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Monday, July 29, 2013

Today’s Reading | Romans 3:21–31

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (NRSV)


The letter to the Romans is Paul’s densest and most complex reflection on the meaning of the person and nature of Jesus Christ. In it he uses various rhetorical devices to emphasize his understanding of how God acts in the world through Jesus. It is worth remembering that Paul is the first written witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ that we have in our canon of Scripture. (The placement of the books of the New Testament is not chronological.) In this passage, Paul uses a technical form of expression known as a diatribe (which does not carry the same negative connotations as the word has in modern English.) In essence, Paul outlines his beliefs by responding to questions that he sets up as if in opposition to what he is proposing and resolves them in the text.

Two words which Paul uses are of particular importance in understanding his beliefs: righteousness and atonement. I have always found it helpful to understand that the meaning of atonement is found in the word itself—“at-one-ment”—meaning the process by which we are made one with or reconciled to God. Righteousness has a similar meaning in that it refers to our being in right relationship with God, rather than the brokenness of relationship, which our sin causes. These are “relational” words, and in recognizing that, we can be sure of the nature of our God, who, through Jesus Christ, calls us into new ways of loving and being and relationship with our God and with each other.


Mystr’y shrouds our life and death
but we need not be afraid,
for the mystery’s heart is love,
God’s great love which Christ displayed.
(from the hymn text by Bill L. Wallace)

Reflection written by Calum I. MacLeod, Executive Associate Pastor

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