is bad but I am good. By condemning one man, I lift myself up in my own eyes. “I am better than he.”
Jews in the time of Christ did such things. Of course, such judgment is not limited to one people group. We gentiles can be quite the judges, particularly but not limited to those of us in the Church.
If we judge someone, we had better make sure that we condemn ourselves as well. That is the big problem of judgmentalism: self-righteousness. The way to fix a judgmental person is to lead them to see that they are a sinner. Perhaps we do not do exactly the same sin as our neighbor. But we all break the same commandments. Or do you think that there is any commandment you have not found a way to violate? No, you are like everyone – a sinner across the board. Therefore to condemn another as if you do not also sin is most ridiculous.
Perhaps we might think that our own sins are not as serious as other people’s sins. We may suppose that God will overlook our so-called “small imperfections” because He is kind and patient. This makes His kindness and patience into monstrous attributes. If He simply turns a blind eye on sin, then He is an unjust God. Worse, those people He sends to hell would be sent arbitrarily, since He would be letting busloads of similarly sinful people into Paradise for no good reason.
Perhaps we might think that God will give us eternal life because at least we tried to be good. We might even twist Paul’s words to suit this view: “To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.” But that does not mean that God says to us at the Pearly Gates, “Well, at least you were trying! Good enough for Me! Come right in!” No, this would be the same kind of arbitrarily unjust God who on a whim lets some into heaven and some not.
Never mind that our flesh does not know how to seek honor and glory by patience. We might seek things if they were easy, or if they would earn me a reward. Or perhaps we would seek something only if we felt like it. Or perhaps we would go to great lengths to follow our heart, which is obviously not the same as obeying the truth of the Gospel.
Paul’s main point is that God renders to each according to the works we do. Eternal reward is not for those who hear the Word of God but they do not obey what it says. Obedience here includes not only outward obedience, but also obedience in the secret thoughts of the heart.
Here our friends in the Roman Church would say, “Yay! That’s right! You have to obey to be saved!” - as if salvation is by works, not by grace thought faith on account of Christ.
No. I know this can be confusing because we are hearing in Romans two one part of a big logical argument that Paul is laying out. He is addressing the idea of who could be saved by obeying the Law. He could have said right away, “Nobody! Nobody can be saved by obeying the Law!” He says that later, but right now he just lets the argument play out.
So when he says, “It is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified,” he is not saying that you have to obey, not have faith. Instead, He is saying that if you are going to be saved by works, you cannot simply hear the Word and do nothing at all. You also cannot simply hear the Word and do part of it but still sin like the rest. If you want to be doers of the Law who are saved by your doing, then you must do the whole Law.
If you could obey the whole Law of God, then you could be saved by your obedience. Of course, any honest human knows that they are not in this category. We may happen to overcome one manifestation of one sin against one commandment, but meanwhile our disobedience is lighting up the commandments like a pinball machine.
Paul eliminates an obedience-based salvation later in Romans when he says, “All, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written, ‘None is righteous, no, not one.”
But we still face this danger, that we who understand and believe the Gospel then may use the Gospel as an excuse to indulge our lazy flesh. If we use the Gospel to ignore the Law, are we any better than those who ignore both Law and Gospel and live in unrestrained iniquity? We can become hearers who give no concern to doing the Law if we depend on the kindness of God to get us heaven while we do whatever we want here below.
Even an unbeliever can show with their conscience that they know there are good things they ought to do, and they can feel sorry when they fail. But what excuse will we have if we do not care whether we do right?
Probably none of us have fallen so far. But taking advantage of the Gospel begins with a little laziness here and there. “Oh, well,” we might say to ourselves. “You can’t always obey, and I’m forgiven anyway, so what does it matter?”
A day is coming when the secret thoughts of men will be revealed. We all have secret thoughts that are horrible. Perhaps we are not even aware of them, but they are there. Out of the heart comes all sorts of evil. The heart is a seething fountainspring of coveting and desiring and hating and lusting and envy and pride and rebelliousness and blasphemy and self-centeredness, and much more besides.
What shall we do with such things? We cannot fully overcome them, although we must try. But most of all we must repent of them. That is what the kindness of God is meant to lead us to.
For God has been overwhelmingly merciful. First of all, He does not treat us in this life as we deserve. He dearly wants us to come to the knowledge of the truth about His Son and believe. So He shows kindness to us in many ways in this life.
But second of all, He provides the mercy that we need in His Son. His kindness is not merely a loving attitude in His heart. He has manifested His kindness in the person of Christ, born of the Virgin, given for us, suffering and dying, risen and ascended. In the face of THIS KINDNESS that is overwhelmingly gracious to us, we most certainly should repent of our unrighteous hearts and deeds. If we look at the kindness of God in Christ and then just say, “Oh, well, I guess my sins don’t matter,” then we are taking His mercy for granted. Worse, we are spitting on His grace, cheapening Christ’s precious suffering and death by saying that our sins for which He died were never a big deal anyway.
Since Christ has come into the flesh to die, how much more should we put every effort into doing well, seeking for the glory that is to come by seeking the honor of God and our fellow man rather than seeking our own desires and needs? When we thus struggle against sin, we fail much, we stumble. Still, we do not give up, but fight as hard as we can because how could we not when He has shown such earth-shattering kindness to us?
So we repent as failures, even as we trust in Him because He has fulfilled all righteousness for us.
The judgment will come, and the secret thoughts of your heart will be revealed. In the history of your life, there has been all kinds of nasty crud in your heart. But at the day of God’s wrath against sin, He will not see sin in you. He will see your faith and repentance. He will see your good works done in Christ. More than that, He will see the righteousness of Christ counted for you, so that He will say, “You are a doer of the Law in My Son. Therefore wrath is not for you, but eternal life. Enter into My glory.”
So you will, forever and ever. Amen.
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