I like the straight-forward way Paul teaches. In his letter to the Roman church, he really gets down-and-dirty with the believers, dealing with their misunderstanding of God's grace. As he opens the letter, he lays out the plain truth - you cannot somehow deny God exists just by giving another explanation for how things came to be. In fact, he points out the silliness of trying to make God anything less than God. In response to mankind refusing to acknowledge God, Paul tells us God sets man free to follow their own devices. Oh, what a dangerous place to be! Mankind usually messes things up pretty well when they are left to their own ways of doing things. Then, he turns our attention to the idea of comparing ourselves with others. When he opens the second chapter, he tells us we cannot have the warped thinking that we are "better" than another just because we don't do some of the things they do. The telling words, "Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself," is simply the old adage, "It takes one to know one". If we really begin to pay attention to what he says in this second chapter, we might just have our eyes opened a little to some behavior on our part which really only serves to deny our need for a Savior.
You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change. (Romans 2:3-4 MSG)
As he opens this chapter, he reminds us: Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done. (vs. 2 MSG) When we want to "escape detection" for our own wrong-doing, don't we try to turn the attention to another's short-comings? It is an age-old "trick" to attempt to avoid discovery on our part. The truth - God is not "tricked" by our "diversionary" actions! Smoke screens don't limit his ability to see - they just make us feel better because we think we have things concealed!
Why do we "point fingers" or "come down hard" on the behavior of others which we see in ourselves? Probably one of the most common reasons is it takes the attention away from us, but I also think it is because we really know the behavior we see in them doesn't "belong" in either of us! Paul's purpose in writing to the Roman church is to point them toward the grace of God - taking the focus off of what we do or don't do, turning it squarely on what God does when we give him free access to our hearts, minds, and spirits. The truth is, we can go about "covering up" by all kinds of means, but nothing will "deal" with the problem like grace.
The point I want to focus on this morning is the final words of the passage above: In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change. Let's break this down a little:
* It is God's kindness which motivates him to act on our behalf. His compassion moves his heart. There is nothing "good" in us which plays upon his heart -- he is moved because he knows the condition of our heart without him!
* He has to take us firmly by the hand. Now, if you have ever had children just chatting at the bit to go one way when you wanted them to go the opposite direction, you probably have a pretty good handle on what this means. You have to be quite firm with them, don't you? As a parent, you don't get down on your knees and beg the child to go the direction you want them to go. You take them by the hand and you "usher" them, don't you? You "lead" them - not by pushing, but by being "directive" in your touch. Most of us need a "firm grip" to get us moving in the right direction, don't we? We'd be content to just muddle in our mess a little longer, but God knows when it is time to move out of the mire and into the freshness of his care. We often need a little "firm" directive in order to get us going - but it is his touch, so it will not hurt us!
* He is the one doing the leading. Ever try to dance with someone and not understand the principle of what it means to lead? I am not a stellar dancer, but I understand the idea of being with someone who can "lead" in the dance. There is a fluidity which is produced when one leads and the other follows. Even the fastest, most complex dance becomes a thing of beauty when there is one leading and the other gracefully following!
* His leading is designed to bring about change. This is the sticking point for most of us. We declare we want change, but when it comes down the the "radical" action of change, we often resist a little. Paul nails it - change is not worth anything unless it is "radical". When a surgeon cuts out a cancerous growth, he takes it back to "healthy" margins. Why? If he leaves some of the cancerous tissue, it will regrow. To some, the amount of tissue removed seems like it is too "radical", but it is this very "radical" cutting which ensures our best chance of survival. So it is with God's work in our lives - it is radical. We want change, we just don't want it to be "radical". In the simplest terms, radical simply implies God goes for the root! Why? Fruit comes from the root. We cannot change what our life "yields" without getting at the root!
We cannot mask our sin by criticizing another's sin. We cannot paint a rosy picture of ourselves by pointing out the failures of others. What we need is radical life change -- the only way to realize this is by the "firm" touch of the Master's hand. Know this - his touch is ALWAYS filled with grace. His touch may seem a little "radical" to us at first, but if we allow this "radical" touch to do its work of being "directive" over our life, we will find we might just finally overcome the very things we criticize in others so much! Just sayin!