So far in our journey in Romans we have covered 2 chapters! In chapter 1 (v18 onwards) we looked at the fall and depravity of mankind, which more than likely is addressed to the godless Gentile world of the time. And then in chapter 2 we looked at how Paul turns the tables by speaking directly to the reader by using ‘you’ rather than ‘they’, which is more than likely addressed to the self righteous Jews of the time. Paul includes these Jews under God’s wrath by saying ‘you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same things’ (v1).
Tim Keller* (you may have heard me mention him before!) likens these two chapters to the two characters in the parable of the prodigal son (Lk15:11-32). Chapter 1, he says, is like the prodigal son who sins greatly and needs to receive the Father’s love to return to the house. He likens chapter 2 to the older brother in the story who remains righteous, yet who is actually also outside the Father’s house, not knowing the Father’s love and still in need of salvation. On the face of it the younger brother sinned greatly, however, the older brother also fell short in his anger and self righteousness. In reality neither brother knew the Father’s unconditional love. Romans 1 describes a mankind that has left God for a ‘distant land’ of sin and depravity, whilst Romans 2 describes a self righteous Jewish nation who, whilst being closer to home, are in reality just as distant from the Father.
Paul (like Jesus in Lk15) doesn’t really leave us any room to be outside of this story and description. We may see ourselves more acurately described in chapter 1 or maybe we relate to the description of chapter 2, but either way (or both ways) we must accept that this is talking about YOU! The point being that no one Christian or non Christian is right before God in their own works or effort. Grace through faith is the only way of salvation for all of us without exception.
It is only when we grasp this that we can fully receive the gospel. But crucially it is only when we fully grasp this can we truly minister the gospel. If we are Christians who know we are saved by grace, but then somehow are able to claim the moral high ground over the rest of the world because we in ourselves are now more righteous and superior to the world around us through our reformed and right behaviour, then we have missed the point of the gospel! We will always fundamentally be sinners saved by grace and not our works. If we hold onto this then we will be able to minister the gospel to the broken world around us by proclaiming ‘this is what God is doing in me and wants to do in you’ rather than looking down judgementally on the world and saying ‘this is what God needs to do to you.’ This is actually the way of Christ Himself. Jesus didn’t preach a message from on high or stand aloof and superior, but came to earth and was ‘numbered with the transgressors’ being Himself baptised alongside sinful humanity.
The bad news is we are all in the same boat. Jew, Gentile, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, you name it, we are all sinners and unrighteous before God. There are no really bad sinners and only ever so slightly, almost righteous but not quite sinners. Just plain sinners (including you and me)!
The good news is that we are all in the same boat! Jew, Gentile, Muslim, Atheist, you name it are all offered perfect righteousness before God through faith in Jesus Christ. Those who accept Jesus as Saviour receive His Spirit and their praise is from God (Rom2:29b).
* Tim Keller has brought out a very accessible commentary/bible study guide on the book of Romans called ‘Romans for You‘ which I’d recommend.
I’d also recommend Douglas Moo’s Application Commentary on Romans if you want to really want to go deeper into the epistle without getting overly technical.