Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Believing In Him (part 6)

It is now that Paul makes his bold move.  Having built to this point, keeping the Jew/Gentile issue in focus and having placed all peoples under the same judgment regardless of their perceived status in relationship to the covenant, Paul writes “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed” (3:21).  That is, the covenant faithfulness of God, or that which is the ultimate manifestation of His covenant faithfulness to His elect people, to all people, and to His creation, has been disclosed.  What is the ultimate manifestation of His covenant faithfulness?  What is it to which the law and the prophets have been pointing?  Why, it is God’s own intervening action in and for the world, “namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,” or Jesus the Messiah, “for all who believe” (3:22a). 

While the “believe” portion of this statement is surely of significance, as believing in God, in His covenant faithfulness, in His messianic manifestation in Jesus, and in the claim that Jesus is Lord (the Gospel) are paramount to a kingdom-of-God-oriented life, the “all” of the statement, reflecting on what we have heard from Paul to this point, is just as significant.  “All” plays into what closes this verse, which is “For there is no distinction” (3:22b).  What does Paul mean when he says that there is no distinction?  To what is he making reference?  Obviously, based on what has led to this statement, he is asserting that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile when it comes to their position in relationship to the covenant, to their need to enter upon the covenant, and the ultimate basis on which their membership in the covenant people rests (their covenant marker), which is the belief in Jesus as Lord. 

Having grasped this, being conscientious of the Jew/Gentile issue that is in view, and being cognizant that there is no distinction in the eyes of God between Jew and Gentile, we are now more well-equipped than ever to hear the famous words of verse twenty-three, which are “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).  It is helpful, of course, to bear in mind that sin, as Paul has essentially defined it in this letter (allowing the narrative and its context to dictate the way that words are heard and concepts are treated), is the failure to rightly bear the divine image, and consequently to fail to reflect God’s glory into the world (emphasized in the latter half of chapter one).  This had been the original charge given to Adam (commonly conceived of as the son of God), which had subsequently been passed along to Israel (also referred to as the son of God).  Both had failed.  Jesus, unlike Adam and Israel, had not failed in this regard. 

As we consider the import of this verse, generally focusing on sin, falling short, and glory, we need to, once again, cast our attention on an equally important word for the Apostle, which is “all.”  Because Paul is consistently concerned with bridging the gap and eliminating the wall that has been created by adherence to and insistence upon the outward covenant markers of Israel, we must be consistently aware of that which receives Paul’s attention.  Also, lest we lose sight of where we began and where we are going, this ongoing awareness of what Paul is doing will very much come into play when it comes to comprehending our title text, which is “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame” (10:11).  Quite simply, it is impossible to understand that at which Paul is driving in this letter, and especially these words from the third chapter that are definitive and that have been generally and unfortunately lifted from their context as the means of creating an artificial and unrecognizable (for Jesus and Paul) juxtaposition and dichotomy between “salvation by works” and “salvation by faith through grace.” 

Living in a post-Reformation world, we are trained to focus our attention on this particular aspect of Romans and of Pauline doctrine.  However, once we understand what is meant by “works of the law,” as denoting the covenant markers that identified one as a member of God’s elect and covenant people (as an acknowledging response to God’s grace towards Israel), and then place that alongside a proper understanding of the grace of God as relating to the fact that covenant membership (and its associated promises, blessings, and responsibilities) is being freely extended to Gentiles, with their covenant marker (the new covenant marker for all peoples) being a trusting loyalty in Jesus and to the Gospel claim that He is Lord of all, then we can take in the wider view of that which is being addressed.  That wider view allows us to take notice of that which seems to be just as important, to Paul, as what is generally looked upon as the stand-alone issue of justification and how one is justified (usually defined as “saved” and therefore able to go to heaven when one dies), which is that of the inclusion of Gentiles as part of God’s elect people.  This explains Paul’s repeated emphasis on the “all.”  Briefly backtracking then, we see this in verse nine of the chapter, and “for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are ALL under sin” (3:9b).  This “all” leads into the “no one” of verses ten, eleven, twelve, and twenty, the “all” that is also to be found in verses twelve and twenty-three, the “every mouth” and “whole world” of verse nineteen, and the “all who believe” of verse twenty-two (with its attendant “no distinction”). 

As we can see, justification is completely, one hundred percent inseparable from covenant and from Gentile inclusion.  Paul was obviously consumed by what God was doing for the world, and was not terribly concerned with creating, adopting, or propagating an “us versus them” mentality.  On the contrary, Paul, recognizing the grand scope of what God had done, was doing, and would be doing through the message of the Christ, the cross, and the Resurrection, Paul advocates a “them becoming us” frame of mind, desiring that all people everywhere experience, in this life, adoption into God’s covenant family, without hindrance, so that they might participate in His kingdom on earth both now and forever.        

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