Don’t Point the Finger, You Do the Same Thing!

Title: Don’t Point the Finger, You Do the Same Things!

Text: Romans 2:1-18

Time: July 8th, 2006

I hate it when somebody accuses me of something I didn’t do, because then I have to go out of my way to prove my innocence when I have better things to do. Well, for a lot of people reading the Bible, the Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans, accuses them of something they don’t think they’ve done, in chapter two, verse one. After listing a long list of really bad sins, like idolatry and sexual immorality, Paul says in Romans 2:1, “(These sinners are inexcusable) But so are you – and everyone who judges them – because in the things you judge them, you condemn yourselves, because you do the same things.” Now this is where a lot of people check out, leave the discussion, turn the page or keep on reading without giving the verse another thought. Why? Because they know that whomever Paul is speaking to it isn’t them, because they certainly don’t do the same things as Paul just described in chapter one. What people don’t realize is that Paul is not saying that everyone does the very same things outwardly in actions, but he’s saying that everyone does the same things in the heart, everyone sins the same sins in their hearts, although their outward expressions may be different or they may even be able to suppress any visible, outward expression of the sins of their own heart. Now as to why people miss the point of Paul’s message, there is also the problem of translating the original Greek language of the New Testament here in Romans 2. After the long list of sins Paul describes in chapter one, chapter two starts literally, “Therefore, you are without excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” The problem is the “therefore” because it doesn’t seem to logically follow from chapter one, and so going into chapter two we are a little confused. Most people never get the confusion straightened out so they keep on reading and Paul’s message doesn’t sink in and hit home. Some of the more modern translations, the ones that paraphrase more, add an extra introduction to chapter 2:1 that makes it easier to understand, like the NLT, “You may be saying, ‘What terrible people you have been talking about!’ 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 do these very same things.” This helps us understand what Paul is talking about, but then we are forced to deal with that little phrase “for you do these very same things.” What are we to think of what Paul is saying? In chapter one he lists a long list of sins and then in chapter two he tells us that we do the same things. But if we look at the long list of sins from chapter one it’s clear that we don’t do the same things, or as the NLT puts it “the very same things.” What is Paul talking about, because if he’s talking about me doing the very same things as he just described in chapter one, he’s wrong. I know what I do in life, and I don’t claim to be perfect, but I do know that there are things, a lot of things, that he mentions that I’ve never done, nor do I ever intend to do! What does Paul mean when he says we all do the same sins? So this is the question we must answer from Romans 2:1. His message is that nobody can feel self-righteous because everyone is in the same place before God, but it takes a little searching to find out why Paul says that. Let me look at three possible ways we could understand Paul: one, we really literally do act the same way as the most wicked sinners; two, we all sin like everyone else because sin is sin and if you’ve sinned you’ve sinned no matter in what way; three, we do sin the same things in our heart (or we commit the same sins of the heart as the worst sinners).

First, does everyone sin exactly the same way as the worst sinners? Romans 2:1, “Inexcusable, that’s what you are O man, and everyone who judges, because in the things you judge others, you condemn yourself, because you do the same things.” Is Paul saying that we all do the very, exact same things as the sinners described in chapter one? They were idolaters, sexually immoral, and if that weren’t enough, homosexuals. Wicked, evil, greedy, full of envy, murderous, God-haters, ruthless, heartless, inventing new ways of sinning — now does that describe me, you? Paul says that we can’t feel self-righteous because we “do the same things.” Does that mean that we have all been worshipping graven images in idol worship? Does it mean that we have all committed sexual immorality, or homosexuality? Does it mean that you, me, have murdered? Does Paul mean that we have all been God-haters? Now there might be a few of the sins listed that we could all identify with, for example, we might all have been greedy, or maybe are continually greedy in one form or another, but I can’t honestly say that I’ve committed all those sins. In fact, I know for sure that I’ve not committed all those sins, or even most of those sins as Paul describes. Now if Paul is accusing me of committing these particular literal sins, I’m afraid that Paul is wrong. Like I said at the beginning of the message, I hate to be accused of something that I haven’t done, because it puts me in the position of having to prove my innocence. How can I prove unless there are witnesses to testify that at any given time or day I haven’t committed a certain sin listed by Paul? That would be impossible. But all I can say is that from the bottom of my heart in all honesty I can say with a clear conscience, there are sins in Paul’s list that I have literally not committed. I am sure that there are sins in that same list that you could swear under oath in a court room or take a lie-detector test to the effect that you never committed. So then either Paul was flat out wrong or he means something else. Either Paul, and by extension the Holy Spirit who inspired him, is wrong, or he means something else. Well, it can’t be that Paul is wrong, because the Holy Spirit, third person of the Trinity, is never wrong in inspiring the prophetic writers in the Bible. No, Paul is not wrong. It must mean that when he says in Romans 2:1, “Inexcusable, that’s what you are O man, and everyone who judges, because in the things you judge others, you condemn yourself, because you do the same things,” he isn’t talking about literally committing the exact same sins in the way he describes. So what does Paul mean when he says we all commit the same sins? There is another possibility.

