Scripture for Today: Romans 5-8
As I’ve previously mentioned, the Epistles are a window into the minds of the earliest followers of Jesus. They seek to understand how the life, death and resurrection of Jesus might fit into their paradigm for life. Paul, the author of the letter to the Romans, was a man steeped in Jewish tradition and history, so he is trying to understand the mystery of Christ through an ancient Jewish lens.
Therefore, if we want to makes sense of Paul’s musings on sin, the law, grace and reconciliation, we must interpret it through the same contextual lens that Paul was reading it through. Paul most likely grew up with the belief that our relationship with God is based on our ability to follow the law. If he, or any member of the Hebrew community, failed to perfectly follow God’s precepts, it was necessary to offer a sacrifice to God in order to pay retribution and return to God. One was to follow this pattern as many times as needed, as well as offer an annual “catch-all sacrifice” to cover any overlooked sins during the year.
With his understanding of Jesus, Paul challenges this notion of paying retribution to God. For Paul, Jesus is our eternal sacrifice. Rather than impact our individual sins or errors, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus impacts our entire identity (8:14).
We have been granted to access life eternal, or, more fully translated: “age-long. and therefore: practically eternal, unending; partaking of the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting.” Through Christ we are no longer constrained to the understandings and choices of this world; despite our human constraints we can choose life over death, love over estrangement, and hope over fear. Through Christ we can live in the way Jesus modeled.
However, as is true for all humans, we will undoubtedly miss the mark. The entirety of Romans 7 is Paul’s grappling with the fact that he continues to choose death, estrangement and fear despite having full access to the power of God. He is frustrated: Why do I keep doing the exact thing I don’t want to do?!
I assume that like me, many of you can connect with this feeling. And, just imagine if you had to kill a calf every time you snapped at the customer service representative on the phone, judged your body as unlovable, failed to speak out against racism, or ignored the hungry person on the street corner.
Paul says that the good news is that because of Jesus’ eternal sacrifice we no longer have to “make it right.” It is ALWAYS right with God. There is never a moment in which you are not fully loved by God.
Similar to early followers of Jesus, we hear this good news through our cultural lens. Perhaps you, like me, find it hard to fully grasp this abundant grace and love in the context of our Western work ethic. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I still think I can will myself out of sinful behaviors. And I find it more comfortable to try and earn God’s favor through prayer or good works rather than relying on abundant love.
Our work, then, is to develop an ever-deepening sense of compassion for ourselves and the world around us. To accept the grace that was extended to us and to return it to others. To practice resting in the truth that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God. This is the eternal work.
Prayer: May I rest in your love.
Reflection: How do you respond to the truth that you are completely loved? How fully do you let that sink into your bones? What might support you in more fully believing that truth?
Art: Revealed In Jesus: Romans 8:39 by Mark Lawrence