The focus of postings for Lent has been on ideas we might hold that should be open to examination. The traditional period of repentance is specifically calling for a repentance of thoughts and attitudes more than of actions and habits, though of course the latter flow out of the former. Today the text, though familiar to many, might challenge an often heard idea. Romans 3:21-31 (ESV):
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
How many times have you heard a phrase similar to this: “God cannot look upon sin”? Are we serious? God cannot look at the world without looking at sin. And we know He looks at the world! The apostle Paul has spent the first two and one half chapters declaring the fact that all the world, whether the small portion of it that had access to His revealed Law or the vast majority that had the outline of the moral law written on the heart, has failed to live uprightly. The oft-cited v. 23 is simply a summary of all that has gone before.
But that famous verse is not even the complete sentence; it is only the prelude to a major shift in what he is talking about, moving from the self-evident fact that all have sinned to the whole point of his preaching and teaching, which is the second and major part of the sentence. Not only have “all” sinned, but they are justified graciously through what Jesus has done in his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. The argument, Paul’s major theological treatise, at this very point turns toward faith in what God has done.
Why do I think that examining our thinking is important here? Just a couple of suggestions which cannot be fleshed out here, but which I invite you to react to in comments. First, do we limit God’s grace by painting the picture of a God, quite angry at that, who cannot look upon sin? Anger comes first, grace seems to come begrudgingly in this picture. Second, do we recognize the phrase (v.25) that God “passed over” so very many sins in the past? And do we interpret that as saying all such passing over has ended? Finally (final for this post only, of course), do we exude an attitude more consistent with merited favor than with abundant, irrational grace in our following of Christ? Just asking.