Second, maybe everyone sins because sin is sin and once you’ve sinned, you’ve sinned, period. According to the Phillips Modern English translation, Romans 2:1 reads, “Now if you feel inclined to set yourself up as a judge of those who sin, let me assure you, whoever you are, that you are in no position to do so. For at whatever point you condemn others you automatically condemn yourself, since you, the judge, commit the same sins.” Again, we hear the charge at the end of the verse, “you, the judge, commit the same sins.” Now we know that Paul cannot possibly be talking about you and me committing the exact, same, literal sins, because we’ve already found out that we in fact haven’t done that. Maybe Paul is generalizing. Maybe Paul is making a sweeping general statement about sin in general, like, “You can’t condemn others who sin, because you sin too. You can’t point the finger at others as sinners, because you are in one way or another a sinner too.” In the Book of James it says that if you commit one sin, even just one sin, you, generally speaking, have committed them all. James 2:10-11, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.” So according to that general way of putting it, we commit all the sins when we commit just one of the sins. When Paul says “You commit the same sins,” he means not that you have committed the exact, same literal sins as described in the first chapter of Romans, but he means that when you sin in any way, you commit all the sins, because all sin is sin. Now we might take Paul to mean it this way, but he seems to be more specific than just making such a general, sweeping statement. He doesn’t seem to be as specific and literal as to make us all out to be sinners in the exact same way as the specific list described, but he also doesn’t seem to make us sinners in the same way in the general sense, although we are sinners in that general sense, and in the sense James describes it. But Paul seems to be getting at something else, not overly generalizing about our sins, but also not accusing us of the exact, literal sins of the worst sinners mentioned in his list. What could Paul be trying to say? There is a third possibility.

Third, we all do the same sins in the heart (or, we commit the same sins as the worst sinners, in our hearts). Today’s English Version says, “Do you, my friend, pass judgment on others? You have no excuse at all, whoever you are. For when you judge others, but do the same things that they do, you condemn yourself.” Now how can Paul say to us and everyone, we all “do the same things they (the sinners in Paul’s list) do?” He doesn’t mean exact, literal things, and he probably doesn’t mean we do them generally speaking, so he must be talking about the fact that we do the same sins of the heart as the worst sinners do, even if we don’t act out the exact same literal things. Remember Jesus once said that if a man looks at a woman with lust in his heart, he’s already committed adultery with her in his heart? Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Paul is teaching the same thing Jesus taught. Sin starts in the heart and works outward from the inside out. When Paul says “You do the same things,” he means “You commit the same root sins in your heart.” In that sense, everyone sins just the same way as the worst sinners. We all have the same root sins at work in our hearts, although we may not let that sin express itself to the same degree as the worst sinners. Jesus also taught in Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” Paul teaches the same thing because one of the extremely evil and wicked sins in his list is murder, yet he accuses all of us of murder by saying, “You do the same things.” Now most of us have never literally committed the sin of physical murder, but all of us have had anger or hatred toward someone, which according to Jesus, is the root of the sin of murder. Probably most of us have never allowed that root sin of anger in our heart to fulfill itself in actual, physical murder, but we commit the same sin when we harbor hateful murderous thoughts in our heart. Nobody can point the finger at anyone and say, “You are a murderer,” because we have all committed the sin of murder in our heart. We have all done the very sin from which physical murder starts; we’ve just contained our heart sin better in not letting it break out into the open. But we have no justification for self-righteousness or pride, just as an actual, literal murderer cannot point the finger at a mass-murderer and feel self-righteous because he’s only killed one person as opposed to the mass-murderer who has killed twenty.

Now we can make perfect sense of what Paul is saying when he says in Romans 2:1, “(These sinners are inexcusable) But so are you – and everyone who judges them – because in the things you judge them, you condemn yourselves, because you do the same things.” There is no room for self-righteousness, no room for spiritual pride, even if we have not committed the really bad sins, because in reality, we have committed the really bad sins – in our heart. Paul is not saying that we have sinned generally speaking like the worst sinners, he’s saying that we have actually sinned the very same sins as the worst sinners, not in the open, not visibly, but secretly, invisible in the heart. If we were to take the time to go through each and every sin in Paul’s list of really bad sins, we would find out that we all harbor them in our hearts. Or in other words, we all do the very same things, commit the very same sins, in our heart. For example, one of the most vile sins Paul mentions is sexual perversion and homosexuality. But what exactly is homosexuality? It is an extreme perversion of sexual immorality. What is sexual immorality? It is an expression of lust in the heart. Jesus teaches us that we can commit adultery simply by lusting in the heart. Homosexuality is a form of lust of the heart. It is a perverted lust, not even simple lust, but twisted lust, but still lust. Now most people don’t carry their lusts as far as homosexuality, but many people carry their lusts as far as adultery if they are married, or fornication if they are single. But the same root sin is lust in the heart. That is the sin that Paul says that we all do the same thing, we all commit the sin of lust in our heart, even if we contain it within our heart and mind and never let it break out into full-blown perversion, such as homosexuality, or even let it slip out in adultery or fornication. Nobody can take pride in that they haven’t committed a certain sin, because they have committed all the sins in their heart even if they haven’t given their sins full expression. In Romans 1:26, Paul says, “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.” Or in other words, God let them go and didn’t try to intervene and stop them, and so let the lusts of their heart runs wild in all kinds of sexual perversions. “Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.” Now how can Paul warn against anyone feeling self-righteous and proud about being holier than thou? By reminding everyone that the same lust of the heart that produces sexual perversion exists in the heart of everyone. Anyone is capable of giving full expression of the sin of lust if they give themselves over to it. We are all called by God to resist sin, fight against it, not give in to it, but we are also called by God to be humble of heart, and not think that because we have hidden our sins away in our heart that we are holy. No. We are just as guilty as the most wicked sinners, because God is going to judge the heart of everyone.

