I shared a brief devotion in chapel today in honor of Reformation Day. Here’s the gist of it:
But now, irrespective of 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.
An all too common passage for all of us I would imagine. For many of us this was probably a part of our upbringing. The thing that startles me about this passage is that if anybody would hold the right to boast, it would be the apostle Paul. He was trying to be faithful to the same God we are. He was striving to be righteous in the sight of God. Listen to his self-proclaimed credentials: “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” One could surmise this be an impressive list without fully comprehending all the intricacies of the Jewish culture. But it shows us that the fallen state is not limited to homosexuals, Muslim terrorists, or abortion doctors. It just goes to show us that Paul’s conversion experience was not a 180 degree turn. Rather, he had fallen in the course of trying to be faithful to God. His belief system had failed him; it was not like he was worshipping Allah or Buddha or the flying spaghetti monster.
A richer, broader understanding of the Romans passage might suggest that we have fallen prey to the lie that religion or our belief system saves; that our view of God is correct and if we live faithfully to this particular image and to the dogmas of our tradition, we will be saved. This is nonsense to Paul. The atonement of Christ forces us to continually be realigning ourselves with this atonement, with the Event of Christ Jesus. We must find our way back to the Christ event and let it shape us. We are always returning to the Event of Christ, and then departing, letting our life sprout from it. This rhythm of returning, departing dictates our lives. The Event of Christ provides the foundation which to build our faith but also shakes that foundation time and time again. In this, maybe we are all a bit Reformed. We are all reformed in the sense that we have been saved by God and always reforming meaning that we are always returning to the Event that emanates the life of love, joy, and peace and shaping our lives accordingly.