The Roman Road

Some people complain because the Bible doesn’t spell things out plainly enough. Recently, I heard a popular atheist on YouTube (where all the great intellectuals can be found) declare that God would’ve organized things better if it were really from Him.

In response, let me take a shot at what an organized treatment of the Christian faith might look like.

In the person of Jesus Christ, God revealed His righteousness (His perfect goodness and morality) to all who have faith. Jesus went to the cross, where he died in our place to show and suffer God’s wrath for all the sin of mankind.

Now, that sin is more than just the bad things we do. It’s our natural state of mind. Though nature reveals God to us every day, we ignore Him, deny Him, reject Him, and replace Him with our own desires. We dream up false gods to suit ourselves and worship the things of the world instead. God responds not by wiping us out (usually), but by giving us what we want. We choose sin and idolatry, so He leaves us to our own devices. As a result, we fall deeper into sin, until we come to see it as good.

But even in our sin, mankind has always known right from wrong. We recognize evil in others, which means we have the capacity – the human conscience – to recognize it in ourselves. Yet instead of applying the same standard to ourselves, we make excuses and assume God will give us a free pass.

That’s not how God works. He judges everyone with perfect fairness – even the Jews to whom He had shown special favor. In fact, they would be held to a higher standard – not unfairly, but in accordance with what they know – as they had been given the Law of Moses to educate them on moral matters. Others might still be guilty of sin, but at least they could claim ignorance on some things.

So the Jews aren’t off the hook. None of us are perfect, and we all know as much – whether by conscience or by the Law. Regardless of their privileges, Jews can’t be saved by their rituals and commandments, because they have the same sin in their hearts as everyone else. They were chosen so that God could reveal Himself to the world. If they failed in their calling, it only makes God appear more holy by comparison. Ultimately, the Law doesn’t save them; it shows them why they’re lost.

It was for this very reason – the sin and hopelessness of mankind – that God revealed His righteousness in Christ (as the Old Testament predicted He would). Everyone who believes in his sacrifice would be saved by their faith, since they can’t be saved any other way. As an act of pure grace, God allowed Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross to serve as the substitute for all who choose to receive the gift.

It had to be done, because God had overlooked sin until Jesus came to solve the problem. In Jesus, God was able to punish sin and offer a means of escape for mankind. We did nothing to earn it, and we therefore have no reason to brag. As the old song says, Jesus paid it all. He didn’t erase the Law; he kept it perfectly – the only sinless human to have ever lived – and then died to fulfill everything foreshadowed in the animal sacrifices of Jewish religion.

As proof of this fact – that we’re all saved by faith in what Jesus did and not by anything we do – even Jews can look to the story of their forefather Abraham. God didn’t call him because of his works, but because of his faith (Genesis 15:6). Even King David had admitted the blessing of simple grace from God (Psalm 32:1-2), as opposed to the possibility of somehow earning salvation. God had instructed the Jews to be circumcised as a sign of their obedience, but it didn’t save them; if it did, how could Abraham’s faith have saved him before he was called and circumcised?

Instead, Abraham became an example and a spiritual father to all of us. He was the ancestor and forerunner of the Jews (who later received the Law of Moses that instructed them); but he also set an example of simple faith for everyone. Just as he believed God’s promise of a child (at 100 years old), so we believe in the saving power of Jesus.

Having this faith in Christ, we can have peace in our sufferings, joy in our sorrows, and hope in hard times. God gives us His spirit – the Spirit, of God and of Christ – by which we know His divine love, as shown in the death of Christ for a world of sinners who never cared about him (and still don’t). Jesus took our sins and died in our place, so that we can take his righteousness and stand in his place.

This isn’t the first time we’ve all been impacted, spiritually speaking, by the life and acts of one man. In Genesis, we read that Adam disobeyed God and brought sin into the world; as a result, mankind has suffered the punishment of death ever since. Even before the Law of Moses was given, people died as a result of sin, according to the law of nature and conscience.

Jesus died to reverse this, so that all men could be saved. But whereas Adam brought death to everyone by one sin, Jesus bring forgiveness to everyone for countless sins. The punishment falls on every sinner, beginning with Adam; but the forgiveness of God is infinitely available for the entire world. The Law teaches us about sin, thus increasing our potential for guilt; but the grace of God goes even further, covering this increase so that we can have eternal life through Jesus.

