Scripture: Romans 2:1 – 11
Where people prioritise the miraculous instead of service, where they confuse emotional titillation with true worship, and where they confuse their place in the universe as if they are the centre, and not God and how we are interconnected with each other, here we have a corrupted form of Christianity – and spiritualised self-obsession.
Even the none Christian world recognises the risk of the self-obsession.
“Dictionaries (e.g., Dictionary.com/Random House/Collins English Dictionary) define self-absorption unappealingly as “preoccupied with oneself or one’s own affairs,” frequently adding that it’s “to the exclusion of others or the outside world.” That is, self-absorbed individuals typically don’t show much concern about anyone or anything outside their (narrow) self-interest. As such, they typically make little effort to understand others’ thoughts and feelings. And overly focused on themselves, they can easily miss the mark when they try to. (In other words, they generally don’t make the best of friends.)”
“But what’s most fascinating to me here is that I haven’t seen discussed by writers on the subject just how many psychological dysfunctions can be accurately understood as “maladies” of self-absorption. From a variety of phobic, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive impairments, to many depressive disturbances (including bipolar disorder), to various addictions, to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and to most of the personality disorders, self-absorption can be seen as playing a major (if not dominant) role. So any effective treatment of these dysfunctions needs to include significantly reducing these obsessively self-centred—and self-defeating—tendencies.”
“Let’s look first at self-absorption as it moderates nervous, helpless, or shameful feelings in anxiety disorders. And here’s a quotation from Dan Neuharth, PhD, MFT, that specifically refers to narcissistic personality disorders—but in language that's just as applicable to many other psychological disturbances: “Underneath their self-centeredness, they are likely afraid of feeling flawed, powerless, unworthy, or out of control” (as quoted by Laurie Sue Brockway in P&Geveryday.com, 10/01/2014). And I’d add to this, also feeling threatened, vulnerable, and insecure—which I think gets at the very heart of why self-absorption is such a common characteristic in those who harbour such profound doubts about themselves that it impairs their everyday functioning.”
Yet, it appears to me that modern Christianity has become so much about the self. This purpose driven self-absorption creates an environment that feeds the sinful nature and floods our souls with evil tendencies as it becomes all about me.
As said the first week of this series, the Jewish Christians had been expelled from Rome, but now had come back to a more Gentile Church, and this was to them a weaker church, as it had lost some of the Jewish ways. When people moralise, and place false expectation on others it isn’t long before a relational train crashes occur.
If the secular world identifies the damage over selfish people then we need to take the Word of God even more serious, for God sees the damage even more clearly, and the eternal result of living this way.
In his book The Purpose Driven Life Rick Warren perfectly illustrates the ease in which we fall into this way of being, as he promotes it:
Discussing how to pray without ceasing he says that “…You choose a brief sentence – or a simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath: “You are with me.” “I receive your grace” “I am depending on you” “I want to know you” “I belong to you” “Help me to trust you” You can use a short phrase from scripture: “For me to live is Christ.” “You will never leave me” “You are my God” Pray it as often as possible so is it rooted deep in your heart. Just be sure that your motive is to honor God, not control him.”
The problem is that repetition of these prayers focused on “I”, “me”, “want” and “receive” like this is brain washing, and will subconsciously focus everything back to the self and the sense of importance we so easily crave. Here the purpose may not be to manipulate God, but it is to make sure we know God is there for the me and that I know I am important.
This is the tower of Babel all over again.
Point 1: The fly over.
Romans 2:1-3 (NIV) 1 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. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?
Is there a tendency in the faith community to compare ourselves too others, especially if it makes us look more spiritual? Do we see ourselves through the eyes of or doing and need for feeling significant at the cost of another person’s significance?
When we devalue God’s love for us we undervalue how He sees us, but when we see ourselves more significant than others we devalue how God sees them.
We might shake our head at the man caught in an affair, but how often have we been spiritually unfaithful to God tempted by the world’s offering and worshipping other gods? Why do we moralise the physical, but justify the spiritual equivalent?
