Religious Hypocrisy and God's Judgement

Ted Haggard served as lead pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO, and also presided over the National Association of Evangelicals (30 million members). Married and father of 5, Haggard was named one of the 25 most influential evangelicals by Time magazine. One of the primary themes of his ministry was opposition to the LGBTQ community. Haggard was a vehemently outspoken opponent of gay marriage. 

In 2006, Mike Jones, a gay male escort working in Denver, recognized Haggard on TV. He had no idea Haggard was a pastor until that moment. All he knew was that Ted Haggard was one of his regular clients for the past 3 years, and had also purchased crystal meth from him. After hearing Haggard condemn gays, he exposed him. 

Jones said, ”I had to expose the hypocrisy. He is preaching against gay marriage, but behind everybody's back doing what he's preached against.”

You may not fall into the same snare as Ted Haggard, but in Romans 2, Paul wants us to consider ways we practice religious hypocrisy. He writes: “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” (Rom. 2:1). 

Paul was confronting an attitude of self-righteousness. He had a person in mind who was smug, self-satisfied, and presumptuous; the religious person sitting in the congregation yelling “Amen!” to a message against homosexuality, while secretly losing the battle against lust. Or maybe hitting closer to home, Paul had in mind the double standards we use when condemning others as we excuse ourselves.

In the previous chapter, Paul said, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” He’ll continue to make the argument that all human beings are under God’s wrath apart from Jesus. Our sin has offended him. We’re ungodly. We’re unrighteous—all of us. We’re in trouble. We need Jesus—all of us. 

We may not sin the exact same way the sexually depraved or culturally idolatrous pagans did in chapter one. But make no mistake, we sin. In fact, the catalogue list of sins that closed out chapter one are closer to attitudes than actions. 

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (1:2932)

As Jesus reminded us in the sermon on the mount, the problem with self-righteousness, legalism, and other forms of moralism is not holding too high a view of God’s law. It’s not holding a high enough view. 

Jesus said it’s not just the Charles Mansons and Ted Bundys who are guilty of murder, but a hateful, resentful, vengeful heart. He also puts an attitude of lust on par with adultery. In other words, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees you can forget about heaven.” And if it still doesn’t register, Jesus speaks plainly and directly for stubborn people like us when he says: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). 

The whole message of the sermon on the mount is basically a description of the perfect human being. He is meek and humble. He is the salt of the earth and light of the world. He is honest, generous, kind, and compassionate. He doesn’t revile when persecuted. He’s not an angry, vengeful person. He’s a peacemaker who is pure in heart and blesses instead of cursing. He loves and honors God’s law. He hungers and thirsts after righteousness. He prays for his enemies and turns the other cheek. He fasts and gives to the needy but doesn’t brag about it. His life is one of consistent fruitfulness. Jesus is serving notice that none of us measure up. We’re unrighteous.

Jesus ends his sermon with a warning: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1–2). 

In Romans 2, Paul is piggy-backing on Jesus in confronting religious hypocrisy. That is, condemning in others what you practice yourself. God hates that. If we’re honest, we hate it too, except we don’t recognize it in ourselves. He’s calling us to fight against our religious hypocrisy. To recognize and repent of it.       

Self-righteous religion is just as much a rejection of God and misunderstanding of his character as the pagan idolatry Paul confronts throughout chapter one.

In fact, Tim Keller compares Romans 1 with its scandalous sexual sins as the prodigal son while Romans 2 with its smug self-righteousness as the elder brother.

The younger brother loves sex with prostitutes and squanders the father’s money; he’s licentious, he’s disobedient to his father, he’s materialistic. But then there’s a second son; he’s obedient, and compliant with everything the father says. 

And yet the point of the parable is that they’re both lost and alienated from the father. They both need salvation. Paul is saying exactly the same thing. Romans one is about younger brothers. They’re lost and idolatrous. Romans two is for older brothers, people trying so hard to be good, and who think God owes them because of their moral effort. Both brothers are lost. But only one realized it at the end. 

Sin blinds us to our own faults. We have a tendency to be critical of everybody except ourselves. Like David, we can ignore our sin of taking another man’s wife to satisfy our selfish sexual urges, while raging at a fictitious man who stole a poor man’s pet lamb to entertain a guest at dinner. 

Francis Shaeffer compared Romans 2 to an invisible tape recorder God has put around everybody’s neck. We can’t feel it or see it, but it’s there.

On judgment day when people appear before God, some may say, “You can’t judge me for something I didn’t know or believe in.” But then God is going to unveil our invisible tape recorder and say, “I’m the fairest Judge you could possibly imagine. I’m going to judge you by your own words. This tape recorder only recorded your standards for the people around you. When you said “ought” or “should,” it activated. You set the standard for your own judgment today.” Paul asks: “Do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” No one in history can realistically answer: “Yes.” 

Religious hypocrisy attracts God’s judgment. Apart from Jesus, we’ll all be in God’s crosshairs. But Paul will go on to make the argument that Jesus Christ, the Judge of all the earth, was also the judged. He was the judge who was judged—in our place. He absorbed God’s wrath on our behalf. That’s the gospel! When we realize what Christ has done for us, we can stop condemning others and instead, share the good news with them—because we’ve finally applied it to ourselves.