Paul the apostle – who was Saul the persecutor of Christians before he was converted through an encounter with Jesus Christ – was a brilliant fellow.
He was one of the zealous, principled young Jewish leaders of the Pharisee sect. And he was no fan of this new movement preaching a dead, but resurrected, Messiah figure named Jesus.
The Jews, after all, were the chosen people – God’s favored nation. The gentiles on the outside were viewed – there’s no delicate way to say this – as dogs. Un-believers, un-chosen, unclean, and inferior.
Then there were those half-breed Samaritans in the north, rife with idolatry and definitely on the outs from the presence of a holy God.
And, of course, any heretical sect from within the nation of Israel – like these Jesus-followers – needed to be extinguished.
Paul was very much into being RIGHT, being BETTER; until God showed him how wrong he was. How he was, in fact, no better than any of these other people groups. How he was, in reality, no better than the lowest, despised, apostate sinner.
After having his eyes opened by the Savior-Messiah, Jesus, Paul wrote this devastating passage in the New Testament book of Romans:
“Now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24)
There could hardly be a more radical declaration in all of religious history than this one.
- God is giving a righteousness (a right standing before Him, with all guilt removed) to people totally apart from their performance of any law.
- This gift is received by faith only – not by any obedience, any conformity, any external religious acts. We can’t earn a drop of righteousness before God.
- This righteousness is equally given to any and all persons equally (there is no distinction) – not matter if they are Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, Asians, Africans, men, women, old, young, priests, prostitutes, actors, IRS employees, Republicans, Democrats, cultural Christians, murderers, Cowboy fans…even Canadians. God’s favored people are no longer a physical nation with a physical descendancy from Abraham. God’s people are simply any and all who believe. Everywhere. In any circumstance.
- This leveling gospel of the gift of righteousness is true because all people are equally sinful (all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God). No matter how good or how bad you think you’ve been, the testimony of God is that we are all impure – from the most outwardly religious, to the most aggressive atheist, to the most devoted mother, to the most indifferent pseudo-christian. From Billy Graham to Christopher Hitchens – and every single person in between, from every tribe and tongue and nation and creed – we all have the same affliction: a rebellious, unbelieving, and impure heart.
You and I, whomever you are, and whatever you’ve done or not done – we are on the same level. We have the same need – being made right with God because of sin. And God has provided the one Savior who has made the gift of righteousness available to all who believe – Jesus Christ.
Next time you or I are tempted to feel superior to anyone on this planet, it is only because of the delusion of sin, whispering in our ear that somehow we have attained a righteousness of our own. Trust me – you got nothing. Neither do I.
An imparted righteousness that comes from God Himself makes us all level, where we belong. In need of a Savior.