TO PAUL, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the revelation of God's righteousness (3:21); a righteousness in which there is no distinction between Jew and non-Jew (3:22),
"for ALL have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God" (3:23).
THE NEED for the gospel of Christ is universal because the "righteous judgment" of God's wrath (2:5) is upon ALL. It is therefore against this dark background of the wrath of God that the gospel and its application is to be understood. It is the great universal and final equalizer among humanity:
"God has shut up ALL in disobedience, in order that He may show mercy to ALL" (11:32).
|2.||Equality of all under God's Justice|
Paul begins by sketching the evidences of the anger of God against humanity. The religious corruption (1:23,25), moral perversion (1:24,26-27) and every personal and social evil (1:29-32), as seen in Greece and now Rome, were in themselves a demonstration that God had given humanity up to its own evil desires, as one consigned to condemnation. He commences with the initial charge of the suppression of truth (1:18), or a knowledge of God not acknowledged (1:21), and thus, in tracing humanity's sin from its infancy, aims his declaration of condemnation at the whole human race.
To the sound of these terrible charges, one group in particular would consider itself relatively free from divine disapproval. The Jews had maintained their separation and studiously avoided the contamination of the ways of the non-Jewish world, and prided themselves on such.
In masterly fashion, Paul commences his dismantling of Jewish self-satisfaction, and their pride toward the heathen, yet without addressing them specifically (2:1-8). His argument gains the agreement of his hearers or readers on the grounds of God's justice first, before it cuts home with the terrible truth that the Jewish priority before God in blessing is also a priority in condemnation to those who do evil (2:9-10). The wrath of God's righteous judgment is upon –
"every human being who does evil ... for God shows no partiality" (2:9,11).
But, did not Israel have the Torah, the Law of God, and did this not surely put a difference between them and the ungodly heathen? Paul now deals with the possession of the Law, upon which the Jew based his sense of superiority.
It is SIN that brings condemnation, not lack of the Law (2:12)! Thus it is the "doers of the Law" who are accepted by God, not the hearers of the Law (2:13)! Then, Paul shames his Jewish listeners by referring to the righteous acts among the non-Jews who have not the Law (2:14), which show that the precepts of the Law, written for Israel, lie also in the hearts of the heathen. He had already prepared the ground for this cutting statement by his previous reference to the suppression of the truth in the heathen (1:18) and their original knowledge of God beyond the 'gods' (1:21-23). The conduct of the non-Jews is to be judged by God - when God judges the " hidden things" of all persons by Jesus Christ – and not by biased bigotry of Jewish religious pride (2:14-16).
Now Paul strikes most deeply by judging the Jews according to their own words (2:17-23), and climaxes his slashing attack upon their religious pride with,
"The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you"! (2:24).
They who despised the non-Jews in the name of God, lifting themselves up as guides to the "blind" and lights to those in "darkness", as correctors of the "foolish" and teachers of "children", have caused the heathen to blaspheme the Holy One!
Circumcision, as the special mark of the Jew, has value only as a sign of God's covenant with Israel (2:25). To break God's Law is to invalidate the sign of circumcision. The non-Jew then, who keeps the Law, is more truly a sign of God than a so-called Jew with a mark in his flesh. The heart of the matter is not physical circumcision or the written record of God's Law, but a personal life and spiritual attitude which honours God and will be honoured by Him (2:26-29).
But, if this is so, does not Israel's identity as a people become invalid - yet God brought her into being, separating her to Himself (3:1)? Paul, himself a Jew, could answer with meaning that the Jewish identity meant "much in every way", but, particularly that the Sayings of God were committed to them (3:2). Israel's failure does not frustrate the purposes of God, but, rather God's character is seen all the more wonderfully in its contrast to the wretchedness of Israel's sin. This does not excuse sin or exonerate Israel, but yet more eloquently shows that,
"ALL men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin" (3:9).
Paul then quotes the Hebrew Scripture in its terrible condemnation of the sins of those "under the Law", the Jews, and declares that that which the Law condemns cannot also be justified by the same Law which condemns it (3:10-20). Not that they only bear condemnation, for it is that "all the world" may be shown to be guilty, but because if any would object, it is most certainly the Jew that would object to this blanket condemnation of all men together. Thus, Paul destroys any hope in the Jew of special acceptance by God on the grounds of his group identity or religious activity.
