Romans 3

Readings for this week August 13 – 17
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Day 1 – God’s Faithfulness

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 3:1-8

If God is calling a new people into being, a new covenant people called ‘Jew’ even though they’re not all Jewish, and whom he refers to as ‘the circumcision’ even though they are not all circumcised, then what’s the point in being Jewish? What was the point in calling the Jewish people to be his people in the first place? And if the Jewish people were given the law, were entrusted with God’s very words, but still sinned and violated the covenant, then what hope is there for anyone? All of us, no matter who we are, whether we are ‘us’ or ‘them’, whatever category we are in, whether Jew or Gentile, however defined, are condemned by our actions. The law shines a light on sinful action and highlights our inability to live as God wants. Is there hope for anyone? Or are we all doomed to be condemned?

Despite the way people might interpret everything Paul has been saying so far, there is still hope for us all. Paul is at pains to insist on God’s continuing faithfulness to Israel. God has favoured Israel, entrusting them with his word, with his oracles, the very words of God. And even Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness has not altered God’s covenant faithfulness towards them. A part of God’s righteousness involves exercising judgement on sin; but this is in the service of God’s truth, which remains constant despite everything. When he made the covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob he meant them. And in the person of the faithful Israelite, Jesus the Messiah, he has kept those promises. And through the Holy Spirit those promises will be completed and fulfilled.

Questions to Consider
What advantages does Paul say the Jews possess? What was Paul’s point in highlighting these advantages?

Prayer
Lord God, your faith in us far outstrips our faith in you, yet you love us unconditionally. Help us accept your extravagant love.  Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – All of Us in the Dock

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 3:9-20

These quotes from the psalms do a thorough job of indicting all human beings as unworthy to stand before God – in fact, as incapable of standing before God in our own strength. The passages from the psalms that he quotes may have originally been used by Israel to pour scorn on her enemies, but here Paul applies them to all, Jew as well as Gentile. The Jews, like the pagan nations around them, have failed to honour God or worship him as he deserves and are no better than those they ridicule.

Paul’s intent has been to draw Jews into the dock alongside the Gentiles; to show that the universal condemnation of sin affects all people, indicts all people, Jews as well as Gentiles. All are guilty. Jews cannot hide behind the God-given law as a reason to escape punishment; one of the features of the law was its ability to highlight sin, to shine a light on it and show that even God’s chosen people were not immune from its destructive effects. The presumption that those under the law were immune from sin and exempt from punishment was exactly backwards: the law not only defines sin and warns of it, it also makes people consciously aware of it in their own lives and how serious it is, an awareness that Paul seems to think is lacking in his fellow Jews in particular. The very thing that they think offers them protection from God’s wrath – the possession of the law – is the very thing that highlights their sin and unfaithfulness. No one – Jew or Gentile – can stand before God and appeal to the ‘works of the law’ to protect them.

Questions to Consider
What are your most common excuses for your sins? Why these ones?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, forgive me when I try and wriggle out of culpability for my sin. I know that without your help I can achieve nothing and claim nothing for myself, but through Christ alone all things are possible. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – God’s Covenant Justice

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 3:21-24

So now that Paul has shown the dire straits the human race is in, and successfully shown how both Jew and Gentile stand indicted in the dock before God, he turns back towards the ultimate solution to humanity’s predicament: God’s righteousness, a righteousness testified to by both the law and the prophets, but now, amazingly, shockingly, revealed apart from the law. What is the source of this righteousness? Faith in Jesus Christ.

In the same way that Paul has been at pains to show that all are under sin and stand condemned, even those who were gifted possession of the law, so he is keen to show that the righteousness of God attested to by the law is no longer just for those who know the law and live within it, but for all. All stand condemned, even those within the law. All can experience the righteousness of God, even those outside the law. And this righteousness is now revealed fully and definitively in Jesus Christ. All have sinned, but can be justified by God’s grace, through the redemption that came via Jesus (verse 24). All need salvation, and so salvation is there for all who believe. God’s righteousness comes to full effect through faith in Jesus Christ, for both Jew and Gentile, not through scrapping the law and withdrawing the call to Israel and starting all over again, but by the arrival of a faithful Israelite who offered the covenant faithfulness and obedience that Israel should have given but failed to. Jesus represents the covenant people, fulfilling in himself what they couldn’t. Jesus was faithful – his faithfulness to God is the key.

Questions to Consider
How do Jew and Gentile relate to God now? To each other?

Prayer
Holy Lord, thank you for your justice and your mercy, two sides of the single coin of your love. As unworthy as we are, you love us enough to still see worth in us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Role of the Death of Jesus

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 3:25-26

Redemption is necessary – and possible! But how? How does God achieve this redemption that we all, Jew and Gentile alike, so desperately need? The answer is through Jesus’ death on the cross, the ultimate sacrifice that atones for our sin and rebellion. The law contained within it a way of dealing with the sin that had broken the covenant relationship between God and his people: the sin offering and the scapegoat. Here Paul is speaking in a way that should be familiar to his audience, indeed, to anyone in the ancient world, but maybe not so much to us today. He is using the language of sacrifice, and in particular he is referring to the specific sacrifices of the Day of Atonement.

Paul doesn’t explain everything that he says here in these two verses. Frustratingly for us, he doesn’t expand on what he says, or spell out exactly what he means – these two verses are very theologically dense and could have an entire commentary to themselves. But he does make it clear that Jesus’ sacrificial death has demonstrated God’s righteousness. The death of Jesus is the ultimate expression and proof of God’s faithfulness to his people.  Through Christ’s death, God has provided the means of atonement for us all. It is, in some ways, a further affirmation of the law: it was only because God had given this sacrificial method of atonement that Jesus could be the means of atonement. No means of atonement given = no point in Jesus dying.

Questions to Consider
How does the death of Jesus mirror the sacrifice commanded by the law? Why did Jesus need to die in this way?

Prayer
Father God, the death of your son stands at the centre of our relationship with you; it both makes the relationship possible and empowers and sustains it. May we be truly grateful. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The God of All of Us

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 3:27-31

Who’s in? Who’s out? Who’s really saved, who’s truly one of us? Certain professing Christians love to judge who is actually a Christian and who isn’t; who is truly heading for paradise and who isn’t. Often, such determinations are made based on behaviour: what we see people doing, how we see them acting, what they say and do. One ancient school of thought viewed the Torah – the law – in the same way. God gave the law and it is Israel’s task to keep it; those who do so will be vindicated in the final judgement. And the way to tell here in the present who will be vindicated in the future, is that they will be the ones doing the works of the law here and now. That’s the badge they wear now that marks them out as those who will be saved in the future.

This sort of boasting – “I’m doing and saying the right things, I’m behaving properly; I’m one of the saved, as are those who do just as I do” – is what Paul is talking about, and ruling out, here. It doesn’t mean God isn’t interested in right action, or holiness, or appropriate rules; life is not a free for all where we can do as we like. It does mean that those who believe the message of Jesus and entrust themselves to the God who raised him from the dead have the assurance, here and now, that they are part of God’s family. And having this faith in Christ is the sign that the gospel has transformed the heart and mind of a person and made them a new person in the family of God. This transforming faith is now the identifying badge, and it can be worn by anyone at all, Jew and Gentile.

Question to Consider
How do you understand the connections between law, grace and faith?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you for granting me a place in your family. Thank you for the gift of transforming faith in your son Jesus. In his name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)