Kindness for Repentance
You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.
Romans 1 ended with a long catalog of human wickedness. Chapter 2 begins with the recognition that we might hear such a list as condemning others but excusing ourselves. As a Jew, Paul had heard plenty of condemnation of the Gentiles for their sinful behavior. But he was aware of how easy it was for Jews to minimize or overlook their own wickedness.
It’s natural for human beings to judge the sins of others while excusing their own “minor flaws.” We all do this. It’s a normal defense mechanism, whereby we improve our own self-esteem by magnifying and condemning the wickedness of others while at the same time minimizing and excusing our own. Christians do this all the time, especially as we denounce “worldly” sins while excusing our own more “acceptable” sins of arrogance, pride, or lack of love.
Yet we do this to our peril. When we fail to acknowledge that our sin is just as bad as another’s, we cut ourselves off from God’s forgiveness and healing. I’m not suggesting that our eternal salvation is at risk. But when we don’t confess our sins, we thereby don’t open our lives to God’s restoring work in us.
Moreover, when we obsess about the sins of others, we lose the opportunity to reach out to them with the love of God. It’s only when we freely acknowledge our own failures that people will be able to hear from us the good news of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What sins in other people most bug you? Of what or of whom are you least forgiving? When have you focused on the sins of others to avoid dealing with your own moral failures?
PRAYER: Gracious God, you know my heart even before I begin to pray. Thus you know that there are certain kinds of sins that really bug me. Many of these are not mine. So when I focus on them, I can neatly ignore my own failures. Forgive me, Lord, for my blind self-righteousness and judgmental spirit.
Sometimes, though, I think the sins of others that distress me most are, in fact, similar to my own. But when I focus on other people, I can conveniently ignore my own failures. Help me, Lord, to see others and myself truly, in light of your word. When someone else does irritate me, give me the courage and wisdom to see if this isn’t the very sort of thing I do myself.
Dear Lord, even as I seek to uphold your moral standards for all people, help me to be gracious to all, realizing that all of us are sinners, all in need of your grace. And thank you for that grace given so freely in Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray, Amen.