The town I grew up in had a rough reputation. While there were legitimate reasons for the reputation, like most reputations it wasn’t entirely fair. Our high school rivals had quite a different reputation. Manhattan was wealthy, a university town, and much less diverse. The tension between our schools went beyond the typical “our team is better than yours.” They often threw racial and socioeconomic slurs our way. Once at a choir competition, a student from Manhattan approached me. His flirtatious intentions were clear. However, once he learned where I was from his face shifted from a slick, flirty grin to a sneering, condescending smirk. I was not remotely interested in his advances, and yet his “us vs. them” attitude and air of superiority made me feel both angry and inexplicably ashamed.
In Romans 2:1-11, Paul has just finished riling up his readers about the unrighteousness at work in the world. In the latter half of chapter 1, he is explicit about the godlessness and wickedness of people who continually reject God and live any old way they want to. When 2:1-11, the readers might have felt a bit smug. “Well, he’s right. The world is just so awful. Thank God I am not like those sinners.” But then…Bam! Paul knocks them between the eyes, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” Don’t deceive yourself, Paul says. You too are rebellious, unmerciful, self-righteousness, and disobedient. Perhaps it looks different than the folks in chapter 1, but don’t fancy yourself innocent.
Paul goes on to imply that perhaps his listeners are living on cheap grace, showing contempt for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Don’t you know, Paul asks, God’s kindness is intended to lead you toward repentance? God’s forgiveness is not a “wipe your slate clean” card that enables you to continue living however you see fit. It is an unmerited act of mercythat invites us to restore us in ever increasing degrees to our true humanity as we imitate our Lord Jesus.
There is no us/them. God shows no favoritism. We are invited to climb down off our high horse and fall at the Lord’s feet in gratitude for his mercy and in submission to Jesus’ lordship.
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Grace and Peace.