Today we read Romans 2. At the end of Chapter 1, Paul told his readers that people who fall into persistent sin might be left to their own choices by God. Paul tells the readers that by not speaking out against sin a person can fall in to error by allowing it to appear as though they approve of those who engaged in sin.
Paul now changes direction and illuminates the other side of the coin. While it is important to identify sin to do so while committing sins of your own is hypocrisy. Paul writes:
1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.
That’s fair enough, I don’t think anyone would really take issue with that, but look at what Paul says next:
3 Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
Read that carefully, think about and pray about what Paul is saying. He says that one cannot “presume upon” God’s “kindness and forbearance and patience”, to escape judgement. In other words, you cannot assume that because you’re a Christian you are forgiven. Or more correctly, you can’t presume that because you are a Christian your current sins a automatically forgiven. You must continuously actively repent. This verse alone is enough to capsize the idea of ‘once save, always saved’.
Furthermore, this passage addresses the common question of why as Catholics we must confess our sins to a priest. When someone asks, “Why do I have to go to a Priest? Why can’t I go straight to God for forgiveness of my sins?” Part of the answer is that when you as an individual you “go straight to God”, even if you are genuinely sorry, you are at least partially presuming upon God’s kindness, forbearance and patience, something Paul tells us that you are not allowed to do. Combine this verse with:
– what we read in Matthew 9, that the power to forgive sins have been given to MEN (plural), and
– what Jesus says in Matthew 16 that what the Apostles bind on earth in bound in heaven and what they loose on earth is loosed in heaven, and later He tells the Apostles “whose sins you forgive are forgiven and whose sins you retain are retained.”
– remember that Paul says that when an Apostle speaks it, “is the same as a commandment of the Lord”
Thus the totality of the Biblical evidence demonstrates a strong case for confession to a priest. We see that going to a Priest is necessary because they have authority to forgive sins and we have to demonstrate true repentance by humbling ourselves so as not to presume upon God’s kindness, forbearance and patience.
Also, Paul makes plain in this Chapter that it is works, not faith, for which you will be rewarded in Heaven:
5 But by 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 For he will render to every man 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 factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, 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.
As always when we discuss works, I try to remind everyone of the caveat – Faith is presupposed. We do not earn our way into heaven through works, but faith makes our works meritorious in the eyes of God. So our works store up for us treasure in heaven, but just as it would be wrong to presume forgiveness, it would be equally wrong to presume that because of works we are “owed” eternal life. We must seek the Lord with a humble heart.
Paul make two other points we must address. First, he makes the point that even for those who do not believe, conscience will be there judge:
14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Thus Paul says that for all men the law of God is written on their hearts. Importantly, he says that on the day of judgement their conscience will either convict OR excuse them. This is an important point to understand. Remember a while ago when the Pope said Atheists might go to heaven? This is what he was talking about. A person who pursues after God but honestly can’t intellectually bring himself to believe is vastly different from someone who rejects the existence of God because they desire to live a sinful lifestyle. Presuming the honest intellectual lives his life as best they can one will have their conscience convict them while the other it will acquit. This principle is true for all of us to one degree or another. God will judge perfectly.
Finally, there is this very important admonition form Paul:
22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Thus it is the falsely pious person that caused unbelief to spread. It is the hypocrite that causes scandal that the unbelievers latch onto for justification to deny God. Thus, your life is an important example to others. As a Christian how you carry yourself is important. As the saying goes, “Preach the gospel always, when necessary use words.”