Double standards. Don’t you hate them? Like people who run a red light because they are running late, but then get mad when another driver cuts them off to make a right turn. Or the wife who spends a lot of time on Facebook one day while she’s home with the kids during the day, but then gets mad at her husband for being on the computer instead of playing with the kids when he gets home from work. Or the ministry leader who stresses to others how important it is to spend time reading the Bible, but then struggles to keep that discipline in her own life.
… Oh wait, all those examples were about me.
That’s why I felt so convicted when, as I am working my way through the book of Romans, I read this:
You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? -Romans 2:1-4 (New Living Translation)
We tend to mess up the concepts of righteous judgment and kind grace in two ways: first in how we apply them to people and second in how we apply them to God.
With people, we tend to apply God’s judgment to others and His grace to ourselves. We forget what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:3-5
With God, we tend to think that His judgment and His grace are opposite responses to obedience. But that's not true. God is able to hold seemingly paradoxical characteristics in perfect harmony.
God does not say, “I am a Righteous Judge, therefore I will make you obey me.” He also does not say “I am a Kind Grace-Giver, therefore don’t worry about obeying me.”
God says, “I am a Righteous Judge. I do not have double standards. You can trust that my ways are good, and worth following. I am also a Kind Grace-Giver. You can trust that I will forgive you when you mess up. And when that happens, the kindness I have shown you should lead you to try again, as a way of showing Me gratitude and love. It should also lead you to show that kindness and grace to others, trusting Me, the Righteous Judge to bring justice when the time is right.”
I love how the Message translation writes Romans 2:4,
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.