[Bible study on Romans – post 3 – I left off in my last post at Romans 1:17.]
Why does this section of Romans keep talking about sin? I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that it’s condemning. And no one likes to have their sin pointed out. That’s not what Paul is doing, though.
You see, no matter how much we to ignore sin, but it doesn’t ignore us. It causes broken relationships, failed marriages, struggling economies, divided nations, wars, debt and bankruptcy, Christians that are a mockery of the Name they claim, and many, many more problems.
Jesus came so that we might have life abundantly… the exact opposite of all that death and destruction I just listed. But He didn’t do that by building a castle in the air that is somehow disconnected with the reality of a sinful earth. He did it by dealing with Sin itself.
Therefore, in order to fully understand and appreciate the magnitude of what Jesus did, it is necessary for us to fully understand the scope of the problem that needed fixing. Imagine a Star Wars movie where Luke merely had a fly a plane over an abandoned field and destroy a nice, large, easy-to-see target sitting undefended in the middle. What kind of a heroic action is that? But no… first the storyline shows us the size of the Death Star… the magnitude of a weapon that can destroy an entire planet with one blast… the minions of star troopers out to do the emporer’s bidding. Only once we see all of that can we understand the importance of what Luke has to do in the end. And only then can we see what a hero he really is.
That’s what Paul’s doing. He’s showing us the size and scope of death, the magnitude of the problem, and the minions of sins that march through our lives wreaking havoc, because only then can we properly appreciate the importance of what Jesus came to do and what a hero He is.
Let’s move on…
The next section of Romans lists all kinds of sin. I’m not going to copy it all here, but go read it. It’s rather interesting that the list starts with things that almost all Christians acknowledge as sin. But then it gets down to more “commonplace” sins–some of them things that very few Christians will actually expend any energy thinking about or acknowledging. In fact, by the time we get down to the end of the list, there’s not a single human on earth that is exempted.
Verses 26 and 28 say “God gave them over.” My interpretation of this is God essentially said, “Fine! If that’s the way you want it!” Sort of like a parent who keeps telling their child over and over again not to do something that they know will cause injury, but the child refuses to acknowledge the parent’s wisdom and authority. So finally the parent backs off and decides to let the child find out the hard way. Sometimes people talk about the conscience dying when someone has participated in some kind of sin for too long, and that may very well be what God is referring to. I know in my own life, if I ignore my conscience (which is quite frequently God’s voice) long enough, it shuts up. Thankfully, when we seek God and long to know His ways, He is fully capable of opening our ears and our minds to hear and be aware of sin that we’ve been participating in for so long that we cease to even think of it as sin.
It’s so easy to read a list like this and notice only the things we don’t do. But how about these?
Full of envy — The church is full of Christians who want someone else’s ministry, or gifts, or walk with God, so we need to be very careful if we think we have no envy in our hearts.
Gossips — Ever notice how fast bad news spreads through many church circles?
Disobedient to parents — We’ve all been in that boat.
Without understanding — How often do we Christians take refuge in our little castle of pride and refuse the least bit of understanding for the world that Jesus died to save?
Untrustworthy — How many of us are guilty of telling someone we’ll do something or be somewhere, and then passing the blame for our own trustworthiness off on “life?” (This is something that God is really working on me about.)
Unloving — 1 Corinthians 13 reminds me how far I am from getting this loving-others-thing down.
Unmerciful — Unfortunately, we, the church, have throughout history been among the least merciful groups of people in the world. Pretty sad, isn’t it? Jesus said that the merciful would obtain mercy; maybe it’s no wonder that the world will extend mercy to just about anyone on earth except Christians.
Then there’s that last verse. “Not only do they do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Humanity does this everywhere, from governments sanctioning homosexuality and murder to churches sanctioning judgement instead of mercy.
Why does Paul provide this list?
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgement, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
– Romans 2:1-3
Can it also be that when Paul says “you who judge practice the same things,” he’s literally saying that if we judge, then we most definitely are practicing the things on that list? (Like being unloving and unmerciful?) That it’s literally impossible for us to judge without sin?
I believe Paul is wanting to really make sure that we fully realize that we’re no different than the group who brought Jesus the woman caught in adultery when He said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7) Jesus didn’t say that what she had been doing wasn’t sin (as some would like for Christianity to say), for God does want us to recognize sin for what it is, hence this list. But Jesus didn’t condemn her for it. God wants us to know that recognizing what sin is and condemning or judging someone for it are two completely different things.
Even more importantly, it is only when we fully realize the completeness of our own sin that we can fully appreciate the depth and value of God’s forgiveness and mercy.
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? – Romans 2:4
I love that verse, though it took me many years to fully appreciate it. I find new and fresh conviction of sin in my life distinctly uncomfortable. It’s not something that feels like the goodness of God, is it? But the more we realize how our sin hurts us more than anything or anyone, the more we realize that the opportunity to repent and turn away from that which is hurting us truly is the goodness of God.
Paul spends a few more verses making sure we know the consequences of sin, and then, in the end, he tacks on this:
There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. – Romans 2:9-11
This is the beginning of another sub-section of this first part of Romans. Paul is still talking about sin, but now he’s going to explain three things:
1) Why the Old Testament law was given.
2) How Jesus came to fulfill it.
3) Why the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice are available to absolutely everyone–even those who were not Jewish and never knew about the Law or tried to keep it to begin with.
I’ll move onto that next!
Go to the index of posts on Romans.