Sermon Manuscript: Romans 2:6 (Part 7)
(This is a section of a manuscript of the first prepared sermon I ever preached, which was in 2009 at the Evangelical Church of Fairport.)
Romans 2:6, “He will render to each one according to his works…”
In fact, the statement “nobody’s perfect” exemplifies the basis for another, opposite theory of justification commonly held today. I naively used to think that when people said “nobody’s perfect” that this was a kind of tacit acknowledgement of the biblical doctrine of original sin, that everyone is sinful by nature and choice. However, as I began to ask deeper questions and listen more intently to what people were saying I realized I was completely wrong. “Nobody’s perfect” is used to justify nearly any infidelity, even when recognized as wrong, by an appeal to the universal failures of others. In fact, if you confront someone about a specific instance of wrongdoing “nobody’s perfect” is often used very basically as a “you too” deflection (tu quoque), but it is still more complicated than that.
When confronted with our own guilt the tendency is to “squirm” or deflect, to seek to justify ourselves. This self-justification, oddly enough, often comes through an appeal to universal imperfection: “yeah, well, nobody’s perfect.” “Nobody’s perfect” becomes the justification for our own sinfulness, rather than the grace of Christ. “Nobody’s perfect” becomes the practical basis for doing whatever we like as though we are in fact perfect, since our wrongs aren’t any wronger than anyone else’s. “Nobody’s perfect” is not a tacit acceptance of Original Sin, it is a practical way of shifting responsibility so that we no longer consider ourselves guilty when staring in the face of our own guilt. If “nobody’s perfect” then, simply by adjusting our ethical standard to match the level of our ethical failure, then it is as if everybody is perfect, which is sheer relativism. “Nobody’s perfect” really means “nobody can judge me.” If everyone is guilty, then nobody is guilty; or so the logic goes. It’s not an admission of guilt.
We can place this view of justification into the categories of Antinomianism or Lawlessness and the category of Relativism. It is a form of self-justification which looks outside of us to the common guilt of others as the basis for our justification. It seeks to lower the standard, since if everybody breaks the law, then the law must be wrong. If you want to see a great example of this kind of relativistic, lawless self-justification, watch the documentary “Bigger Stronger Faster.” The premise is a film about the use of performance enhancing drugs in American culture, particularly in sports; but it becomes an interesting exercise in self-justification and rationalization. Well, worth the rental.
As I said, Legalism and Lawlessness are the “two thieves” between which the Gospel is “crucified.” Legalism and Moralism look inside of us for a righteousness that isn’t there while Lawlessness and Relativism look outside of ourselves in order to declare our own comparative righteousness based on the fact of universal guilt. This is just spiritual alchemy. No amount of special pleading will turn your own guilt or your neighbor’s guilt into righteousness when God judges the secrets of men. No amount of self-deception will remove your guilt.
Now, keep clear in your mind that there are Christianized forms of Legalism and Moralism, which give lip-service to the idea of being justified by faith in Christ, while still practically looking inside one’s self for the righteousness of doctrinal orthodoxy or church attendance or adherence to extra-biblical standards of goodness as the basis for God’s favor. “Run, John, run. The law commands, but gives me neither feet nor hands. Yet sweeter news the gospel brings. It bids me fly and gives me wing.”
And there are also Christianized forms of Lawlessness and Relativism which give lip-service to the idea of seeking an “alien righteousness” outside of ourselves in Christ, but uses the idea of that righteousness as the basis for continuing to love sin, to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. “Free from the law, Oh blessed condition. I can sin as I please and still have remission.” I don’t think it’s too harsh to say that someone who views being rescued from a burning building as a good reason to rush back into the building is stupid. Lawlessness is stupid.
Here’s a quick check for believers: Do you tend to justify yourself? When your co-workers or parents or spouse or friends confront you about a mistake or a failure or a sin, do you look for ways to excuse yourself or do you live a life of repentance, as if your justification for all of your life is entirely outside of yourself in Christ alone? If in even the simple, basic interactions of daily life you seek to justify yourself, what evidence is there in you that would lead anyone to conclude that you have been justified in Christ alone? Live and breathe and laugh and weep and suffer and die as if you can only ever be justified in Christ alone. And when confronted with your failures, don’t justify yourself; repent and be justified in Christ.