There’s no substitute for going slowly through Scripture and hanging out a while, stopping to smell the flowers and spend time in a place that our eyes fly over with speed, like cars on a highway.
I’ve pulled over to the side, I’m checking out the terrain, surveying the features that have to this point only been a blur.
Paul is writing to Christians in Rome and unpacks for the Jew and Gentile alike that they need Christ. The Jew had serious advantages, having received so much in the way of a God-centered heritage, and yet it hadn’t made a difference to how he lived.
From verses 21 through 24 in chapter 2, Paul explains:
They were good at teaching others how to live, but they couldn’t live up to it themselves.
They preached against stealing, but had a business culture of ripping people off.
They warned against adultery, but fell into it themselves…just consider the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus; how did they catch her in the act? Now that’s a question with potentially icky answers.
They boasted in the Law, but didn’t really honour God.
Paul doesn’t sugar-coat anything: it was because of them that the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles. Their witness was poor. Nobody was drawn to that way of living.
Of course, it’s helpful to ask ourselves a question in the light of that: How is my witness? Yours? Ours as a Body of Believers?
In an attribution that is unhelpfully murky, the theologian Martin Luther supposedly – in the light of justification (God’s act of removing the guilt and sin of the sinner-turned-Christian) – said that we are like piles of snow-covered dung. The point being that as far as God’s law is concerned, we are still pieces of poo, just covered in snow – an illustration of justification as a legal term.
If an unbeliever had to stop at the side of the road with me at the second Mile marker of the Romans road, and see what he thought was a snowman, only to discover on adding snow to it that underneath is poo, he may not be inclined to be impressed.
In my humble opinion (based on what I’ve read from smarter guys), there must also be a moral change in us and not just a legal one. A righteousness that is real, authentic, and derives entirely from the Holy Spirit working in and through us.
It must be possible to walk in righteousness, practically, and not just be covered in righteousness, legally. Paul writes elsewhere that we are new creations. This is what in theological circles is called ‘regeneration’.
The great preacher Spurgeon once remarked that as a work of God, making a Christian is greater and more awesome than making a world.
Why does he say that? Because the world had no option but to obey and be created and ordered by His command. A Christian consists of a new creation that is constantly fighting against his or her sinful flesh, but that can still walk in righteousness.
I’m sure I’ll see more of what Paul was saying about how the Christian should live by faith. I’m trucking on through Romans 3.
I quote the evangelist Charles Finney: “If the presence of God is in the church, the church will draw the world in. If the presence of God is not in the church, the world will draw the church out.”
I reckon the world may mock and harass us Christians, and yet still find our proximity to God frustratingly attractive; when reality comes calling and flesh fails, they should know who to turn to. I want to be that Christian, and part of that community that draws the world in.