NO EXCUSE FOR SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS: IT’S HYPOCRITICAL
In the first chapter of Romans, Paul presents the need of the Gospel for corrupt sinners. He lists the sins of the rebellious. These verses make us feel like we’ve reached the depths of depravity. In chapter two, the Apostle presents the need of the Gospel for cultured sinners. He lists the sins of the religious. These verses take us to the heights of hypocrisy.
In that pagan world there were the scoundrels who practiced depravity, but also the sophisticated who practiced morality. Chapter one tells us there are none so rotten that they cannot be saved and chapter two tells us there are none so righteous that they need not be saved.
Over and over, Jesus confronted the self-righteous crowd. They hated Him and nailed Him to a cross. Do you wonder why they scorned Him? Because He repeatedly called them hypocrites! It is hypocrisy that Paul is addressing in his salvo unleashed on self-righteousness in Romans 2.
The word in Greek is hypokrites—a theatrical term meaning “to wear a mask.” There is an icon used to symbolize the theater—two masks—one smiling, one frowning. In Greek plays, the actors would put on a mask to play their role. How many are in churches today—including the congregation you and I attend—who are wearing a religious mask, while underneath is a heart empty of the grace of God?
The absence of grace can be detected. Paul tells us how.
• They are outraged by the sins of others, while oblivious to their own: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” (v.1). We may excuse our sin as a slip, a mistake, but God will accept no excuses. The Judge will hear a confession, but that is something the self-righteous loathe to do.
• They are quick to condemn in others what is concealed in their own heart “But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.” (v.2). It says that God’s judgment will be “according to truth.” God will use the plumb line of truth to check your alignment—and the crookedness will be evident. The Building Inspector will condemn the little play house you have constructed as unfit for eternal occupation!
• The self-righteous man likes to compare himself with others. “And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?” (v.3) He is judgmental toward others because that makes him feel better about himself. But God doesn’t grade on the curve. Religious folk protest, “I’m a good person!” “I don’t commit adultery. I haven’t murdered anyone.” Jesus said that lust and hate in your heart are the same—and who has not had an outbreak of that malady?
• Religious folk are often respectable—they aren’t the drunk in the gutter wallowing in vomit or a prostitute at some seedy motel who feeds her drug habit by selling her body. Instead, they may be respected in the community, successful in business and hold office in the church. They have their act together and it would seem that the hand of God is upon them. Indeed, it is! This is the blessing of God, but their self-righteousness blinds them to the intent of such grace. They think it is a reward for being good. Here is the reality: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" (v.4).
So, Mr. or Ms. Self-Righteous Hypocrite, won’t you assume the position of a beggar, admit your utter depravity, acknowledge your moral bankruptcy and humbly cry out for Christ to save you? There’s room at the cross for you—unless your ego is too inflated to come to that place of death to self-centeredness and worldly status.