Read This Week’s Passage: Romans 2:1–3:18

The Trap

Ethnic, racial, or religious superiority is a serious spiritual danger. It’s dangerous because it involves self-deception. It manipulates our perception of reality so that we can see acutely the errors of others, while simultaneously we become blind to our own faults. Then we come to believe that we don’t need God’s mercy and that others don’t deserve His mercy. Paul found that many Israelites and moralizing Gentiles had fallen into this fatal deception. He sought to overcome the deception with a brilliant rhetorical trap.

His trap involved talking about the wrath-generating, gross immorality of the Greeks (Romans 1:18–32). A Jewish and moralizing Greek audience would have been cheering him on with a chorus of hearty amens. At exactly the moment when Paul knew he had his audience on his side, he said, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1). Ouch! That hurts.

Paul knew the reality of human nature. He knew that hearing God’s law isn’t the same as fulfilling it and knowing what is right is different than doing right (Romans 2:13). He knew that God’s judgment isn’t based on our profession, it “is according to truth” (Romans 2:2), and the truth is that all of us, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin (Romans 3:9).

Paul’s point in Romans 2:1–3:20 is that sin is a universal problem, and no group can hide from sin by claims of ethnic, racial, or religious superiority.