Romans Bible Guide – Day Ten
February 24, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Paul has wrapped up his initial attack on human boasting and exceptionalism, insisting that all people are broken and all people are accountable to God.
21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Points of Interest:
- ‘the righteousness of God has been disclosed’ – Reading the first three chapters of Romans in the 21st century, most of us would conclude that God’s big problem would be how in the world to help us. We’re broken, we lose our way in life, we live under the power of sin, and we’re busy covering this up and justifying ourselves in comparison to other people? How will God help us?As a first century Jew, Paul had a different concern he led with. What in the world does this say about God? How can God be good and just and fulfill his promises to set the whole world right, when this is what we are like? Paul says that Jesus answers this question. Four times in this one paragraph, Paul says that Jesus reveals the righteousness of God. Jesus is the center of God’s story, the hinge of God’s history, revealing how God is good and just and will fulfill his promise to set all things right. How this is so will get considerable attention over the next few chapters.
- ‘there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ – Paul won’t let go of his theme of status-free, privilege-free, comparison-free common humanity. None of us are better than one another in our common problems, and none of us are worse than one another in our common opportunity to receive kindness from God.
- ‘they are now justified’ – If you didn’t grow up in a Christian, church-going setting, some of Paul’s language – steeped in Jewish culture and religion and scripture, on the one hand, and first century Greco-Roman people on the other – will feel kind of technical and foreign sometimes. But if you grew up in a Christian, church going setting, it might seem over-familiar, since so many Christian thinkers have spun theories about Paul’s language over the centuries. Either way, we’ll do our best to follow Paul’s line of thinking and ask how it might remain relevant good news for us in our times.So far Paul hasn’t seemed particularly interested in some of the questions later Christians talked so much about. He hasn’t been asking about an individual’s fate after death, for instance, as important as that question may be. He’s been wondering how God can fulfill his promises to set the world right, and how people can find grounds for our existence and meaning that don’t depend on comparing ourselves to others. He starts to address that second question here, saying human justification isn’t about our qualifications at all. Education, health, morality, ethnicity, status, privilege, popularity – none of those things makes life right and meaningful. The gift of Jesus, and particularly Jesus buying us out of being under the power of sin (3:9), makes our lives right.
- ‘whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood’ – “How?” would be a reasonable question. Paul will have more to say about this, but he starts by saying that on Jesus’ end, it has to do with his death, and on our end, it has to do with trust that this works, that Jesus’ death has something to do with God setting things right in the world and freeing us from problems of our own making. Paul (and we) will explore this idea more in chapters to come. For now, it’s fair to note that everything about this is surprising – that the long-dismantled Jewish sacrificial system would be at all relevant to Roman Gentiles (or us), that a shameful death would be at the center of God’s plans to make things right, or that the key to a meaningful life would be trusting something God does rather than doing anything unique ourselves. All of this is unexpected, to Paul and to the Romans, as well as to us.
- ‘Then what becomes of boasting?’ – For now, Paul brings this thought to climax by saying that it dismantles our battles of achievement and power and comparison. The law of faith, that people are made right by trusting in the efficacy of a gift and not by status or accomplishments, makes elevating ourselves over other people or groups seem ridiculous.
- ‘God is one’ – The Hebrew line, “Hear, O Israel, that God is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) has been at the heart of Jewish daily prayers for thousands of years. In its original context, it was tied to a bold claim of monotheism – that this God is the one true God, over and against the pantheons of Israel’s surrounding nations. It was also tied to the giving of the 10 commandments, and the rest of the law of God; over the centuries, Jews came to believe that possession of and obedience to that law made them special. Paul now ties this line to God’s universal goodness to all humanity – one God for all people.
- ‘On the contrary, we uphold the law.’ – You could understand if people called Paul a revisionist, making up new purposes for the Bible in light of his faith in Jesus. Paul says that the opposite is true, that in Jesus, God has revealed his original purpose for the whole of the Jewish faith and law and heritage.
Taking It Home:
For you – What does it mean to find worth in someone else’s gift, to say that your life matters because of the value that Jesus places on it? Is this freeing or troubling to you? Does it resolve tensions for you, or raise questions?
For your 6 – If any of your six consider themselves outsiders to faith, pray that they will come to understand that God is for them and relevant to them as well.