It is significant that whereas the condemned state of the non-Jews is described by Paul in the third person, grammatically ("they", "them"; 1:19-32), the condemned condition of the Jews is expressed in the second person ("you") and the first person ("my", "we"; 2:1-3:20). The Church in Rome undoubtedly consisted of a large proportion of both groups. It would appear then that there was real danger that the error of the Judaizers which had so troubled other churches might take hold in Rome also and threaten the purity of the gospel and the unity of the people of God, as Paul had already experienced at Antioch in Syria and vehemently attacked both there and elsewhere (Gal. 2:12). Therefore the greater space and intensity of teaching is given to the destruction of any ground on which this devilish heresy could take root.
|3.||Equality of All under God's Mercy|
Paul now (3:21) turns to the action of God's mercy in Jesus Christ. He declares that the Scripture "shut up" all humanity in sin so that the righteousness of God as a free gift might be given to all those "who believe" (3:22), and that this principle of faith is not in conflict with the Law of God or the Covenant of Israel (3:27-4:25).
Abraham's experience is cited to illustrate the precedence of faith and therefore the UNITY in Abraham of those who believe, both the circumcised and the uncircumcised (4:11,12,16,18).
After glorious statements concerning the salvation in Jesus Christ, Paul turns to Adam, the common physical ancestor of ALL humanity, to reinforce the concept of the common condemnation upon ALL and the ONE hope of salvation for ALL through,
"the free gift in grace of that one man Jesus Christ" (5:15).
Again, in answering the problem of the apparent failure of God's election of Israel, he declares that God had prepared beforehand "vessels" of mercy –
"not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles" (9:24).
He cites Hosea's prophecy in support of this gathering in of those not born under the Law (25, 26). The sad problem is that most of those who did receive the Law did not believe (9:32). They work to build their own righteousness by the regulations of the Law and so they are ignorant of God's own righteousness (10:3), a gift already given and awaiting their faith (10:8-10). Therefore there can be no distinction made between Jew and non-Jew for –
"the same Lord is Lord of ALL and bestows His riches upon ALL who call upon Him" (10:12).
Even the call to believe in the great Creator of all things is not limited to a particular group but is carried everywhere by the witness of the created universe (10:18 from Psalm 19) and is therefore to all humanity. Yet the anomaly of Israel's unbelief in the face of greater revelation remains (10:19-21). But even this, God has turned to blessing upon the Gentiles or non-Jews, not in order to reject Israel, but in turn to draw them by jealousy to the God who reveals Himself in grace (11:1-14).
Paul however, warns the non-Jewish believers that Israel is loved by God for the sake of her ancestors who believed. The unbelief of Israel has been the occasion of salvation to the non-Jews but the non-Jews are not to despise those who did not believe, or exalt themselves over Israel's unbelief, for they themselves are only accepted by mercy through faith in Jesus Christ and must continue in this faith, otherwise like Israel they to –
"will be cut off" (11:22).
Should Israel cease its unbelief it will be more naturally grafted back upon the stock of the patriarchs' faith than the non-Jews who are grafted in. There is no occasion for pride for either party! On the contrary, God used Jewish disobedience to create an opportunity of blessing to the non-Jews, and He has had mercy upon the non-Jews so that thereby Israel may receive mercy (11:31,31). Therefore, God's great purpose is –
"that He may have mercy upon ALL" (11:32)!
How right that this should call forth an outburst of praise - all glory to God! (11:33- 36).
In the remaining chapters Paul's treatment of differences within the community of faith is on the basis of individual relationships in Christ and not in terms of group identity (12 to 16). The kingdom of God is expressed in spiritual qualities and personal experience and not in regulations of physical conduct –
"the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (14:17).
IN VIEW of the above it is clear that Paul can tolerate no barrier of race, culture, religion, or any other thing, as a hindrance to the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The urgency of his heart to take the word of mercy throughout the world (as far as the wrath of God extends) is evident in his opening statement of obligation to ALL humanity (1:14,15) and his closing statements of not building on another's foundation, i.e. where Christ has already been preached (15:20), and his desire to evangelise Spain (15:24). Truly he was the apostle to the unreached.
THE missionary character of Paul's letter to the Romans is awesome in its implications for church life and Christian living today!
Lloyd-Jones, D.M. 1970 Romans - an exposition of chapters 3:20 to 4:25, London: The Banner of Truth Trust.
Murray, John 1979 The Epistle to the Romans, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans.
Ridderbos, Herman 1977 Aan de Romeinen, Kampen: J.H. Kok.
Thomas W.H. Griffith 1962 St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans.
Wilson, Geoffrey B. 1969 Romans, London: The Banner of Truth Trust.
|Jews under Islam & Christianity||The Complete Gospel||Divine Election of Israel|