Paul’s section starts by reminding us that each of us is guilty of sin, and have no right to elevate ourselves above others in worth and value. In God’s economy such judgement is faulty, and must never be pursued. But there is another issue Paul speaks of, as discussed in last week’s lesson, the issue of wickedness and evil, and how we must honourably look at ourselves and consider who we are before God.
Romans 2:4 (NIV) Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
It is easy to compare ourselves to others if the aim is to feel elite or greater than others. But all this leaves us exposed to remaining in selfish denialism, and not open to God’s real purpose for us – to see clearly the state of our own heart and repent.
As verse 2 states “God’s judgement… is based on truth.” Truth is the business of uncovering what is hidden (Alethia), and once exposed, to then deal with it. God’s judgement exists because He loves us and desires for us the possibility of repentance and returning to Him.
Repentance means to rethink and change one’s thinking and behaviour, our “doing and being”. The flow on effect is that our loyalties and our actions move towards the Kingdom of God and away from wickedness, selfishness and corruption.
Romans 2:5-6 (NIV) But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”
Paul talks about what interferes with this process of repentance – it is the hard heart that refuses to rethink and change our direction towards God, that drives us from what is good and beneficial.
Reality is that God must be just, must hold account of our choices and our “doing and being”, because if he doesn’t then his judgement on Adam and Eve would have been faulty justice, and God holds all people to the same standards. God will never allow favouritism in the area of sin and evil – He judges all the same.
When we refuse to move towards the goodness of God we opt to move towards his judgement, and when we choose to come under God’s justice we will be held to account when he judges the living and the dead.
What is interesting is in this section judgement is on our doing. Not because we are saved by works, but true repentance, true changing of ones thinking and moving towards new loyalty to God will be authenticated by how we live. “Faith without works in dead”, belief that does not spill from the soul to the street is merely wishful thinking. Our doing will always prove what is our being, and faith without action is impossible or phoney.
It is possible to “perform miracles”, speak in tongues and claim to walk in the Spirit manifesting great spiritual gifts and yet these can be false and driven by mysticism. But it is not possible to truly repent without it transforming your life and effecting your loyalties. Paul now shows us the real evidence of what faith looks like as it works through our lives, and what selfishness does when it ripens in us.
Romans 2:7-11 (NIV) 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
There are two ways Paul speaks of while we live here and now. The first is one reflecting a life genuinely expressing repentance, the other consumed by selfish attitudes and simple moralistic judgement.
The way of continually being involved in good:
Persistence is the determination to allow something to be completed even in hardship or difficulties. It is the gardener who sweets and labours for the harvest, the builder who works diligently for the home to be completed.
Doing good is to work on what is useful and worthwhile, it seeks to produce what is excellent and beneficial in us and effecting the world we live in.
Seeking glory is to reflect in ever greater ways the fruit of our faith in “doing and being”. As the moon reflects the sun, even though it is a poor reflection, none the less we can know the sun is there by the reflection we see – faith ought to be reflected in our doing and being.
Seeking honour is to pursue a life of dignity and one of value. In business this idea concerns something being of high value and worth its price, in faith it means we are consistent with the faith we claim to hold, producing qualities in us of high value towards God and falling on the street we live in.
Seeking immortality is a bit misleading here, it is not one who pursues living forever but rather one who seeks what endures forever. To be focused on what persists and what is not corruptible. A wonderful foot print that future generations enjoy even if they don’t know whose foot print it is.
All these qualities of genuine repentance and faith are dialectic, always pointing towards God and towards other simultaneously, always horizontal and vertical. Always of the most inner world of our being and yet falling out upon the street we walk on.
The way of pursuing evil:
The way that is corruptive towards God and towards others is the life consumed by self. The ‘Babel’ tower where we will be our own god and our own worshipper simultaneously. Self-seeking is to want what you want at the expense of others, it is the greed of selfish ambition and self-interest. It is the modern “me-ism” at the expense of worship towards God, and care and concern towards others, the demand to have it always “my way”.
