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I’ll Be the Judge of That


Or, Man’s Incriminating Morality
Romans 2:1-4
November 7, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins



Introduction

It’s been said that the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. That has some truth in it, but there is a related second-cousin axiom, that the more you know, the more you realize how much other people are wrong. The Information Age has increased the amount of information we have to judge others with.

This fault-finding bent is a corruption of the imago Dei in all of us. As much as homosexuality is a front-door assault on any reminder of the righteous Creator, so a critical sprit is like mirroring God, He who is the righteous Judge, under six feet of motor oil. We’ve really have done it; mankind has lowered the standard of what it means to be God so successfully that not only can we define good and evil like a god, we have also rigged it so that it’s always someone else doing the evil. It’s not whether or not there will be judges, but what degree of hypocrisy can cover your judgy-pants.

Paul moves from describing obviously immoral men to addressing ostensibly moral men. An immoral man might try to present himself as an honest thief or as a man-she, a “moral” man proclaims himself as judge and jury. It’s genius, even inspired, how he does so. A “therefore” bridges what we have as a chapter break between Romans 1 and 2, arguing from those abandoned to their own lusts without excuse to those living according to their own laws without excuse. The immoral know better than they act, the moral prove their guilt as they judge.

Who are these judgy-pants persons? Are they Jews rather than Gentile/Roman pagans? Paul calls Jews out by name in verse 17, and contrasts the Jews with the Gentiles before that (verses 9-11), so it’s not clear that he constrains his concerns to Jews. Are these “conservative” pagans? Maybe, though any conservatism is hypocritical because, as Paul points out, they do the things they denounce. Are they the abandoned, debased-mind, fully oblivious to the irony of their cognitive dissonance pagains? It applies to all of them, to any man making judgments of others. If the gavel hits, you can’t acquit.

While I don’t think that this paragraph is about Christians, we do know that sin still dwells in our members (Romans 8:23), so you can find church ladies of both sexes wearing judgy-pants as well.

For Paul’s purpose starting in Romans 2:1, it doesn’t matter what their (ethnic or religious) identity is, and it doesn’t even matter what standard they use. The judging habit incriminates them. It would be like a man claiming he’s not bound by Constitution law pleading the fifth (amendment). His appeal to the law shows he’s under it.

It’s worth a moment, for your edification, to ask if Romans 1:28-32 or 2:1-4 (and following) better describes our current cultural condition. My pastoral perspective says that it’s this paragraph. Self-righteousness is a cardinal reality and just a different sort of threat than unrighteousness. It is always harder to repent from what you judge to be your virtue. The majority of our neighbors and nation love judging the sins of others, and that doesn’t require agreeing on what sins are.

The Caesars were wicked, yet the wise knew that the emperor had no clothes. Today we have our own little Caesars, holding court wherever we think we can, and the yet the judgy-pants have no pants, or no leg to stand on.

No Excuse for Judging (verses 1-2)

Unlike the descriptions of the revelation of God’s wrath, chapter two is more personal; it’s second-person.

Therefore, O man, every judging-one, you are without excuse, for you judge yourself in which you judge another, for the judging-one does the same things.

Some form of “judge” is found four times in this first verse (four more times in the next three verses, along with a couple more related ideas). Paul isn’t writing to a specific man, he is writing to a specific type of man. The type of man he’s talking to is the type who heard the second half of chapter one and thought, “Thank you that I am not like other men” (see Luke 18:11). It’s the type who says, “I’ll be the judge of that.” Paul pokes all the self-justifying judgy-pants.

This judging is both externally-critical and internally-congratulatory. Looking down on others is an indulgence of the flesh. Those who bite and devour one another (Galatians 5:15), those with enmity, strife, jealously, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions (Galatians 5:20), presume that they are on the right side of histrionics.

Such a judging-one of another, ironically judges, as in incriminates, his own self. This is what makes him “without excuse,” or without any reasonable defense. All the evidence is provided by the judge; the proof is in the reproof. When he sits in the judge’s seat he’s proven the point. He tweeted a snarky comment about election integrity while his porn video played in the next tab.

Verse 2 contrasts the hypocritical and self-admiring judgment of man with the holy and accurate judgment of God.

But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth on the ones-doing these things.

The men abandoned to irrational relationships and debased behavior know God (Romans 1:21), they know that God has standards, and they even know the consequences of breaking those standards: death (Romans 1:32). Maybe they lie about what they know; their world is constructed of lies, they have virtual-pretend land together. But Paul cuts to the consciences: God judges the doing-ones and it is “according to truth” (without the definite article in Greek, “truth” refers not to a set of statutes but to the sphere of non-fiction). The ESV’s “judgment rightly falls” is relevant but not a good translation. The stress here is not on a deserved sentence but on the objective standard.

Men are imprisoned by their subjective-turned-relativistic morals. They gave up norms. They have a conflict of interest in any discussion about norms. They invent codes so that they don’t have to acknowledge a Creator, and their codes conveniently cover their own behavior and condemn others. The fact that they judge at all condemns them, at least IRL (in real life) where God exists.

