First, we must understand the reasoning behind the letter, the central gist of the message. We see a communication to a people group grappling with two seemingly opposing concepts: one that says you must follow the law, and the other that speaks of a dedication to the Messiah. Paul goes to great lengths in explaining life lived in each path. In his explanation, he shows us these are two ways of trying to achieve righteousness with God and brings us to the only way to righteousness.
He explains that the workings of the law do not in any way lead to the desired end of being right with God. He says in Romans 11:6-7a (NLT), “And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is – free and undeserved. So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly”. Boy, do I understand that earnestness. I remember being a child, wanting to be good and make my mother proud – but, no matter how much I tried, I always seemed to fall short. I was really sincere in my desire to do so, but that flesh seemed to get the better of me and rear its ugly head. I see this now, as a parent – my daughter desires to please me, yet seeks to do so in alternative methods to what I ask of her. I lose count of the number of hugs I get, just so she can keep delaying going to bed - or being told she loves me so very much without an actual cleaning of the toys taking place (any parents relate?). Well, that is what the Israelites are doing here - wanting to do the lawful things that God asks but still not listening and doing what God is asking. The danger of not listening is this is what gives rise to a hardened hard.
Now, in order that we too might not fall into this trap, Paul admonishes us not to think too highly of ourselves (Romans 11:20) or even feel proud that we have Christ and therefore are somehow better than those that don’t (Romans 11:25). He reminds that we are here by grace, here by mercy, and not here by anything we have done. Even as we serve, we are not to think of ourselves as awesome or better because we are about the Lord’s work (Romans 12:3)…as Pastor Ken would say, “we are nothing on a stick”.
So then, what is the true way of righteousness, of living the life we are called to live? Even though we are not bound by the law, it does not mean it is abolished. Just because we are under the grace of Christ, doesn’t mean we are at liberty to sin. The true way of righteousness is love (Romans 13:10). This is not the sappy gushy feely kinda of love (although it’s good to feel that sometimes), but the kind of love that results from a choice. This is a choice that is made because there is an understanding, from the deepest parts of our hearts, that we are loved unconditionally – therefore, we choose to love back. This is a love that chooses to say, I am here not just for the moment, but for the long haul. This is a love that says You have my forever – committed to living a life of worship, a life of Kingship expressed. As in my childhood story, I one day came to the realization that my mother loved and accepted me, and I didn’t have to prove myself and earn her love. I could freely receive her love, and respond to her out of love. Living in a state of acceptance and love, it didn’t matter if I fell short – because I could always get up and try again. In this, we can see the kind of relationship we get to have with our God. The kind of relationship established in His love, and reciprocated in our love – a life lived at His feet.
Amidst the deep themes of Romans, we can see this same heart in Paul’s writing. A desire to let the Romans know they cannot be justified by the law, but can live from the standing offered to them in Christ Jesus. A life lived thusly is rich for us all – not built on proving oneself by good works, but responding to the goodness and glory of God by our lives lived for His purposes. Brothers and sisters – may this same message ring true in our hearts today. May we grab hold of it and run with it – not justified by works, but responding to the great gift of Jesus with a life laid down at His feet.