GOD’S WARNING TO THE SELF-CONVINCED MORALIST
God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 12
Romans 2:1-4 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney
This morning we’re going to look at Romans 2:1-4. As I was preparing for this message, I was
reminded of the humiliating scene found 2 Samuel 12. This unhappy scene immediately follows
David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his clandestine murder of her noble and faithful husband
Uriah (2 Sam. 11). In opening words of 2 Samuel 12 God tells Nathan, a courageous hard-as-nails
prophet, to go to King David and relay a shocking story. Nathan does so without hesitation. Standing
before the king, Nathan shares that there were two men in a certain town. One was rich the other
poor. The rich man owned a great many sheep and cattle. While the poor man owned nothing but a
little lamb he bought. This lamb was very special to the poor man. It grew up with his children, ate
from the man’s own plate and drank from his cup. He cuddled it in his arms like a baby daughter.
One day a guest came to visit the rich man. Instead of killing an animal from his own abundance of
animals, the rich man took the poor man’s little lamb and prepared it for his guest (2 Sam. 12:1-4).
Hearing this, it says David was immediately consumed with moral outrage. He pronounces, As
surely as the Lord lives… any man who would do such a thing deserves to die! (2 Samuel 12:5, NLT).
Nothing in the Law required this for stealing another man’s animal. But David was so furious at what
he’d heard he gives a knee-jerk reaction. Then, as David’s anger quickly cooled, he appealed to
God’s Law which required the repayment of four sheep for the one stolen (Exodus 22:1). He must
repay four lambs to the poor man for the one he stole and for having no pity (2 Sam. 12:6). Then, at
that very moment, Nathan raises a wiry thin arm and points a bony finger in David’s face declaring,
You are that man! (2 Sam. 12:7). God shrewdly exposed David’s hidden sins of adultery, murder
through a parable that He knew would arouse David’s strong sense of justice. In doing so, David
unwittingly condemned himself.
In similar fashion, Paul’s opening words in Romans 1 tell us the revolting story of man’s sin-
sickening depravity that runs through his veins like the sewage lines under a city. Paul puts a safe
distance between the people of Romans 1 and those of Romans 2 by using the third-person personal
pronoun “they” and “them.” They are without excuse (1:20). Even though they knew God, they did
not honor Him as God…They became futile (1:21). They became fools (1:22). They exchanged the
truth of God for a lie (1:26). Then in three downward spiraling steps, Paul says, God gave them over
in the lusts of their hearts to impurity (v.24). Impurity. God gave them over to degrading passions
(v.26). Immorality. God gave them over to a depraved mind (v. 26).
From impurity to immorality to insanity. These are the people we hear about on the news
shaking their fists at God in fierce and violent rebellion, openly defiant, parading their obscene
depravity, applauding, and celebrating evil. These are the shameless governors using Jesus words
Love your neighbor as yourself in order to advertise and promote abortion in non-abortion sates.
Having exposed the ugly stench of man’s moral depravity Paul says, they are without excuse
and worthy of death (Vv.20, 32). Those of us reading Paul’s words are so morally outraged by what
he describes we immediately jump to our feet and shout, Yah! Let them have it God!” Then, Paul
suddenly turns to us pointing a bony apostolic finger in our faces and says in effect, You are the man!
Listen to Paul’s opening words in Romans 2:1-4. Paul imagined those reading chapter one to
say, “That’s not me! I’m not like them! I’m a morally good person.” That’s what you want to think. But
in your heart you know otherwise and so does God. He sees what really going on inside of us. God is
saying in this passage the self-righteous person of chapter two is just as guilty as the immoral person
of chapter one. Paul is describing a sin Jesus spoke against more severely and more directly than
any other sin. It wasn’t any of the sins Paul just got through unpacking, bad as they are. What sin is
Paul talking about? The sin of self-righteousness. Speaking to the pharisees Jesus said, you…
outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matt.
23:28, NLT). Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell? (Matt. 23:33).
This morning we’re going to talk about the hardest person there is to recognize their need of
God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ – the self-righteous, self-convinced, self-deluding moralist. Jesus’
warning is clear – if you think you’re good enough, if you think you don’t need Christ’s forgiveness,
you may fool others and maybe even yourself, but you’re not fooling God. Three Self-deluding
I. We condemn in others what we condone in ourselves. Therefore you have no excuse,
everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for
you who judge practice the same things (Romans 2:1). Paul is not declaring a moratorium on
recognizing right and wrong. He’s not saying we should suspend judgement on what is good and
what is bad. Hardly. That would be foolish. Paul’s saying we shouldn’t be condemning of others.
