Commentary

Romans 3:27-31

Romans 3:27-31 (ESV)

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of 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—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Time to take my own advice.  I’ve asked Russell for positive assertions to balance his skepticism and he’s provided several excellent ones – – the love for his family and the love for the beauty of science.  What do I love and where can I explain how I build my life?  I too love my family and my work.  That is such a blessing and I realize that all can’t rejoice with it.  My hope for each of our readers is that you have a family to love and treasure.  My hope is that work is a joy and not a toil – – no matter what you do.  Why has scripture led me Christ?  Romans is a major reason.  I chose Romans because its authorship is not disputed by atheist New Testament experts.  That is not the non sequitur it seems.  On many issues of history, I prefer to consult the least biased experts I can find or at least those with different biases than mine.  Serious scholars of the Christian New Testament attest that Paul wrote Romans in the first century CE.  I last addressed Romans 3:21-26 here, saying that humility required confidence.  What does this next passage say?

Here we find that least controversial of words – – faith.  Paul contrasts the Jewish law and prophets with a different kind of law – – faith.  I find our recent discussions of what faith is and is not to be useful background as I revisit Romans.  To simplify, faith is belief based on acceptable evidence or is the evidence when empirical evidence is not available.  Faith is my belief that there was a man named Jesus who was God incarnate and that he made me right before himself by the free gift of forgiveness.  This faith is specific and does differentiate following Christ from other religious faiths.  For me to believe this there are several prerequisites.  I have to believe that a supernatural is possible and probable.  That is empirically untestable.  I have to believe that Jesus and Paul existed and that Paul’s letter is an early and faithful communication of what he believed.  Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason, would cede the first three points but argue that a revelation to one is just that – – a revelation to one.  He felt that Paul mythologized the Christian faith based on his familiarity with Roman myth.

As a follower of Christ, I do believe that God came to men and dwelt among them.  I do believe that he willingingly gave his life to rescue mine and to reconcile me to God.  Then what of the myriad book of rules that Paul contrasts here?  Then what of the law of works?  Why did the Jews have so many rules, some of them so strange to our modern ears?  The Jews, people of the book, were set apart.  In my opinion, they still are.  They were, are, a minority.  The law and physical male circumcision were two marks that set them apart.  But I was not born a Jew.  I was born a Gentile (non-Jew) just like >98% of humanity.  If I did grow up with the law, prophets and traditions of God’s chosen people, then how could I be special before him too?

By the law of faith.  Paul is saying that faith in Christ brings Gentiles into God’s fold.  As a Gentile writing 2000 years after him that brings me comfort.  I was not raised with Torah.  I was not circumcised for religious purposes.  I have always identified with the Romans more than I have the Jews.  And yet, there is a way for me.  The law set apart God’s people the Jews.  In antiquity, they were strange.  The law of faith sets apart the people of God today.  I feel strange too.  It is interesting that Paul feels faith is not a replacement for law but a fulfillment.  The purpose of the law was to lead the Jews to and constantly remind the Jews of God.  This purpose is now fulfilled by faith – – leading me to and constantly reminding me of God.

What of my sincere friends who do not believe in either a supernatural, or the historicity or fidelity of scripture?  Here I find comfort and instruction in the reminder that the God of three natures is one.  He is God of Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews).  <2% + >98% = everyone.  Who am I to disrespect those whom God calls his own?  Mine is to love and to gently reason and to be thankful for the law of faith which brings me to God and offers the same for all humans.

Pascal – – 1:16

Romans 3:21-26

Romans 3:21-26 (ESV)

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Humility requires confidence.  As Romans 1 strikes me as the root cause of my problem, so Romans 3 begins to build the fulcrum of the solution.  I’ve been waiting for this verse, trying hard to wait – – like a kid who must sleep the night before a trip to an amusement park.  Romans 3:23 – – all.  I don’t want to include you in all.  I’m selfish.  Its not about you – – its about me.  I’m there in the center of all.  Perhaps you are the center of your own all too.  Why be selfish here?  Because the first person under judgment, the only person I am dimly qualified to judge – – is me.  Sin is a difficult word.  Ultimately I believe it is an archer’s term – – not hitting the mark.  Not shooting first, then painting the bull’s eye and concentric circles later.  I don’t hit the mark – – I can’t even reach my own center.  I’m not kind enough, patient enough, generous enough, smart enough, thin enough or rich enough – – the latter two aren’t even laudable goals – – how laughable am I!

Humility requires confidence.  How can I reach for humility from self effacement, worse debasement?  What confidence serves as a foundation?  The confidence that comes from being loved.  The confidence that comes from being valued by another whom I admire.  I live and breathe in America.  It seems so counter-cultural and Philistine that I would derive my worth from another.  Isn’t that what we have risen from?  Isn’t slavery one of the greatest stains on our national conscience?  It is.  So why build humility on vicarious confidence?  I’m getting to know myself as the trail of life winds forward, up and around.  I know that I miss the mark and I desperately want and need someone to walk with me.  Wish fulfillment?  Oh yes – – I wish for one to lead me.  Superman?  Oh no – – Nietzsche was wrong.  I understand this better – – or better, this understands me.

Humility requires confidence in one deserving of confidence.  As I place that confidence in following Christ, I’m able to say that I don’t understand it all.  I’m able to put myself firmly in Romans 1 and not hypocritically assign only others who struggle in different ways.  Am I completely humble, completely gentle?  Dear God – – no.  But I see what you did for me, see how I needed you and what you did in compassion, and I start to see a way forward.  There are two paths to humility – – a destination that I seek.  I’ve known one path – – humiliation.  This is another, and I propose the better.

Pascal

–1:16