What to do with Sinful People?
Romans 1:28-32 (ESV)
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Sinful people – we all know people who we categorize as the sinful people. Sinful to a point that according to the book of Romans, God gave them up to their debased (foolish thinking) mind. And then Paul enumerates how sinful they are:
- filled with all manner of unrighteousness
- malicious behavior
- back stabbers
- haters of God
- insolent, haughty, boastful, invents evil
- disobedient to parents
- foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless
Imagine the conservative list Paul gave us. Reading through it, you might feel a righteous surge and declare “I will never be like them!”
A picture of a wicked, ruthless person like Adolf Hitler might pop into our mind when we look at the list. But…..
Then we reach chapter 2 of Romans.
Romans 2:1-4 (MSG)
2 1-2 Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.
3-4 You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.
But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. (Romans 2:1) In passing judgment, we tend to be quick to judge others on their sins than ours. We see their sin as more dangerous than our sin.
Romans 2 tells me I am one of the worst sinners in history! When I posted a picture of Hitler and say that is wicked, I am passing judgment to myself. God knows my sin and God knows my capacity to sin. And in light of Romans 2, I should know that I have the capacity to sin like any sinful people out there that I judge.
When Paul wrote about passing judgment to others, it wasn’t saying that we approve those who sin. It means that we have a particular attitude of self-righteousness saying, “You are the worst sinner, and it makes me feel better” In other words, to “pass judgment” is to believe that others are worthy of God’s judgment while you are not. (Keller, Location 511)
In light of Romans chapter 1 (I blogged about it here and here) and Romans chapter 2:1-16, we then see that we are in the same predicament. We are all sinners ( the blatant unrighteous and the self-righteous group). We make light of the Lord’s kindness and mercy by boasting about how better off we are than the others who blatantly rebels against God. In our self-righteousness, we project a life where we don’t need God because, on my self-will, I can be a good Christian. Our idolatry might not be external (sexual immorality, worship of images, being overly ambitious) but idols that are lodged in our hearts.
In our self-righteousness, we project a life where we don’t need God because, on my self-will, I can be a good Christian. Our idolatry might not be external (sexual immorality, worship of images, being overly ambitious) but idols that are lodged in our hearts. We find our worth in how good we are, how holy we seem to be externally – thinking this will save us from the wrath of God. But check out verse 5 as Paul addresses our self-righteous tendencies:
Romans 2:5 ESV 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
Summary and points to ponder:
Before I pass judgment to how sinful people are around me, I first need to look in the mirror and ask myself – what are the idols in my heart that must be tackled? Is there a need for me to remind myself of how I need to live under God’s grace in areas in my life where I think I don’t need him anymore? As I encounter people who blatantly sins against God – I should be reminded to treat them with love and grace the same way God treats me with His grace and mercy every day because of my self-righteous tendencies.