It is awful that so many people in Haiti continue to practice voo doo. It is awful that so many people in Cameroon practice ancestor worship. Such idolatry leads to gross immorality like men being consumed with passion for other men and committing shameless acts with them as Paul described in Romans 1. It is awful that so many in Hollywood celebrate such homosexual behavior. It is awful that so many politicians and judges in D.C. approve of same-sex marriage. It is awful that there is a Presbyterian Church in Buffalo that holds Gay Bingo nights where a drag queen speaks shameful and disgusting words. Paul tells us that they are without excuse because although they knew God they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him and that God gave them up to the lusts of their hearts to impurity – to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves – to dishonorable passions and to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. Paul tells us they are filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, and malice. He says they are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and maliciousness. He says they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless and ruthless. We want to cheer Paul on as he describes them until we hear Romans 2:1 where we will begin this morning:
Paul catches us good conservative religious Christians in a trap because he wants you to see that you too are a sinner deserving death.
Good conservative religious Jewish Christians in Rome could accuse Paul of entrapment. He ‘led them on’ believing that he was talking about those awful Gentiles. They would have been shocked when they realized that Paul includes them together with the Gentiles as sinners. Then again no one else at the time was talking about human beings – no one else reduced people to less than two types – Jews and Gentiles, men and women, Greeks and barbarians, slave and free – there were always at least two kinds of people. So when they heard Paul talking about “them” they assumed it was the other type. But now when Jewish Christians are expecting Paul to say that they are different he says just the opposite. He did not tell the story of the Gentiles and say the Jewish people were different. He did not tell the story of the barbarians and say that the Greeks and Romans were different. Paul told the universal story of humanity. Thus in these verses we heard today Paul’s point is to say that Jewish people are no different than Gentiles on Judgment Day – they practice the very same things, they know that God’s judgment rightly falls on those who practice such things and yet do them anyway, and when people usually store good things they have ironically been storing up wrath for themselves on Judgment Day. So both the Jews and Gentiles are in the same boat on Judgment Day. Yet the Jews will go first in the judgment, which is ironic since they were first in salvation. Paul used the same phrase for salvation in chapter one that he uses here twice for judgment – “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (And I can’t help but think that Paul expects us to apply this to ourselves since most of the Christians in Rome that he was writing this letter to were Gentiles and not Jews. As the apostle Peter would say, ‘Judgment begins at the household of God’ (cf. 1 Peter 4:17)).
And so we read Romans 2:1 – “therefore you have no excuse, O human being, every one of you judging, for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the one who is judging, practice the very same things” (my translation). You are not a different kind of people than idolaters in foreign countries, or actors on television, or Presbyterians in Buffalo just as the Christians in Rome were not a different kind of people than the barbarians to their west. We are all sinners. We are all awful. Every human being is without excuse for our idolatry and our immorality that grows out of it and thus every human being deserves to die. We know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die and then do them ourselves. Yet we religious types judge those awful barbarians for their idolatrous and immoral behavior and think God will give us a pass. So Paul reminds us that we are all sinners deserving God’s wrath and we don’t get a pass. God is an impartial judge – He will be fair and not play favorites. As Paul says, “God shows no partiality.” Instead, ironically we remember that judgment begins at the household of God. (Now Paul is writing this to get them excited about helping him go on a missionary journey to the barbarians in the west. So what does this have to do with mission? Everything!)
Those awful other people are sinners just like you in need of Christ.
It is not as if you and your neighbors are more deserving of salvation because you have cleaned up your act and now are more civilized. It is not as if your neighbor that you judge to be a pretty good person is more deserving of salvation than some foreigner you judge to be awful. We are in no place to judge those who sound different than us and who seem uncivilized to us or for that matter to judge any unbelievers behaving badly. God is a just judge – God shows no partiality – and none of us are righteous. Whenever you hear the law of God it is a reminder that you need the righteousness of God just as much as someone who does not have that law. Paul says, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (v.12). Do you keep the law? Of course not! Later he will tell us what you should already know – no one will be justified by works of the law (Rom 3:20). You need the righteousness of God. His law reminds you that you do not have that righteousness within yourself. Those who do not have the law are reminded of the same thing by their conscience. So you and your neighbors are in the same boat on Judgment Day as those you might want to judge. (The only way you can stand in the judgment then is by being declared righteous-by-faith-in-Jesus.)
This is the good news that God has entrusted to you to share with the world. You are in no position to judge who will receive this message and put their faith in Jesus. It may be that people in Haiti, Cameroon, Iraq, and China are more receptive to the good news than people in Hollywood, Buffalo, or in our own neighborhoods. Who knows? What we do know is that those awful other people are sinners just like us and the only way any of us will be able to stand in the judgment is by faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.