No Escape from Judgment (verses 3-4)

The next two sentences build on the reality with a couple rhetorical questions. Verse 3 adds no new terms to the discussion except to poke at the irrationality of their Tartufferie (religious hypocrisy, pretending excellence of any kind, from a 1664 book titled, Tartuffe).

But, O man, a judging-one of the doing-ones and (also) a doing-one of the same things (yourself), do you judge(reckon) that you will escape the judgment of God?

O Log-eyed one, just because you can’t see, do you really think that God can’t see? The “suppose” (NAS, ESV) is too weak; do you reason, do you calculate (NIV), do you reckon? Paul says, do the math, O man. Judge is a synonym here. Of course, the judging mechanism is broken. There is no justification for his faith that he can flee from God finding him out.

Maybe what is most surprising is where Paul pushes the judgy-pants next.

Or do you judge(despise) the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not judging(knowing) that God’s kindness leads you to repentance?

Of all the measures to shut down, or shut-up, hypocritical judges and self-serving definitions of justice, wouldn’t this be a golden moment to spotlight God’s omniscience and purity? Focus on the righteousness of God being revealed in His Law, underline His authority. God is “the judge of all” (Hebrews 12:23). God “will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth” (1 Samuel 2:10).

Instead Paul calls attention to the riches of God’s kindness. The platform for calling out the aspiring judges is how much gift God has given.

Our culture’s reckless game to be RIGHT and to have the upper hand of criticism and the power to cancel others is, perhaps, the second step away from image-bearing. The first step, perhaps, were Christians who love to administer correction more than kindness.

Kindness separated from righteousness is like a sentimental unicorn-tear that dries up faster than rubbing alcohol. But the truth-lovers tend to get stuck in two-dimensions. They’re busy trying to write down the definition of kindness in their journal while yelling at their kids because they can’t hear the preacher in the podcast.

Christians want to be godly, and godly “in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Good. What would be godly? Well, how does God respond to men in the present age? To disobedient men? To men who ignore, or hate, the image of God in them?

God’s arsenal of responses is full of riches, He has more responses than unique snowflakes in His storehouses (Job 38:22). His repertoire of responses is not thin, narrow, cheap; it’s treasure. His name is set aside, used in vain, misrepresented, and though we have no power to keep ourselves from being plunged into the bottomless gulf of judgment any more than “a spider’s web would…stop a falling rock” (per Jonathan Edwards), most of the time He keeps showing kindness, forbearance (a temporary tolerance), and patience (a long, not short temper).

God’s kindness, His gifts, are meant to lead you to repentance. It is not the only medium He has, but it is what Paul says, in a context where people are climbing over one another to be correct. They are “not knowing” this truth. Justice may be blind, but a judge shouldn’t be. They are blind to the kindness.

Pastors have taught their people to be unkind truth-judges, both by being unkind truth-judges and by representing God Himself as the unkind Truth-Judge. We present the good news as God’s power to make us correct. We have not learned from God, which we should, that He teaches patiently, He transforms us with kindness, not so that we will finally deserve kindness.

The reason that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20) is because that’s not how God does it either.

When we point out God’s kindness, and when we call others to repent, we are calling them to give up their virtues, to let go of their luxury. They need to change their mind, and that takes a God-thing.

As just one application example, parents, do you lead your children to repentance by warm bread, buttered and honeyed? You ask them to sing after spanking to check their hearts; can you sing while you’re on your way to spank them?

Conclusion

Our culture prizes virtue-signaling and BLM protests, vaccine shaming and mandates, Critical Race Theory, anti-rich and anti-privilege sentiment. Parents called domestic terrorists for (now) speaking up about their student’s curriculum. It was just more tedious, but better, when criticisms were just about where you bought your coffee. So many of today’s “standards” are invented and manipulated, by individual fiat or mob. They are relative, reactive, reversible. They are also religious. They have their own doctrines, symbols, songs, and ceremonies (see for example, Voddie Baucham’s observations in Chapter 4 of Faultlines). Having rejected God, they play god; judging others is one of the most godlike feelings you can enjoy, even though it’s self-incriminating.

If, as a Christian, you can get some perspective, with patience, you might be able to kindly point out the inconsistencies (and incrimination) of when another person judges you as the hater. Their condemnation of you is a kind of common ground you can both start from.

Our so-called cultural virtues are proof of our cultural judgment, and our need salvation by faith just as much as those who embrace their vices.


Charge

The present evil age is full of so-called justice warriors who couldn’t hang their standards of justice on a transcendent hook if you gave them a ride on an Elon rocket. That doesn’t stop them from complaining and canceling with the energy of rocket fuel. But you, Christian, have been delivered not only from their accusations, you have been delivered from accusing like them. You have the eternal Father’s kindness, so put it on as His chosen ones (Colossians 3:12).

Benediction:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3–5, ESV)