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Why a Halo Won’t Help

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 2:1–3

Before condemning others, we need to take a close look at ourselves. Our sins may not be as glaring as those of others, but they are clearly revealed in the illuminating light of God’s perfect holiness. That calls for genuine humility and compassion toward others.


I remember reading about a new hotel chain that was interviewing for staff positions—from custodians to clerks to maids. Those who were conducting the interviews were given some rather unusual instructions. They were told that any prospective employee who smiled less than four times during the interview was to be automatically turned down. So, anyone who did not smile at least four times in that twenty-minute interview was not asked to come back. And that is because on the job, they probably were not going to make good first-impressions with customers.

Wouldn’t it be great to do that in the church? I mean if it’s good enough for a hotel, it should be good enough for the church! Anybody who comes to church and smiles less than four times gets a note in the mail that says, “Find another church.” That might change the life of a local church!

Sociologists have studied this subject of first impressions and concluded that the opening moments of a conversation set the tone. If you make a good first impression, people will like everything about you, even though they do not know anything about you. They call this the “halo effect.”

The trouble is, this plays into our world, where image carries more weight than character. That is true in the church as well. We can become professionals at polishing our halos and making good impressions on other people.

Now, so far through the first chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul has been exposing the pagan world—their denial of a Creator-God and their love for sin and even perversion. And a lot of people might be saying, “Amen, Paul! Go get those guilty people.”

Back in Romans 1:22, Paul says, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” He goes on to say, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (verse 25); “God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (verse 26); “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (verse 32); and, back to verse 20, “They are without excuse.”

So far, it’s been all about them—all those bad people. And the reader of chapter 1 might polish his halo and think, “I’m glad I’m not one of them. They deny the Creator; they defy God’s natural design. They certainly are without excuse!”

But now here in chapter 2, Paul switches the pronouns from they and them to you. Verse 1 opens, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges.”

Paul is no longer writing to the immoral person but to the moral person—the religious person, the person who smiles when he is supposed to. He is not going to jail; he is usually going to church.

In chapter 1, Paul is proving why the immoral person is without excuse; in chapter 2, he is going to prove why the moral person is without excuse.

How can that be? Well, read all of verse 1:

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.

These people are hypocritically standing in judgment of others. It is important to understand that what God is condemning here is people judging others for sins that they themselves are practicing. Nowhere does the Bible prohibit all judgment. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that judging right from wrong is important.

For example, we are to judge ourselves with regard to personal holiness (1 Corinthians 11:28-31). We are to judge sinning believers as it relates to their repentance (1 Corinthians 5). We are to judge teachers as it relates to doctrinal truth (Romans 16:17; 2 John 1:10-11). Paul actually writes to the Corinthian believers, “The spiritual person judges all things” (1 Corinthians 2:15). In these cases, he is not talking about hypocritical judgmentalism; he is talking about making judgment calls—between right and wrong, between something that is good and something that is better.

The Bible also tells us when it is wrong to judge others—namely, when we do not know all the facts (John 7:51), when we do not know people’s motives (1 Corinthians 4:5).

In Matthew 7:4 Jesus says, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck [the splinter] out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?” This is the judgmental attitude of a hypocrite. You might notice the splinter and the log are made of the same material. The judgmental person actually has the same problem as the one he is judging; in fact, for him, it is a much bigger problem!

That is the hypocrisy Jesus is referring to. And notice that Jesus does not say, “Get the log out of your eye and ignore your brother’s splinter.” No, confess your own sin and clean up your life, and then with clear vision, you can help your brother clean up his.

Now in Romans 2:2, Paul writes, “We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.” In other words, the moral man has an intuitive knowledge of right and wrong, but he so often overlooks the fact that he is also guilty before God and worthy of judgment. He dismisses his own sins as inconsequential, even as he condemns the sins of others. God’s standard of judgment is His perfect holiness, and moral people—no matter how moral, or how shiny their halo—will be judged by God’s perfect and holy standard.

Finally, Paul delivers a severe warning in verse 3:

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?

If you are going to make yourself a judge of others, you had better remember that you will one day stand before the perfect Judge.

The moral man says, “I’ve passed judgment on the murderer, the adulterer, the blasphemer, and the thief. But that’s not me. I’ve never done those things!”

Oh, but he forgets the words of Jesus, the perfect Judge, in Matthew chapter 5:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” (verses 21-22)

No, you have not pulled out a gun and shot anybody, but in your heart, you have hated people and wished they were dead. Jesus said that is as good as murder. He goes on to say the same thing about adultery. Inward lust is equated with outward adultery.

Frankly, none of us stands a chance when we meet a holy God. None of us has a halo bright enough to impress the perfect standard of God.

Paul’s warning is echoed in Hebrews 9:27: “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” There will be no hiding behind some self-righteous halo then.

Because God is omniscient (all-knowing), none of your sins has gone undetected. Because God is omnipresent (everywhere present), no sin can be denied. Because God is omnipotent (all-powerful), no sinner can escape His punishment.

The immoral person is without excuse; the moral, self-righteous person is without excuse. All of unbelieving mankind is in trouble with God. We are all guilty of sin and in danger of God’s coming judgment.

Beloved, there is only one hope. Before the day of judgment arrives, settle out of court. Meet the Judge before your court date arrives. Fall upon the mercy of the Judge, and claim the payment of His Son’s death for your sin as your only escape.[1] Again, the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

[1] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans, Volume 2 (Eerdmans, 1982), 22.

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