One thing that is over-abundant in our society is people who can point out ways in which people fail to live up to what they claim God holds as a standard. Whether you take hate groups masquerading as churches, destructive predators masquerading as pastors, or the cowards who enable the above groups, all around us are people who create a massive public relations problem for God.
We see this in history: there are a good many moments when we as Christians have not upheld the best of what the Bible teaches. There were many centuries of using the power of the state to enforce religious conformity. That should have been, should always be, a matter of individual conscience and not law. I would prefer that everyone worship the same God as I do, in the same way that I do. I think that I am right in how I understand the Bible and why I do what I do.
However, you should only be in danger of a rousing debate over coffee and pie with me for that. I believe eternity hangs in the balance of what one believes, and so it is far too important for the government to get involved with. I would far rather peacefully yet passionately tell you what I believe and trust the Almighty God of Creation to convince you. Let the police slow you down so you do not kill my children on the highway, but keep them out of the religious world.
We see it in events like the overall entrenchment of anti-Semitism as the wrong-headed response to the Crucifixion; the power politics of the Borgia Popes; witch trials and other persecutions of ‘different’ people. We see it looking back at the overall idea of religious warfare, from internecine doctrinal battles that turned to war to the Crusades the to the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries.
It crops up in modern times when people misdirect God’s Word to allow pastors to behave shamefully without accountability. When religious organizations hide illegal actions behind supposed religious exemptions, it’s there. We see it when money drives the church to use people for money, rather than seeing people drive the church to use money for people.
The laundry list of sins across two millennia of the followers of Jesus on earth gets ugly. One can draw the right conclusions from this, or the wrong ones. Here is the reality, as we see it Romans 3:
1. Paul points out that God is true, even if every man is a liar. This includes himself. It includes the Pope, your pastor, Billy Graham, or me. God’s righteousness and truth are what we call independent in theological circles. Nothing about God depends on man, no matter what man does. Can we reflect poorly on God? Without a doubt.
But God is right, even when no person is left being right with God.
2. Paul then refutes the idea that unrighteousness does not matter, since God is always right and just. Be cautious not fall into what theologians call antinomianism which is typically understood as the idea that you can do whatever you want and it’s okay. After all, if you sin, then God shows grace which brings Him glory, and that’s good, right?
God is right, and His people should strive to be right based on His revealed standards in the Word.
3. Finally, we come to this point: is there anything mankind can do to save themselves? Is there any hope?
We find that the answer is no. The Law of God is very clear about what is sinful, and those sins are too easy for us to fall into. After all, sin is typically easy or fun, and often easy fun, else we would never do it. People fall into sins of the heart, the mind, and the body—and because of these sins need saving. Saving from themselves, saving from the wrath of God, saving from the realities of the moral laws of existence.
That saving is not found in any work that we can do. It is not found in law-following nor even in fancy lawyering out from under law-breaking. It is found in one place:
Faith in Christ is the solution to our sin.
There are fancy words in this passage, like propitiation, which reflect the action taken by God to remove the inability of mankind to have a relationship with Him. Do not be taken aback by these, and read them, look them up, google it, Bible Dictionary it, email someone—whatever you need to grasp the concept.
Because the concept is important:
Christ alone is the solution to our sin.
This is one of the glories of the truth of Christianity: while we believe that there will be Christians somewhere living until the end of time when Christ returns, even if the visible church is stamped out, the Church will return because the Truth cannot die out. Even if all professing Christians turn apostate, Truth does not change.
Faith in Christ, faith alone, is the solution to sin, the opening of the way to heaven, and obedience follows this as naturally as exhale follows inhale.
No matter what any person living or dead does. No matter the behavior of the enemies of the Cross, even if they wear the uniform of the Savior simply to disgrace Him.
Today’s Nerd Note: While Paul is stressing here the importance of salvation by faith, do not miss the whole of Romans 3 and the idea that behavior follows salvation. Sinful behavior reveals the need for salvation and righteous behavior reveals the presence of salvation, but without faith the latter is pointless.
Do not mistake Paul to be saying that there is no need to live righteously. Do not mistake me to be saying that there is no objective right and wrong and that much behavior that exists is wrong. Do grasp this: Paul lived in a pluralistic, paganized culture that celebrated many things that were sinful; we live in a pluralistic, paganized culture that celebrates many things that are sinful. The focus must be on proclaiming the Gospel that changes hearts more than on changing behavior. Changed hearts change behavior.
Some behaviors should be curtailed by outward power because of their impact on others: we ban child marriages for a reason; we institute driving regulations for a reason: that people live to make their own choices; that people not die at the hand of reckless others. If life is at stake, the law is necessary.
Consider what areas this really divides into that matter in your activism and political/legal wrangling where you are. Here in America, there are certain implications. What are they were you are? What are they here?