In Romans 2:2-3, Paul says, “Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment against them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” Now it’s possible to understand God’s judgment as a judgment of the heart. And if it’s a judgment of the heart, then since everyone does the same sinful things in the heart, everyone deserves God’s judgment. That’s contrary to what the self-righteous believe, because they believe that because they aren’t as evil, wicked, and sinful as others, they will escape God’s judgment. They believe that because they haven’t literally committed the very list of sins that Paul describes, especially the really bad ones of murder and sexual immorality, they believe that their holiness will save them from God’s judgment. But just as Paul explained, they and everyone else commits the very same sins in the heart, and it is in the heart that God will judge sin. It is primarily in the heart that God will judge sin, and not on the external expressions. “So when you, a mere man, pass judgment,” becomes an exercise in futility because men cannot see into the heart, they can only see what is visible and external. That is why men cannot pass righteous judgment because they cannot see the condition of the heart. Only God can pass righteous judgment because only God can examine the total contents of one’s heart. That’s what Paul means when he says, “Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.” Only God can see the root sins of the heart, and it is the root sins of the heart that are enough to bring God’s judgment. That’s why there can be nobody self-righteous, there can be no proud people before God, because everyone has heart sin even if they are able to hide it away and keep it out of visible detection. God sees the heart, He alone knows the sins of each person’s heart. In verse 4 Paul says, “or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?” In other words, “God has not brought judgment and condemnation on the wildest sinner nor the most self-righteous hypocrite, because out of kindness he is holding off Judgment Day in the hopes that both kinds will confess their sins and repent.” Ironically, the extreme sinner is probably in a better place to be convicted of his sins, confess them, and repent. While the self-righteous, holier-than-thou hypocrite probably cannot be convinced that he needs to repent of anything. That’s why Paul spends so much time convincing the self-righteous that they too need to repent before God.

Which are you? Are you the wild sinner or the self-righteous and spiritually proud sinner? Or are you a little bit of both at times? Even sinners can be proud at times that they are not as sinful as other sinners. The really obvious sinners are easiest to spot, but the holier-than-thou sinners are often difficult to detect. The fact is whether a person is visible in their sinning or keep their sins to themselves, we all sin and we all face God’s righteous judgment, and that means we all need salvation. The Apostle in the first two chapters of the Book of Romans is trying to show how everyone is in need of salvation because everyone is guilty of sin and everyone is heading toward judgment. Now the law-abiding Jews could easily see how the pagan sinners were guilty of sin and headed towards judgment and in need of salvation, but it was difficult for them to believe that they needed salvation. They weren’t as sinful as the pagans. They knew the law of God and observed it. But as Paul describes, simply observing the outward aspects of the law is not enough. The Jews were fulfilling the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. They were refraining from committing literal adultery, but they were committing inner adultery of the heart. They didn’t think anything wrong with that because they thought observing the outward, visible aspects of the law was enough. But Jesus taught — and after him the Apostle Paul — that to fulfill the law means to fulfill it inside and out, from the heart all the way through to the mind and body. “And you shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,” was the command that every Jew had to follow. But they had settled for the external fulfillment of it rather than the wholehearted fulfillment of it. That’s why they could mistake outer conformity to the law for true holiness. That’s why they could sit in judgment on pagan sinners. That’s why they could think they had nothing to fear at Judgment Day, while all the time they in fact faced as fierce a judgment as the pagans because of the sinful condition of their heart. Paul is trying to get everyone to realize that no matter who you are, how much you know the law of God, no matter how good you are fulfilling the law, your heart is the problem, sins of the heart bring God’s judgment, and therefore everyone, pagan sinner or Jewish law-abiding believer, everyone needs salvation through Jesus Christ. Jew and pagan Gentile all together need a Savior, without whom nobody will make it past Judgment Day. Have you admitted your need for the Savior? Have you confessed the sins of your heart? Have you repented of those sins? Have you trusted the Lord Jesus as your Savior? Jesus is the only one who can save you from your sins.

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