That’s the word he uses here: that which you judge another, you condemn yourself. Condemn –
κατακρίνω – the idea of making false judgments or unfounded criticisms. Remember, he’s talking to
the person who accuses others of the very thing they excuse in themselves. This is the person who
reasons, “I’m not gossiping. I’m simply sharing a concern.” “I’m don’t have a critical attitude, I’m just
discerning.” “I’m not lying. I’m just stretching the truth.” “I’m not stealing. I’m just borrowing.” We
condemn in others what we condone in ourselves. Know anyone like that? I can tell you this much
about them, they are miserable. We’re never so miserable as when we are looking down our noses
at others. It gives you a pain in the neck. No one likes to be around someone who thinks their
spiritual gift is criticizing others.
I read about a conversation Mark Twain had with a businessman who was know for his
heartless character. “Before I die,” he announced to Twain, “I mean to take a pilgrimage to the Holy
Land. I will climb Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud at the top.” “I have a better
idea,” Twain responded, “You could stay in Boston and keep them.”
Let’s face it. To some degree, we’re all like that. The Bible calls it hypocrisy, meaning we’re
morally inconsistent. We don’t get it right all of the time. We don’t say the right things all time. We
don’t do the right things all the time. We don’t think the right thoughts all the time. We don’t have the
right attitude all the time. Some of us are more consistent than others, but none of us are consistent
all of the time. Truth be known, we fail miserably at times. Don’t miss what Paul is doing here. He’s
not saying we’re perfect. He’s saying don’t act like you’re perfect when you know you’re not. Stop
pretending because you’re not fooling God. Stop nit-picking about the faults of others but
conveniently turning a blind eye to your own. In condoning your sin you show that you neither
understand the nature of sin nor do you take it seriously. You can’t have a real relationship with God if
you’re not honest about your sin. God is not fooled by our self-righteous delusion. With the pure You
show Yourself pure, and with the crooked You show Yourself astute (Psalm 18:26). You can’t
The worse kind of people are those who are filled with self-righteous or religious pride. These
are the folks in Romans 2. They condemn others for their glaring immorality. Since they don’t
practice the same damning sins, they tell themselves they’re not so bad. In truth, what this really
means is they have a selective memory. We forget that while we are pointing our finger at someone
else, the other three are pointing back you us! First sign of being self-deluded: We condemn in
others what we condone in ourselves.
II. We measure others by our own flawed standard. And we know that the judgment of God
rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass
judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the
judgment of God? (Romans 2:2-3). Paul reiterates it is a universally known fact when God condemns
sin, He does so justly. In Romans 1 Paul tells us even those who are committing the worst sins know
God’s judgements against them are right (v.32). If this is true, then why is it we don’t take God’s
judgment seriously? There are at least two reasons for this.
First, we don’t really believe our sin is as bad as God says it is. Most people don’t have a
problem admitting they’re not perfect, they make mistakes, that they’re sinners. It is not difficult for
most to distinguish big sins from little sins. We even agree some sins are worthy of God’s severe
judgment. But where we really struggle is believing lesser sins such as envy, arrogance, telling white
lies, cheating on our taxes are worthy of God’s wrath just like the bigger sins such as murder,
treason, kidnapping, perversion, rape and so on. The simple reason we don’t believe is because we
don’t really believe our sin is as bad as God says it is. We think we’ll escape God’s judgement
because our sin is not nearly as bad as others.
Second, we don’t really believe God’s Word is really God’s Word. It only stands to reason that
if we don’t believe our sin is as bad as God says, then we’re not going to believe much of anything
else He has to say. The bottom line is if we reject God’s perfect standard of judgment then all we
have left is to rely on our own flawed standard instead.
I think part of the reason for our doubt, if not outright unbelief of God’s Word, is it seems like a
lot of people are getting away with a lot of sin. If God really judges sin, then why do so many seem to
be getting off scot-free? Maybe God has a no cash bail? Maybe God has changed His mind about
sin? For many, it seems God has softened and even outright changed His mind about a number of
things He once said in His Word. Maybe marriage isn’t meant to be defined as one man and one
woman. Maybe God has changed His mind about that. Maybe it doesn’t really matter that if you
were born a boy or a girl. You can change to whatever whenever. Maybe God has changed His
mind here as well.
The eternal fact is God’s Word does not change because God does not change. He says what
He means and means what He says. Jesus said God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). He said God’s
Word cannot be broken (John 10:35). That is, it cannot be destroyed. Jesus also said He Himself is
truth (John 14:6). That He is God (John 8:58). And that as God He never changes (Mal. 3:6). Nor
can He lie (Heb. 6:18). It is impossible for Him to do so (Numb. 23:19). Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus
Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). If we say God has changed His
mind about His Word and sin, then we are calling Him a liar and we are calling Jesus a liar. God
warns us in Proverbs, Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do
not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar (Proverbs 30:5-6).
