Paul’s life is defined by his identity in God. He challenges us to see ourselves and live in the same way. It is easy to get off track, however; to allow our own works or heritage to define use; to lose sight of our need for God. Therefore, Paul takes us on a journey to put us in our place and remind us where we’ve come from.
He begins by affirms the faith and actions of the Romans. He contrasts this with the sinfulness of the world around them. He points out that the sinful men know what they should do and choose not to do it. His audience would surely agree and so they’ve taken the bait that he has laid for them.
Immediately, Paul turns his readers on their ear by stating that none of us has an excuse, we are all condemned and subject to God’s judgement. Our own attempts to fulfill the law and our religious heritage are not enough to justify us. Further, we are all under the curse of sin. We are, in fact, thoroughly sinful. We don’t seek God of our own will. But God made a way. He reached our to us to give us something we could never do for ourselves.
Abraham is a great case study: He was not great because of who he was or what he did. He was made great because of what God did on his behalf. Abraham was chosen and given the gifts that he could never bring about on his own.
It is not the decendants of Abraham who are heirs to his promise. It is those who share the same faith as Abraham.
So, while we were hopeless and helpless, God did what only He could. He showed love and mercy to us by sending Christ to die. We didn’t deserve it and could never do enough to become entitled to it. It was a pure and simple gift beyond our imagination.
This gift is not without a cost to us, though – no matter what anyone might say. It demands our life. The life that we have lived is put to death when faced with Christ. We were slaves to sin. We are still slaves, but now we are slaves to Christ, and live our lives in Him.
This is not simply a cognitive assent to the work of Christ. It is a complete exchange of death for life.
The Law that we thought provided a pathway to righteousness is really just a blueprint for our sinfulness and our atempts to keep it have driven us further from God. The Law is good, but we are – by nature – slaves to sin. We will never be able to uphold the Law. Only Christ can do this on our behalf.
Because he has done this, we are no longer condemned. Therefore we must put our sin to death and set our minds on things above, the things of the Spirit. We should anxiously await the future glory that we will find when we are fully united with Christ.
Paul is grieved because many of the Jews just don’t get it. Hee knows, though, that it is God’s choice of who He will save – and God is always just. What is the Jews’ loss has become the Gentiles’ gain. Even though they did not seek God, He came for them.
The Jews believed in God, but they did not submit and surrender their hearts and lives to Him. The key element of salvation is not an academic knowledge of God, but a submission to His lordship.
Gentiles shouldn’t take this as a means of superiority over the Jews. This is all a part of God’s will and His action. Instead, we should find a renewed sense of awe, fear, and gratitude for bringing us into His family.
In light of this, our response should be distinct: putting self to death and becoming alive in Christ. We are to hate evil, prefer one another, and persevere in tribulation. These are not acts of our own will, however. These are the results of a heart transformed by the love of God.
Motivated by that love, we should submit to authority. We should love one another because of the love that God has shown to us. Love is the fulfillment of the Law and should permeate everything we do.
After all, everything we do is for the Lord, not for ourselves. Therefore, any and all actions we take should arise from our convictions from God.
Any strength we have is a gift from God and should be used for other, not for ourselves. This follows the example of Christ. As such, Paul could only boast in Christ.
Paul begins his letter by rooting his identity in Christ. He concludes his letter by identifying his friends in the same way. This is not a simple title that any of them bear. It is born out of lives changed by the love of God.
In conclusion, the Christian life is not about what you do, what you know, or where you’ve come from. It is about who you are. Are you someone who has been transformed in heart and mind by the love of God and the work of Christ? Or are you simply trying to do it yourself – constantly striving against your own inability?
We are all hopeless and helpless but for the love of God that puts self to death and makes us alive in Christ.