Romans 3:10-12,19-24 (3:22-24) – October 31, 2021
Do you know someone who is a stickler for the rules? I mean, really picky about following every rule in the book? Dotting every “I” and crossing every “t”? Some people are just made that way. It’s part and parcel of their character.
The Apostle Paul was used to dealing with people like this. In fact, he WAS a person like this. Someone who was very particular about following all the rules – all the laws in the Mosaic Law Code, in the Hebrew Scriptures. No one kept the Law of Moses like Paul! I mean, Rabbi Saul, before he had the sudden meeting with the risen Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road.
It’s been years since then, and Paul has been a devoted follower of Jesus Christ ever since. In fact, he’s known as the Apostle, or missionary, to the Gentiles, which is a wonderfully ironic thing for such a former Rabbi and law-abiding Jew of the highest caliber.
Paul had been all over Asia Minor, and lots of places in Greece, but never to Rome. He had several friends who had moved there, since it was the capital city of the Roman empire. Someone must have asked Paul for a teaching letter, similar to ones he had written before, sent to cities where he had established churches. Which brings us to this letter to the Roman church.
In this carefully written letter of dense theological language, Paul hits home several important truths: in chapter 3, he describes faith and righteousness. (Also, unrighteousness.) Similar to many churches, the Roman church had two sides, or factions. Jew and non-Jew (or Gentile), or an “us” side and a “them” side.
My goodness. This sounds really familiar. Have you experienced splitting up into two sides, in some organization you are part of? Or, some group, even some workplace? Where there are two distinct sides, and a divided understanding of how everything worked? That was how it was in the Roman church. The Jewish believers tended to follow the rules, the Law of Moses, as was their culture and habit. The Gentiles…did not.
Rome was a multi-ethnic, multicultural melting pot! Not the place for a strict, rule-following, faithful Jew! Or, is it? The Gentile believers were, by and large, not familiar with these rules about eating, the clothes you wear, the everyday practices of living – from a Jewish perspective. Did that make these Gentile believers somehow lesser, inferior believers?
Paul started out in the first chapters of Romans by telling ALL the Roman believers that everyone is in deep trouble, in God’s eyes. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. That does not sound like very good news! (News flash: it isn’t! And, Paul does this on purpose!) “Things were not well with the house churches in Rome, and today’s churches find themselves, once again, in polarizing times.” 
Is it any surprise that Paul “argues against those believers who think that law-obedience is the way toward the full attainment of God’s promised blessings? Up to this point in his letter, Paul has explained that all humanity stands under the righteous judgment of God, irrespective of whether they are a highly moral person or not. Paul now explains that attaining the fullness of new life in Christ is “apart from the law.” 
It doesn’t matter where or when we find ourselves in history. Martin Luther had huge problems in the 1500’s with opposing factions, with bloodthirsty people on polar opposite sides of an issue, and both sides called themselves committed Christians, too.
“The reality [Paul] presents is, itself, a profound polarity: the unrighteousness of all humanity (all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God), contrasted with the righteousness of God (the righteousness of God has been manifested via God’s work in Christ).” 
In the first century, in Rome, Paul did not have quite the same in-fighting problem as Luther. But, Paul needed to let everyone know that ALL people had fallen short of God’s glory – God’s righteousness – whether they followed the rules or not.
That is good news! Good news for ALL the people! Jews and Gentiles, both. Sure, ALL of us are unrighteous, and not fit to come into God’s presence. But, GOD! God through Jesus Christ has bridged that gap. We ALL are now offered relationship with God. Thank GOD!
Paul reminds all these believers that they are in Christ. Each of them has belief, faith in Christ. He describes and defines faith. Faith is not the things we do, not the good works, the obligations we have got to fulfill to placate a mean, vengeful God. Instead, faith is based on our relationship with God. Faith is a free, loving, intimate relationship with a kind and good God. A loving and just Parent.
However, this relationship is not just vertical – not just “Jesus and me.” This relationship is also horizontal, with other diverse Christians from all over the world, through faith! “The brothers and sisters in Rome believe, that is they entrust themselves to Christ Jesus’ patterns of life, including the call to welcome one another courageously across the Gentile-Jewish divide.” 
Paul’s practical counsel from chapter 15 of Romans is addressed to both factions, both Jews and Gentiles: that means EVERYONE. His counsel? “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Has Christ welcomed you? Then welcome others in Christ’s name!
What would Jesus do? Would He love everyone? Would He welcome everyone? Who would Jesus exclude? No one! We are all invited into a relationship with our Lord Jesus. Plus, we all are offered this simple, profound counsel: “Welcome one another.”
“Justification by Faith,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.