We can never completely rely on our own judgement because we are fundamentally flawed in
our thinking. The other day I was helping set some brackets in cement that would hold the support
beams for a roof. It was important that the brackets be perfectly level. But we couldn’t tell if they
were perfectly level or not by just eyeballing it. We needed a leveler in order to get it right. I was
surprised how far off we were when we thought it was level by just looking at it. What looked
perfectly level to our eyes was in fact way off according to the level. Had we trusted our flawed
judgment in setting the brackets, it would have potentially made the whole structure flawed.
God’s Word is the perfect unchanging level that tells us what truth is and shows us what is not.
The moment you abandon God’s Word and His perfect moral standard it will throw your whole life out
of out of whack. That’s the problem when we measure others by our own flawed standard. It throws
our relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves out of whack.
When Jesus came to the close of His Sermon on the Mount, He said anyone who listens to His
words and put them into practice would be like a man who built his house on a solid rock. When the
rain would come in pounding torrents and floodwaters rise and winds beat against the house, it would
not collapse because it was built on bedrock.
Jesus went on to say that if anyone heard His words and does not put them into practice is
foolish. He would be like a man who built his house on sand. When the rain pounded his home and
the floodwaters surged and the wind beat against it, it will collapse with a might crash (Matt. 7:24-29).
He was saying God’s judgment will not be averted if we base our lives on anything less than His
perfect Word. Build your life on the solid rock of God’s Word and you’ll never regret it. Second sign
of self-delusional thinking is measuring others by our own flawed standard.
III. We take God’s blessings for granted. Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness
and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans
2:4). Paul is answering the age-old question why do so many people live a life of sin and God seems
to bless them instead of judge them? Paul has already partially answered this question in verse three
– because they believe by trusting in the false security of their own imagined self-righteousness they
will escape God’s judgment. In verse four, he answers this question even further. Why is God taking
so long to bring judgement on those who thumb their nose at Him? Why does God continue to bless
them when they don’t deserve it? Paul says God is showering them with His kindness, tolerance, and
patience in order that might come to their senses and turn from their sin. Sometimes God brings
people to Himself by going through trials and difficulties. Sometimes God brings people to Himself
through the abundance of earthly blessings. All of us as believers can look back on our lives and see
God’s kind patience and tolerance where there should have been nothing left of us but a smoking
cinder because of His wrath. Even though we did not take God seriously, He knew there would come
a time when we would. Why is God waiting for others? He is patiently extending the same invitation
of life-changing grace. God is patient not wanting anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9).
The greatest mistake a person can make is taking God’s blessings for granted, thinking that
because God has showered His blessings on them, their good with God. The jolting truth is God’s
wrath presently hangs over them (John 3:36). The Bible is clear that is appointed for man once to die
and then to be judged (Heb. 9:27). God’s judgement is like a damn holding back the growing waters
of His wrath. One day it will burst and there will be no escape.
When God told Noah to build an ark because He was going to flood the world, God waited 120
years before damn of His wrath burst. Why did God wait so long? Grace. When God told Abraham
He was giving him the promise land, God waited 400 years before He did. Why? God was extending
grace to the inhabitants of Canaan before His wrath was unleashed. Why did God warn Israel for 800
long years before He took them in to captivity? Because of the kindness of His patience to get right
God is doing the same today as He has done throughout history. He is pouring out blessing
on both the righteous and unrighteous. We live in what is called the Age of Grace. It is that time
between Jesus rising from the dead and when He returns for His Church. We don’t know how long
this time will be. Only God knows. But we do recognize this – we are quickly nearing the end. I have
one question for you – have you turned from your sin and trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior and
Lord? He is our only hope, our only means of escaping God’s coming wrath. God is not asking you to
change, but to repent and put your trust in Him.
There is an old story, I suppose it is true, that tells of a nomadic tribe that roamed ancient
Russia much like American Indians roamed North America. The tribe that controlled the best hunting
grounds and natural resources was led by a an exceptionally strong and wise chief. His rule was
marked by his great physical strength as well as his great fairness and impartiality.
When a rash of thefts broke out, he proclaimed that if the thief were caught, he would be
punished by ten lashes from the tribal whip master. As the thefts continued, he kept raising the
number of lashes until they reached forty. Everyone knew no one could survive that many lashes
accept one – the chief himself. Finally, to everyone’s surprised dismay, the thief was found. It turned
out to be the chief’s aged mother. Speculation immediately spread through the camp wondering if the
chief would actually pronounce judgement on his own mother. Would he satisfy his love by excusing
her, or would he satisfy his law by sentencing her to almost certain death. True to his integrity, the
chief sentenced her to forty lashes. But true to his love for his mother, just before the whip master
began his torrent of deadly lashes, the chief surrounded his mother’s frail body with his own, taking
the penalty he had sentenced his mother.
In a substantially far greater way, Jesus took our penalty we deserved on the cross. Until He
returns, He is extending His hand of undeserved forgiveness to anyone who will put their trust in Him.