Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written,
‘So that you may be justified in your words, and prevail in your judging.’
But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), ‘Let us do evil so that good may come’? Their condemnation is deserved!
What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written:
‘There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.’ ‘Their throats are opened graves; they use their tongues to deceive.’ ‘The venom of vipers is under their lips.’ ‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’ ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery are in their paths, and the way of peace they have not known.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
Reflection What are we to make of this passage? From a certain point of view there is little ground to feel anything but hopelessness because Paul presents us with an image of sin, failure, and despair. Paul says that the Law only proves that we are sinners and that no one is justified before God on their own merit alone. All that the law does is convict us of our inadequacy before God and, as a result, on our own we may as well give up as a lost cause.
Fortunately, we are called God’s people because of what God has done for us through Jesus. Our righteousness and salvation is secured because of the grace and mercy of God secured by Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. This does not mean that the Law ceases to be important; it reminds us of God’s purity and holiness – of God’s immense love for us. It’s just that the full measure of God’s judgement for sin is paid for us through God’s grace and mercy.
And that is an immense comfort to us when we are faced with the challenge of sharing God’s good news and seeking to fulfil the great commission to make disciples of all nations. On our own this task would be impossible because as the world looks at us all they would see is the brokenness and pain of their lives reflected back at them in our own eyes. All have sinned and all fall short of God’s Law. But given the strength of God’s grace and love we can point to a world beyond this one to a place of hope, joy and love.
The Law makes us feel helpless and devoid of hope and love, but its purpose is so that God’s grace and love may abound and that we can celebrate all that God is doing in our lives and for our world.
Prayer Gracious God, We thank You that despite our failures in our thoughts, words and actions, You still call us into a relationship with you. Your grace and mercy, secured in Jesus’ death on the Cross, bring us into a relationship with you allowing us to experience fullness of life. We thank You for Your law which shows Your justice, and for Your grace which enables us to be both justified and unafraid. Amen
The Rev’d Andrew Mann-Ray, Minister of Baxter URC, Kidderminster and Area Minister of Herefordshire and Worcestershire.