While this seems like a weird starting point for a study, Paul introduces a very strong recurring theme here for the Romans, especially as we see echoed throughout this epistle, and I really wanted to focus on it here.
“Glory, honor, and peace for everyone who works good…the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.”
Allow me to begin with stating that Paul is by no means teaching a merit system based on works in this passage. He is explaining that to be walking in the faith means that those deeds will accompany that faith. Jesus expressly stated that “the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind: and the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) and John taught us, “my children, let us no longer love in tongue or word, but in action and deed.” (1 John 3:18). To fulfill the greatest commandment is to put our faith in action; it is the unity of faith and deeds. And those deeds not for our own glory or honor, but for the glory and honor of the Lord. Jesus addressed this fact when He taught us that, “when you give, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing.” (Matthew 6:3). When we trumpet our almsgiving, then we are no longer giving out of love, but rather out of pride. An example of this is giving to the poor. When you truly give to the poor out of compassion, then you are displaying the love of Jesus to the world, you are displaying your faith through your deeds. As James exhorts us, “show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:18). Yet, when we give to the poor and publicly announce it, what are we doing that any star in Hollywood hasn’t done? When we announce our almsgiving, it is no longer compassion, but rather public relations.
But, rather than retread the topic of the foundation of grace through faith which leads to works, what I wish to focus on here is Paul’s recurring theme throughout the letter to the Romans.
As we see throughout the course of Paul’s ministry, there were Judaizers who were basically following Paul, constantly trying to undermine the apostle’s teachings. We read in the Book of Acts that “certain men came down from Judea teaching that ‘unless you are circumcised…you cannot be saved.'” (Acts 15:1). Basically, what the Jews were teaching was that they alone were the favored race of the Lord, and that unless the Gentiles became what they were, Jews, then they would never be saved.
Paul’s statement here has such strong ramifications, because, as he so often taught, the physical lineage of the Jews gave them no predisposed right to the salvation of the Lord. No, rather, what he taught was that unless they also walked in obedience to the faith, in the same manner as the Gentiles, then they would also be condemned, as the Gentiles. It echoes John the Baptist’s warning, “do not say, ‘we have Abraham for our father,’ for God is able to raise children to Abraham from these stones.” (Luke 3:8). This was similarly Paul’s warning to the Jews that they were not “God’s elect” by any means, nor did they have any special privilege, but rather that they too must “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” (Matthew 3:8). And we see this fact all throughout the New Testament. In his letter to Colossae, Paul writes, “he who does wrong will receive the consequence of that wrong, and that without partiality.” (Colossians 3:25). Peter warns us that “if you address as Father the One who judges impartially according to one’s works, conduct yourself in fear while you are on the earth.” (1 Peter 1:13). In Acts, Peter decrees directly, “God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is acceptable to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35).
I wanted to focus on this theme, because it’s so important to understand what Paul was dealing with when he was writing this epistle. In absentia of this knowledge, it’s so easy to misunderstand other statements made during the course of this letter. When Paul, quoting the Lord speaking to Moses, writes, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” (Romans 9:15), it is so easy to misunderstand that as being God randomly choosing who He will save and who He won’t. It’s easy to take that statement to mean that unless you remember that this is being addressed to a group of people who are claiming that “we are the elect people of God, and the Lord will not punish us.” But, once you recognize that fact, then Paul’s statement comes to light. They claim that the Lord can’t punish them because they are God’s elect, and the response is “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,” which would be those who, of their own will, have decided to walk in the faith. Those He has chosen are those who have chosen Him; those who “work righteousness” (to quote Peter) unlike those like Simeon and Levi, about whom it is written, “they accomplished their injustice from their choice…in their anger they slew a man, and in their will, they hamstrung an ox. Cursed be their anger, for it was self-willed; and their wrath for it was hardened.” (Genesis 49:5-7).
When we make the decision to turn to the Lord in righteousness, He shows no partiality. There is no elect group to whom He shows favor or offers special provision for; the same salvation is available to all, regardless of any human label that we place on a particular group. Regardless of ethnicity, wealth, past sin. The recovering addict, the lawyer, the doctor, the shoplifter, the prostitute, the murderer, the police officer; all have the same offer of salvation, and the same means of accepting it. None of those titles means anything once we decide to accept the gift of His grace, once we receive this true repentance; then we become “a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a nation set apart for Him.” (1 Peter 2:9). Once we were all separate, all different in our human labels; however, we all become one nation in Christ, equal. “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11).
Our beloved Lord stands at the door knocking, we need only make the decision to arise and allow Him in. To open the door and allow Him to free us from the bondage that holds us captive to our fleshly desires. To be able to become “partakers of the divine nature,” (2 Peter 1:4) and become co-workers with Christ, laboring for the kingdom; to put our past ways behind us and have the power, the conviction, the guidance, to “go and sin no more.” (John 8:11). This is the free gift that is offered to everyone, this gift of freedom; we need only reach out to Him and accept it.
Paul here offers this same offer to us in his epistle to the Romans, along with the grave warning, do not think that we have some special privilege that makes us more worthy of salvation than anyone else. Just because we grew up in the Church, or because of who our parents are, or any other reason; we are no more worthy of the salvation that the Lord offers than anyone else. Let us not be led into the mistaken belief that the Lord has chosen a select few people to be His “elect” people and therefore not strive towards the kingdom, but let us all accept His offer and walk in the faith, abiding in His commandments, and become His holy nation, His royal priesthood.
May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.