A Diatribe against Self-Righteous Sinners

Prayer of Consecration

Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

Jesus, I belong to you.

I lift up my heart to you.
I set my mind on you.
I fix my eyes on you.
I offer my body as a holy and living sacrifice to you.

Jesus, We belong to you.

Praying in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.


Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Romans 2:17-24 (NIV) 

Consider This

Paul engages today in the practice of a diatribe. Permit me a bit of a diatribe in that same spirit.

The deeper purpose of the law is to make us deeply aware of our need for God in order to have any possibility of actually obeying it. I once heard a great man of God say, “The Law was given so that the Spirit might be desired, and the Spirit was given so that the Law might be obeyed.” Reflect deeply on this truth.

The problem is the way broken human beings tend to approach the Law with a “yes we can” attitude. Show me the rules and I’ll show you a rule keeper. Show me a rule keeper and I’ll show you a moralist—which is someone who endlessly judges other people. Something in us wants to justify ourselves—to show we have the heart, mind, soul, and strength to do it ourselves. And then we want to hold others to this same standard. There is a word for this self-righteousness. This is the world of honor and shame, of pride and pretense, of virtue signaling and cancel culture. It is alive and well in religious and irreligious communities alike.

Obey the rules and you are in. Disobey the rules and you are out. Disobey the rules while hiding behind your enforcement of the same rules on others, and we will make you a leader in the community. These kinds of leaders killed Jesus and they still try to kill him while thinking they are doing him a favor. And yes, our churches are full of them. They are called hypocrites. The capital H Hypocrites are the leaders and the little h hypocrites are the followers, but from the first century to the twenty-first they are all the same.

One of the telltale signs you are dealing with a legalistic, hypocritical leader is they are always trying to control the narrative; which makes them impervious to correction—always finding fault and never owning it. In these communities, repentance is behavioral modification rather than relational realignment. And repentance is image management rather than identity reorientation. 

Paul knows these people because he was one of them and in today’s text he starts by sparring with them and then he takes off the gloves. He identifies them as the problem. He basically says the hypocrisy in the church is the cause of the unbelief in the world.

You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

And in the tradition of Jesus, Paul will go on to liken their so-called righteousness to filthy rags. Religious systems are notoriously deployed in the service of image management. The gospel is about a total renovation of one’s identity. Jesus hates image management. He only cares about deep identity formation. It’s why his gospel is about the righteousness that comes from faith from first to last.

The problem is how a warning to hypocrites never actually gets to them because they are ingrained to think you must be talking about somebody else. So I think what I am saying here is could you be open to the fact I may be talking to you?  


Jesus, we belong to you. Yes, Jesus, I belong to you. Jesus, you are the gospel. I find myself wanting to throw off all the rules and regulations and simply abandon myself to you; to be embraced by you; to receive freedom from you; to behold you; yes, to love you with everything I’ve got, even my body. Something tells me this deeper love of you is the way to the deepest practical life change. I can’t quite grasp it but I’m beginning to get it. Praying in your name, Jesus, amen.

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