Judgment on Whom, For What?

It seems to me that there must be times at which we allow ourselves to question virtually everything. Faith, that is, should never be mistaken for a blind acceptance of ideas we have no interest in discovering to be actually true. The questioning today comes at what is the heart of true evangelical faith, and it comes from the Bible itself. Rom. 1:28-2:11:

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

Like a good number of other people, I have begun reading Rob Bell’s cleverly marketed new book, Love Wins. I expect to review it more comprehensively in an upcoming post, either here or elsewhere. For now my interest is in the way Bell begins his argument by calling attention to the tendency of conservative Christians toward identifying those who are in and those who are out of God’s saving enterprise. Whether it is saying a certain prayer, having a particular sort of experience, or practicing certain disciplines, many believers seem to have a standard by which to know who will “go to heaven” and who will not. And many times the benchmarks have little or nothing to do with what happens in this life because salvation is seen almost exclusively as reality for some other time and place.

I say this in light of today’s text for the Thirteenth Day of Lent. It tells us very clearly what is deserving of God’s judgment and what is worthy of His favor; it has little to do with a singular moment of decision and everything to do with ongoing actions, attitudes, and outlooks. So often we have been focused on the prior reference to the condemnation of homosexuality, to the extent that we miss what is the whole point of Paul’s admonition: to reject the ways of God is to place ourselves under His judgment, regardless of the form our particular rebellion takes. Let’s be clear. Envy, maliciousness, gossip, deceit, and the whole lot is just as worthy of condemnation in one group of people as in another. Even more, as though to underscore the point, Paul references those who presume upon the kindness of God to excuse their own participation these practices, foolishly thinking that God’s grace intended is to wink at them rather than change them.

The closing words, that God shows no partiality, must of course be read in the context of all of the biblical witness. But they cannot be dismissed, and ought to challenge us to rethink our experience of His grace and our expectations of what He is looking for. This just might lead us to a more gracious attitude toward drawing lines.