Today’s reading: Romans 1-3.
“Aren’t there many ways to find God?”
The world believes that each man may find his own path to eternity, but Paul makes it clear in the book of Romans that there is one way, one path ordained by God, the Gospel way. Paul identifies at least two other paths that men are taking, and both are dead ends. There is the godless path that many men in the Gentile world take, and the legalistic way of the Law followed by the Jews. Only the Gospel road leads all the way to God.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17
The “Righteousness from God” is one theme of the book of Romans. Every God-fearing person looks for the source of righteousness, and from the outset Paul declares that only God can provide it. Men can’t find it on their own or earn it; it must come from God. The good news about Jesus is the key that unlocks the door to God’s grace. Paul quotes the prophet Habakkuk to prove that God planned all along for men to find peace with him through faith rather than works. In this passage Paul explains who the just man is, the one who stands cleared of his sins before God. That man is the one who finds his righteousness by faith in God.
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Romans 1:28-31
Most of the world now and throughout history chose another path. They picked a godless way, not because there was no sign of God, but because they rejected the Lord. Romans describes the downward spiral of this lost way, from an initial knowledge of God, to a failure to glorify and thank God, to a darkening of the heart, to foolishness and idolatry, and finally to sin, depravity, and shameful lusts.
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. Romans 2: 28-29
The future of Paul’s Jewish brothers is also an important part of Romans. Unlike the godless Gentiles, the Jews believed in God, and sought peace with him, but they looked for righteousness from the Law by keeping its precepts. The problem was that they failed to obey all the commands of they Law no matter how much they talked about them. As Paul said, “all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” The Jews thought their position as God’s people would save them. In fact it brought them a double condemnation because they knew the Law and still broke it. They needed a better way, a circumcision of the heart rather than the body.
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3: 21-24
The righteousness men seek comes from God. It doesn’t come from the Law, though the Law makes it plain that they need help from God. It doesn’t come from themselves, for all men are desperately wicked. It comes freely by God’s grace through faith in the saving power of Christ’s death on the cross, which redeems sinful men from the penalty of death. This is the only way to be made righteous, and it only comes from God, and it is available to all men.
What did the sinner do? Instead of looking out to God, he looked into himself. He involved himself in vain speculations and thought he was wise, while all the time he was a fool. Why? He was a fool because he made his ideas, his opinions, his speculations the standard and the law of life, instead of the will of God. The sinner’s folly consisted in making “man the master of things.” He found his standards in his own opinions and not in the laws of God. He lived in a self-centred instead of a God-centred universe. Instead of walking looking out to God he walked looking into himself, and, like any man who does not look where he is going, he fell. The result of this was idolatry. The glory of God was exchanged for images of human and animal forms. The root sin of idolatry is that it is selfish. A man makes an idol. He brings it offerings and addresses prayers to it. Why? So that his own schemes and dreams may be furthered. His worship is for his own sake and not for God’s. – William Barclay, Daily Study Bible
Image by Trey Ratcliff on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0