Of the Apostle Paul’s many passages that lay bare our sins, one truly sobering warning is found in Romans 2 where he exposes the hypocrisy of the Jews who have the Law of God. Paul strategically convicts them by leading the Jewish audience to agree with his assessment of others in the same way that Amos leads his audience. In the Book of Amos, the prophet begins with God’s pronouncement of judgement against Damascus, then Gaza, then Tyre, then Edom, then the sons of Ammon, and finally Moab. One commentator pointed out that the children of Israel would have given a hearty “Amen” to God’s judgements on these people groups. However, the Lord then states through the prophet, “For three transgressions of Judah and for four I will not revoke its punishment. . . . For three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke its punishment” (Amos 2:4, 6). Perhaps they believed they were exempt from God’s judgement because they were the covenant people of God and took for granted God’s kindness and grace towards them. However, the lesson there was that God is not tolerant of sin even among His own.
In the same way, the Apostle Paul uses this technique to expose the hypocrisy of the Jews in Romans 2. Paul recounted the wickedness and vile sins of the Gentiles who did not have the Law of God in Romans 1:18–32, and to which Paul’s Jewish audience would say, “Amen.” The apostle, anticipating the agreement, turns his attention to those who view themselves as more righteous than the pagans: “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Rom 2:1). Paul exposes their faulty view that they believed themselves to be safe from God’s judgment because they had the Law, circumcision, and bore the name “Jew” (Rom 2:17–29). Paul indicts them saying, “you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples” (Rom 2:21–22)? What is he getting at? The Jews were condemning others, in this case the pagans, for sins that they were committing also. Paul’s point is to demonstrate that God’s righteous judgment falls on all who commit lawlessness, whether Jew or Gentile. The Jews did not regard themselves to be as wicked as the pagans because they had the Law of God, and did not, perhaps, commit the same sins as the Gentiles in Romans 1, but, as Paul points out, they still committed sins that were worthy of punishment.. They presumed upon God’s kindness, but because of their hypocrisy the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles (Rom 2:24).
How was God’s name being blasphemed? It was due to the fact of the Jews not practicing in their own lives what they were condemning others for. This demonstrated that the Jews whom Paul is addressing did not really believe the word of God if they were not willing to adhere to it either. If we believe something is, indeed, true, then it will be evident in how we live. If we, in fact, do not believe it, then it follows that we will not carry out those laws or ideas either. When we say one thing and do another, unbelievers will not take the Christian faith seriously, and rightly so because we do not take it seriously. Friends, do you practice what you preach? Is the Gospel of Christ transforming you by the Spirit of God whereby we despise the sin in our own lives and pray for God’s help to overcome? Is your desire to honor Christ and grow in righteousness, or is your attitude presently that you may continue in your sin because in comparison to others, it’s not as wicked or vile? Do you excuse yourself of your own sin because you have made a profession of faith in Christ and are counted as a child of God? This is what the Jews were doing, and this is what merits Paul’s rebuke toward them. They were condemning others for what they were also doing, but since they were counted as the covenant people of God, they excused their own sins. We know that we will all sin or struggle with sin, but to willingly indulge in it, while pointing the finger at others is hypocrisy.
How often do we attempt to justify our sin by comparing ourselves to others? We may say, “Yes, I have my sin, but its not as bad as what that other person is doing.” Perhaps not, but the point of Paul’s words in Romans 2 is that “we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.” And this is why the apostle goes on to say, “But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God” (Rom 2:2–3)? Granted, Paul is addressing those who relied on their heritage, having the Law, and having the covenant sign as the assurance of their standing before God. Paul is removing any foundation of assurance from them so that he can place before them their only hope, which is Christ (Rom 3:21–31), and so the situation is unbelievers who regard themselves as the people of God. The warning given here should not be ignored though. Sin is offensive to our holy God and instead of indulging in it, we should strive to overcome it. We as Christians know that the judgment of God rightly falls on all who sin. It is hypocritical of us to give ourselves a standard to abide by while rebuking others for another standard.
Dear Christian, God is not mocked. What we sow we will reap. Let us not deceive ourselves and presume upon God’s kindness toward us in Christ so that we excuse the sin in our lives. Remember, He chastens whom He loves (Heb 12:6), and this is for our good, and ultimately for His name’s sake that He is not blasphemed upon the unbelieving world because of our hypocrisy. Consider this, is it excusable to indulge in pornography and rebuke others for sexual immorality? Is it excusable to steal from an employer by being lazy and underperforming your tasks and exhort others saying, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31)? Is it excusable to justify a lie and call others to “speak truth each one of you with his neighbor” (Eph 4:25)? There are a number of examples to give, but the point is that we should seek to practice what we preach or teach to others and not be guilty of blatant hypocrisy.
Friends, to be sure, we will not live this life perfectly. Far from it. Our life as a Christian is one of warring against ourselves and the rudiments of the old nature. At times, we find ourselves doing the very thing we do not want to do (Rom 7:19–20). But, thank the Lord that His mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:22–23), and we have an advocate with the Father and Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1). Friends, our assurance is not in our performance or how well we are doing in our obedience to God, it is only in Christ and in Him alone. It is in light of Christ’s work for us that our heart’s desire should be to honor Him, glorify Him among the unbelieving world, and seek to overcome, by the Spirit’s power, the sins for which Christ suffered so greatly. It is a continuous battle, but it is a battle in which “we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37). Continue to war, dear Christian. Rely on the Holy Spirit alone to do what you in your own strength cannot, and may “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (1 Thess 5:28).