Dear church,

We see other Christians, and we shake our heads. How could they be so blind, so dull? Can you believe some Christians still find dancing objectionable? Can you believe some still are teetotalers, thinking alcohol is of the devil? Can you believe some require the men to wear suit coats to church and the women to wear dresses?

How blind, how dull! Thank goodness we have the pure gospel. These other Christians, well, may God help them! We can sit back and chuckle quietly at their missteps. Or perhaps we might feel sorry for them. They are so … backward.

If only they would listen to us. We would show them the right way to be a Christian.

The right way to be a Christian, of course, is to love one another. This means that we do not judge others. We don’t judge those who choose to dance, and we don’t judge those who choose to have a glass of wine. This means we can wear whatever we want to church. “Vacation dress” is permitted here!

Yes, we don’t judge anyone. Instead, we love one another – especially people outside the church. And if we are to love those outside the church, we must – we MUST – make sure nonbelievers see we aren’t judgmental, we are welcoming, we are reasonable. It really, really matters they see we aren’t backward and we aren’t blind or dull or stuck in some stuffy old doctrine.

Actually, “doctrine” isn’t a word we want to use. We try to keep that one off the table. The Christians who don’t like dancing or drinking use that word way too much. No, we try to use other words – words that are gentler, less legalistic-sounding, and easier on the ears of outsiders.

Our first loyalty, we understand, is to them – to those outside the church. We don’t want to be insular or inward-thinking. We don’t want to have a fortress mentality. First and foremost, we must be a good witness to outsiders. We want them to like us.

And so we don’t understand those who would come up with these awkward, old-fashioned rules – about dancing and drinking and dress. Those Christians are just wrong-headed. No, there are other rules that must be followed. 1) Don’t judge others. 2) Don’t appear too stuffy or dull. 3) Always look good to outsiders.

I hope you understand I am being a little ornery in my writing here – because I found this to be important in Romans 2: “For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”

The apostle Paul wrote that. In Romans 2, he was preparing his argument for salvation by grace alone, not by works or ethnicity. And tucked into this chapter was a warning against hypocrisy. Those who claimed they had God’s Law and were preserved by it weren’t actually following it.

We should pay attention.

Hypocrisy is when one claims something is wrong while practicing the very thing he or she is claiming to be wrong – like Christians who criticize legalism while at the same time creating their own list of rules one must follow in order to be a good Christian.

We must be careful here. Hypocrisy and judgmentalism can creep into our lives undetected.

Paul criticized those who claimed to be part of the people of God – and who looked down on others who weren’t part of that people. Paul was critical because there really was no difference in the lifestyle of either. The people of God were just as sinful as the Gentiles. They were doing some of the same things they were condemning.

And the people of Israel had come to find themselves in the same boat as the Gentiles. It was even possible those who didn’t have God’s Law as part of their heritage – Gentile Christians – actually could have something that members of the Jewish nation did not: an inward circumcision of the heart and divine favor with God.

And a little thread here in Paul’s writing was about hypocrisy and the passing of judgment. God works in mysterious ways. But sometimes we think we have Him all figured out, and we pass judgment on his children while not bothering to look first at ourselves. Could it be they have something to teach us just as we may have something to share with them?

For me, this chapter was about pausing and taking account of myself – just as Paul was calling upon the Jews in his audience to take account of themselves. How am I living with God?

Chris

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