The word of the day is “repentance .” It is the nature of sin that it not only committed transgressions but excuses them. Humans have various ways of rationalizing, overlooking, and trivializing their sins even while they judge others who do the same things. But in our reading of Romans 1:28-2:9 today, Paul declares unequivocally, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself” (OSB vs. 2:1).
Today we find that Paul cuts through all the ways that humans dismiss the seriousness of their sins and disregard the inevitable divine judgment against them. We learn that if we have escaped the anger of God for our transgressions, it is only because He has given us time for repentance and amendment of life.
The Folly of Condemning Others and Excusing Ourselves
It is the height of folly that we condemn others for doing what we ourselves have done. Criticizing, blaming, and accusing others is a sure sign that we have stored our sins away in a forgotten chamber of our minds, and we have banished the thought of God’s righteous judgment.
We have chased our sensibility to sin and punishment away by thinking that God is longsuffering, or that our sins are not “that bad,” or that the Almighty has canceled His Word of judgment against them.
But in our reading, Paul repeats a clear and undisputable Word of scripture: “God… will render to each one according to His deeds (OSB 2:6). The Lord himself said the same: “For the Son of Man will come in the glory and His Father with His angels and then He will reward each according to his works” (OSB Matthew 16:27).
We Must Appear Before the Judgment Seat of Christ
So, likewise, Paul said, “For we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (OSB 2 Cor 5:10). And in John’s revelation, the Book of Life was opened, “and the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the book” (OSB Revelation 20:12).
No, God’s final evaluation of our lives is as certain as our death. His judgment is assured because our sins are, in fact, wicked and an affront to His holiness. Chrysostom says, “If men do not overlook these things [our wrongs], how should God make an oversight?” (NFPf1”11, 361-62).
Therefore, we should not put the certainty of God’s judgment out of our minds. Yes, God is longsuffering, But God has suspended His case against us only to give us time for repentance. If God has not yet punished us, it is because of his goodness.
Our Only Recourse and Defense
Since we cannot put it off, we have only one recourse, only one “good defense before the awesome Judgment Seat of Christ” (St-Tikhon’s 1984, 74). That last resort is the Cross of Christ. Thus Paul says that the Lord Jesus “Has made us alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses”) (OSB Colossians 2:1). Moreover, he has wiped out the handwriting of requirements against us, which was contrary to us (OSB Colossians 2:14). The word handwriting refers to a legal bond, a signed document of the obligation to pay a debt (Strong’s #5498, 271). The Lord not only bore our sins on the cross (1 Peter 2:24), but he “wiped out,” that is, He “smeared away” or obliterated the debt God required of our sins. He has erased the conviction of the Law that consigned us to His wrath. Consequently, Paul declares, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
But note, we have access to this release from the divine censure of our sins only by repentance. In the face of God’s holy wrath, we can only appeal to the mercy of God in Christ. But with repentance comes the amendment of life. The sincerity of our repentance is shown by two things, our tears of sorrow and our change of life. Therefore, Chrysostom says, “God showeth His goodness that you may get free from your sins, not that you may add to them” (NfPf1:11, 361).
Repentance does not excuse sin, nor does it presume on the mercy of God. But as it recalls and admits the wrong, it remembers and confesses the faith in the work of Christ for our salvation.
Shame Prompts Repentance
St. Nicholai Velimirovic said: “Repentance is the abandoning of all false paths that have been trodden by men’s feet, and men’s thoughts and desires, and a return to the new path: Christ’s path. But how can a sinful man repent unless he, in his heart, meets with the Lord and knows his own shame? Before little Zacchaeus saw the Lord with his eyes, he met Him in his heart and was ashamed of all his ways” (St. Nikolai Velimirovic). We might add that a sinful man has shame when he knows his own guilt and fears the Lord who has seen all that he has done.
St-Tikhon’s. 1984. Service Books of the Orthodox Church. Third ed. South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press.