13 September, 2020

The Righteous Live Together

In Romans 1:17, Paul famously says, "the just shall live by faith", but less famously the real question in Martin Luther's mind when he saw that verse was the beginning phrase, "the righteousness of God is revealed". 

There are 3 righteousnesses in play in this verse. There's the righteousness of the Jews in obeying the law, the righteousness of the Greeks in ignorance of that law, and the righteousness of God in accepting the Gentiles unfairly, without conforming to the holiness of the law. You may not have heard that last one fully, so I'll repeat it. The Jews were worried God would be made unrighteous if he accepted the Gentiles before they conformed themselves to Sabbath, Circumcision, and dietary laws. 

The Jews worried about making God unrighteous. 

It is to laugh.

But, when we laugh, let's be sure to laugh at ourselves with them. EVERY reference to the Jews can be fully, accurately, and fairly replaced with a reference to Hypocrites, and that's my tribe. I'm a hypocrite of the hypocrites, circumscribed in my theology on the eighth day (and then again and again and again over the years). I remember being raised Pentecostal and arguing God always wanted to heal, so if we were not healed to admit it was not God's fault. I remember when I learned Calvinism arguing God could not save the reprobate without sullying his own holiness. I remember saying if you're not near to God, it's not him that moved. 

I would argue the Gentiles/Greeks stand in well for all Lawless people in Paul's argument. They are the ones who ignorantly do what comes naturally, which in this American century encompasses a lot of options. I cannot talk much about the Lawless, because I was wired for legalism from day one. 

The amazing thing about Romans is how Paul argues 3 righteousnesses. Paul argues the Hypocrites and the Lawless can both be made righteous, and even better, God can rescue both those tribes (even if neither knows they need it) while remaining righteous himself. 

It was for this reason Paul wrote the book of Romans, his only written, complete argument. The church in Rome was brand new, constituted suddenly when Nero allowed the Jews back into Rome. This was a fresh start with fresh people. He knew and loved all the people he lists in the 16th chapter, but he also knew a bunch of his Judaizing enemies had come to be part of that fresh start. Paul knew they'd come to Hypocritize this new church, and he wanted to cure the problem before it even started. The Letter to the Romans was his scalpel. 

Look what he does. 

He anticipates a brutal, legalistic attack on what will and must become a key church throughout the empire in its very first days, and look what he does. 

He makes room for Hypocrites and Lawless to be joined together into one living body. He gives a formula, not whereby "his team" will win, but whereby both sides can move forward together. 

You doubt this. 

You think Paul fought for grace against legalism without remorse. Or, at the very least, you think Paul was just teaching the pure gospel to pure hearers. You doubt this book was written to head off a fight between Hypocrites and Lawless. 

I submit to you Romans 14 as the "therefore" of the book. Just give it a read. 

When the righteousness of God is revealed, it can meld the Hypocrites and the Lawless together into a single, righteous body. 


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