Rom 2:1-4 “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”
We are clearly taught in Matthew (7:16, 7:20, 12:33) and Luke (6:43-45) that a tree is known by the fruit it bears. Some suppose that in this manner we can determine who is and is not a child of God. The assumption is that if we belong to God we will do good. If we do not do good, then we must not belong to Him.
We have only to look to the thief that was crucified with Jesus to see the fallacy of such an opinion. The thief on the right hand of Jesus had, by his own admission, born nothing but corrupt fruit all his life. Therefore, it can be rightly judged that for all of his life, he was a corrupt tree. The people that he had wronged throughout his life may have felt a measure of satisfaction in seeing him thus judged.
By God’s grace, we have a scene described to us that certainly gives every sinner who has felt the weight of his sins a great hope. This man had railed on Jesus to begin with just like the others. Yet, he found himself recognizing that he stood justly condemned and his only hope of salvation was hanging on a cross beside him. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart (whether at an earlier time in life or in that moment), he made request of Jesus that he would be remembered when Christ came into his kingdom (Luke 23:42).
We certainly know when we are seeing corrupt fruit. We have the ability to determine that the tree is corrupt if the fruit is corrupt. What we do not have the ability to do is to recognize the owner of the tree by the manner of fruit. We are inexcusable in our judgement of whether someone else is a child of God because they are sinners.
To so judge others is to forget that we ourselves are sinners. We might look back at the close of the previous chapter and pick out certain things listed there and say, “Well, I am not guilty of that.” However, who can truthfully say that they have never been guilty of envy, debate, boasting, or being disobedient to parents? If what we see of the outward man (and this is all we can see) makes us feel worthy to judge, then we condemn ourselves by the same sinful nature that is condemned in the outward man.
Like Paul, we are sure that the judgement of God is according to truth. By God’s mercy, we are able to see that we are sinners (and not just that “they” are sinners). We have no reason to think that we deserve to escape the judgment of God any more than another. Our only hope of deliverance lies in the same power that delivered the thief on the cross; our Savior, Jesus Christ.
As followers of Christ, we understand the need to repent. What we often overlook is that it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. Repentance is not something we would ever seek if left to our own devices. Certainly, we who have tasted that the Lord is gracious do not despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering.
May we, by God’s mercy, learn the difference between recognizing corrupt fruit and judging the fitness of another to receive His mercy!