The way that rejects the truth is the way that covers up what we choose not to expose. The Greek word for truth here is to uncover, so to refuse to uncover is to hide from what our true condition is, pretending that even God himself can’t see our true state. This stops us from repenting for it keeps us from being honest about how bad we can be.
The way that follows evil is the way that pursues injustice, lawlessness and destructive thinking and behaviour. Evil will turn on God and also turn on others if not restrained. So selfish that injustice is merely a means to an end.
When we choose to pursue such a life that is so selfish that we would reject God and damage those about us, we would pretend to be what we are not so as to suggest to God we are not sinners and lie to others to hide from guilt. When we would reject the way of God and choose to pursue injustice towards others we expose ourselves to the logical outworking of this – distance from God and all He desires for us.
Two paths producing two separate results – as distant from each other as can be expected. One path leads to enjoying God forever, the other path bearing all evil forever.
One path is of those who labour at doing what is useless and worthless in God’s eyes. Lives lived like this will end up consumed with ever increasing separation from good people, good opportunities and hope here and eternally – trouble and distress now and yet to come.
The selfish person who would seek to have it all their own way, blame everyone else, hear only what they want to, or seeks to feel good by using people; is eventually despised as people feel exploited by them. They reject the love for God for the love of themselves, and are comfortable to use people as a commodity. They end up very alone here and now, and eternally isolated from the good things that they sort from at the start – to be loved.
The other path is of those who would pursue what is useful and worthwhile, and seeks to produce what is excellent and beneficial towards God and towards others. To those who allow real faith to be inwards and outwards, towards God and towards others, there is glory, honor and peace.
It is people who love genuinely, who hold to integrity. The one who says “no” to evil and resists it. The one who would be there for you and show care and concern towards you even when it is inconvenient. This person who is relaxed in their faith and at peace with God, is easily loved and sought after by many.
Remember that what is real and genuine what is focused towards God in love and gratitude is reflected outward towards others in what is worthwhile and beneficial. Always horizontal and vertical simultaneously.
Romans 2:11 (NIV) For God does not show favoritism.
Finally, Paul reminds us that the nature of God shows no favours to anyone based upon their own sense of importance. The Jewish believers of the first century believed they were special for the Lord came from them. These Gentiles may be Christian but not our quality of faith.
Egotism does not impress God for He is well aware of our true condition – it is hard to impress someone with a rotten apple or a counterfeit $100 bill when it is exposed for what it is.
God is not impressed with culture, creed, status, colour, whether male or female, or any other measures that humans use against others. He is about genuinely good things that are based on “glory, honor and immortality”.
A self-centred, mean, deceiving, superficial Christian doesn’t get a free ride because of the perceived position they advertise. God is only interested in what is real and genuine. Cheap grace does not exist, but in the mind of the self-absorbed.
God will never be impressed by the superficial or the pretence.
Those Jews who thought they were more special than the gentiles are in fact betraying themselves. Someone who is really aware of the goodness of God towards them knows without a shadow of doubt that they are brought with a high price because of the real condition within all humanity. They refuse to promote themselves above others.
True faith pursues what pleases God genuinely. It expresses itself in ever growing ways that are beneficial and useful towards others.
True faith leads to uniformity in belief and action. It is about reflecting what is important to God here and now, desiring what lasts beyond the moment we live in. It is about the big picture and not the small mindedness of selfish thinking.
True faith is not impressed with the skin-deep. It avoids empty claims of performance and mysticism in favour of service and care of others. It despises the “it’s all about me” while pursuing love towards God and care and concern for others. It engages in saying NO to evil without becoming moralistic and superior. It lives constantly in the attitude of its first repentance and desires it for others.
Faith acknowledges the evil about and within, and does not hide from it or cower in dealing with it. It understands that evil brings wrath and judgement, and confronts it so people might repent and be saved.
True faith is both realistic and courageous. Always towards God and towards others simultaneously.