Been reading the Eric Metaxas biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer this week and as I read this passage from Romans, my attention shoots back to Bonhoeffer and his life especially as the Third Reich came to power and his part in the conspiracy against Hitler intensified. The struggles of doing what is good and right in the face of true evil. The inner turmoil that filled the hearts and minds of all involved in the assassination attempts. All of it required human judgment of the evil of Hitler. In the face of evil, it seems almost sinful to take the stance of the modern sentiment, “thou shall not judge.”
Yet we come to the beginning of chapter 2 of Romans where it states, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, everyone of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice such things.” This seems on the surface to back the modern sentiment from above. That the only one who can judge is God. Though, I, wholeheartedly, think this is true, I don’t think it means what postmoderns would claim to be the meaning of judgment. The ESV Study Bible note for this part states: “God does not condemn them merely because they judged others but because they practiced the same sins they condemned in others (the very same things, esp. those mentioned in 1:29-31). All people are without excuse because all, without exception, have sinned against God.” So it seems, at least the ESV translators, that God does not stand for those who judge while doing those very same sins that they are judging others for. The narrowest version of hypocrisy.
However, ultimately, we are all hypocrites because just as soon as we judge, we know that we, too, will be judged by God for our sins, whether they are the same as our brother’s or not. So what does this mean? Don’t judge at all? I don’t think so. If that were the case then we would all be impotent in the face of real evil. Bonhoeffer would have had his hands tied. He couldn’t have judged Hitler for his actions. But he did, and, I too, think it was the will of God that he judge Hitler for his actions. But, as Bonhoeffer constantly showed, it was key to constantly be in repentance and under the divine forgiveness of God so that our wills may be in line with His will, so that we may hate what God hates and love what God loves. However, those who do not constantly seek repentance, are practicing the most hypocritical of all religious activity. They are judging while ignoring their very own judgment before God.
Paul continues by basically addressing the implication of these moralists, do you wish to try and escape the judgment of God or do you intend to presume upon (take for granted) the Lord’s kindness and grace? The reason why obedience so closely follows salvation is because the hugeness and cost of love that is shown to the sinner is so much that it overwhelms us with thankfulness for the gift that has been given. To take that grace and love for granted is to deny the incredible cost of that gift, to, in effect, continue to nail Christ to the cross. All of it is cheap grace if we think we can work our way into salvation or do whatever we want because we are covered by grace after salvation.
God’s action in our lives is always leading us towards repentance like it says in vs. 4. We, too, in our judgment, love, kindness, anger, etc. should model ourselves after God in that we should do nothing unless our response is directing the other towards and repentance and fear of the Lord. If any of our actions betray that result then we are outside the work of God. Oh, how often we do this too!
Verses 6-11 deal with the ultimate judgment of God. Those who seek for “glory and honor and immortality,” or real obedience, to the one true Triune God will be given eternal life in the presence of their King. Those who seek themselves and only what they want will be storing up wrath and fury. We are given an option. Obedience to God and His will, or obedience to ourselves and creation. One leads to a life eternal and one leads to the inevitable works of evil and finally condemnation. Hitler didn’t live in obedience to God and look at his works because of it. Matter of fact, he may have been one of the historical figures that was farthest from the obedience of God, intentionally undoing all goodness and reconciliation. That is why people like Bonhoeffer decided to act in opposition. It was a special grace for Hitler to be taken out at that point, because the fury and wrath of God must have been overbearing for him. That is my mere speculation on the nature of dictators in general.
Paul, once again, places Jews in a prominent spot in the redemptive history, but all who live in obedience to God will have eternal life, because “God shows no partiality.”