That doesn’t mean we should continue in sin so that God can show more grace. The whole reason we’re baptized is to represent the death and resurrection of Christ – dying to sin, as he did, and rising again to new life. We should consider his death our own and live apart from sin. We’re not obligated to follow the Law; Jesus obeyed it perfectly because we sinners are incapable of doing so. But we shouldn’t take advantage of his grace. How can we serve God if we’re still living in sin? The only thing we ever got out of that was a promise of death. Through God’s free gift on the cross, we can not be like Jesus, but we have the promise of eternal life as a reward.

Now, the Jews actually had been obligated to obey the Law; but legal obligations cease when we die. And by dying with Christ, they can be freed from that obligation. Jesus already fulfilled it for them. Like all of us, they can now live by the Spirit and not by the Law. That’s not to say the Law was bad, of course; it still serves to teach us about sin. But in so doing, it still exacerbates our accountability and thus our guilt. That’s not the Law’s fault; it’s just telling the truth. It’s our fault for violating God’s will.

Even as Christians, we struggle and fail, no matter how much we want to stop. Our godly thoughts and sinful actions are still at odds. That’s why Christ came as a human being: to live a sinless life and die as our perfect representative. God accepted this payment so that we could go free. By faith, we can live for Jesus without fear of condemnation. If the Spirit is in us – despite our natural sinfulness – we can leave our sins behind and have eternal life with Christ.

It’s true, we’re still going to suffer as Christians, but it will seem like nothing compared to eternity. Even nature suffers now, but all will be made right and new and perfect in the end. The Spirit of God will help us in this struggle, not only against sin but against life itself. We can rest assured that God has things under control and that everything will work out for the best – even if we don’t like it. God had everything planned from the beginning. He knew exactly who would serve Him before we existed, and He prepared our salvation ahead of time. Knowing that God is on our side, we can live without fear.

Of course, God hasn’t forgotten the Jews; but He never promised that all of them would be saved. They made that fatal assumption themselves, despite all evidence to the contrary. From the beginning, God demonstrated His power to choose whomever He wanted: He chose Abraham’s son Isaac over his other children; He chose Isaac’s son Jacob over his twin brother; and He chose a sinful king in Egypt to show His wrath. Likewise, if God has chosen to make salvation available to everyone through Jesus, the Jews have no right to complain.

The Old Testament predicted this too: that salvation would be made available to everyone and that not all Jews would receive it. While others accepted the good news of Jesus Christ by faith, most Jews stubbornly rejected it and insisted on trying to earn their own salvation. But salvation doesn’t have to be earned. God came down and brought it to us in person. We need only believe and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we can be saved.

Of course, one has to hear this message to receive it, which is why it’s important to share our faith; but as previously stated, we all know enough to be held accountable. The Jews knew more than any of us, which is what makes their rejection worse. But God didn’t allow them to miss out on salvation altogether; even among them, there remains a faithful few. But He used their failure to His advantage; when the Jews failed to embrace Christianity, the church went out to the rest of the world.

Just as we benefited from the fall of the Jews, we’ll someday benefit from their salvation. We should never be so arrogant as to give up on them. One day, they’ll accept the truth, and God will welcome them back with open arms. All nations and peoples should learn from their mistakes, so as not to suffer the same. But we should appreciate them as the vessels through which God introduced His one and only son, who brought salvation to all the world. God’s mercy is available to them still, as it is to all of us.

Knowing this, we should strive to live a holy life to God, as members of the body of Christ with different spiritual gifts to use in service to Him. We should go out of our way to set a godly example for the world – in how we treat one another, how we treat our enemies, and how we behave as law-abiding citizens. Our ultimate goal should be to show love and be like Christ. We should refrain from judging one another on matters of opinion, as we’re all free to serve God according to our own conscience – so long as we lead no one into sin by our example. It’s more important that we care about others than ourselves, just as Jesus did when he gave his life on the cross.

There we have it – not an organized treatment of my own making, but a summary and paraphrase of the book of Romans. The Apostle Paul said all of this in much greater detail, with more depth and wisdom and eloquence than I could ever dream, nearly two thousand years ago. Since it’s generally considered the biblical masterpiece on Christian faith, I doubt I could improve on it. Some may disagree with my interpretation in a few spots, but I did my best to be faithful to Paul’s meaning.

For anyone who doesn’t appreciate what the Bible has to say, with Paul’s reasoning or flow of argument: maybe you should try reading it with an open mind and a willingness to learn.

R

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s