The words of the apostle Paul did not encourage me as I read what he quoted from the Old Testament; ‘as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). To me it seemed to be a depressing message bringing utter hopelessness.
But even words of Scripture can sometimes bring me confusion if I don’t see the whole picture and if I just concentrate on one or two verses. Then I came to realise I should ask myself ‘What is the context of these verses?’ and ‘How do they fit in with what follows?’
It’s a long letter that Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, but he couldn’t possibly have known that generations to come would divide his letter into sections called chapters and verses. I believe the chapters and verses in Romans, particularly, are not meant to be studied in isolation. One idea builds upon another until we have a complete picture of truth. It’s like putting together a jigsaw. And Paul seems to follow a pattern. First of all he paints a bleak picture and all is darkness and utter hopelessness, and then he shows us how God has provided a solution and brought light and hope.
He shows us ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. Then he shows us the way in which God brought us righteousness. We are ‘justified by his grace as a gift’. It’s made so clear that we can’t rise above our own sinfulness, but God is kind and generous to us. He provides what we need. How does He do it? It’s ‘through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith’ (Romans 3:23-25).
Paul had studied the Bible (our Old Testament) carefully all his life and thought he was pleasing God by doing His will. Then he was confronted by Jesus Himself who asked why he was persecuting Him. The dreadful truth now came to him that he had been misguided and deceived. He hadn’t understood God’s will at all. He was transformed by the revelation that Jesus was risen from the dead and was the son of God. Now he would give the rest of his life to following the will of God and taking the Good News of Jesus to Jews and Gentiles wherever he went.
But Paul still loved the Word of God and taught from it, as did all the apostles, and as Jesus had done too. So Paul then goes on to explain that the grace of God bringing righteousness doesn’t mean we can ignore all that God said to us in His Word. ‘But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it’ (Romans 3:21). ‘Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law’ (Romans 3:31).
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to understand Your grace and to have faith to receive all that You want to give to me. But help me also to understand the requirements and standards You have taught us in Your Word and to be obedient to them, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
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