God’s wrath is taught very clearly in Scripture. Our great problem with it is that we confound it with the spirit of accusation that belongs to the devil, and we show that we do not understand how righteousness, the real thing, interacts with sin. We think we know, but we tend to know only how self-righteousness would deal with unrighteousness.
“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 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” (Rom. 2:1-5).
Summary of the Text
Having indicted the Gentile world, St. Paul turns to the Jews. But it is interesting that as he does so, addressing those who would approve of his treatment of the Gentiles, he speaks to them as “O man” (vv. 1,3). His point in the second chapter is that you Jews have the same problem with sin, “you are men after all,” and you have compounded it with the hypocrisy of a double standard. The Gentile pagan looking at the stars was “without excuse” (1:20). In the same way, this one who would judge the Gentiles is also inexcusable (2:1).Why? Because he does the same things himself. But the judgment of God rests on those who do such things (v. 2), and it is not possible to avert that judgment simply because you disapprove of them on paper. Do you really think, O man, that it is okay with God that you judge those who do such things, while doing the same, that God will let it go? That He will somehow not judge (v. 3)? The absence of judgment thus far is not meant to communicate that all is well. It is meant to lead to repentance (v. 4). To think otherwise is to despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance and longsuffering (v. 4). To resist the plain intentions of God in all this is to treasure up wrath for youself against the day of wrath and revelation of God’s righteous judgments (v. 5).
Before Getting on a High Horse
Paul knows that the despicable behavior of the Gentiles was atrocious in the sight of God, and he said so. But it also knew that it was atrocious in the sight of the Jews, but for completely different reasons. God disapproved of them the way God would.The Jews disapproved of their immoralities the way the devil would, in a spirit of diabolical accusation. Chapter one followed by chapter two was a Pauline set up, and it is a statement of our blindness that we still walk into it. Is the Gentile world, gay pride parades and all, without excuse? Absolutely.They are without excuse in the same way that their evangelical disapprovers are—those who live in the same kind of moral squalor, but with the furniture rearranged.
The Golden Rule Really Is
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, right (Matt. 7:12)? But this is not just a positive statement that can be applied to every aspect of life (Eph. 5:28).We have the most
trouble with the flip side of this expression of God’s character. Just a few verses before the Golden Rule, Jesus unloaded this on us. “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: anda with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matt. 7:1-2). Clearly, Jesus is not prohibiting any form of moral discernment; consider what He requires in v. 15 concerning the false prophets. He is prohibiting the double standard, which keeps others away from addressing my sin by bringing up their sin first.The best defense is a good offense, right? Wrong.
The Cross Conquers Accusation
God really is righteous, and when true righteousness comes into contact with unrighteousness there must be either wrath or mercy. But wrath is not fussy indignation, self-importance, and self-righteousness, the way the devil does. The righteousness of God is not the devil’s bony finger, pointing in accusation (Rev. 12:10). God is righteous.The devil thinks he is righteous.
The whole point of the diabolical is not the Miltonic “evil be thou my good.”The Satanic and diabolical is to believe that you understand righteousness better than God does. Religious people do this all the time, believing that their standards are better, righter, tighter, and more holy than God’s. But this was refuted and destroyed by the cross, when the “righteous accuser” let his hatred get away from him, and perpetrated a gross injustice by executing the world’s only sinless victim.Why would anyone believe the accuser now?Why would we even trust the spirit of accusation?
Remember, You Become What You Worship
This principle is clearly taught by Paul in the first chapter, and he is resting on a long prophetic tradition. This is a fundamental spiritual law. “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness intotheirsoul”(Ps106:15). “Theiridolsaresilverandgold,theworkof men’shands. …They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them” (Ps 115:4-8). “Thus saith the LORD, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?” (Jer. 2:5). “And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them” (2 Kings 17:15). “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved” (Hos. 9:10).
This great principle is not altered if the idol is hidden away where no one knows about it, or pretends not to know about it. We think out “picture of Dorian Gray” is hidden away in the attic, but we can only keep up the pretence for a time.The idol may be hidden in the attic (Dt. 13:6), but our reflection of that idol’s characteristics are out there for all the world to see. You become what you worship, and what you are actually becoming is a public revelation of your true worship. What many call a mid-life crisis is simply idolatry catching up with you. If you are falling apart, don’t waste your time trying to catch and gather the pieces. Destroy the idol.
Now bring this back to Romans 2.The double standard that cheered when Paul lit into the Gentiles means what? It means that while the Gentiles were becoming like Baal, Zeus, and Moloch, the Jews were becoming like the devil. And there is a warning here for us.