By David Baumann
Reading from Romans, 3:21-31
21 But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom 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; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Fifty years ago, it was fashionable for evangelical Christians to point upward and say, “One Way, J. C. (Jesus Christ).” It may have been cheesy, but they were right. Even C. S. Lewis, in his radio broadcast talks during World War II, made the argument that everyone has some clue to this reality of “one way” for all humankind. There are absolutes of right and wrong that everyone knows, for example, and these agreed-upon moral benchmarks (whether or not they’re actually followed) are a clue to the existence and nature of the divine Lordship.
Lewis’s friend, J. R. R. Tolkien, in his classic work The Lord of the Rings, says much the same thing. In Aragorn’s first encounter with Eomer, while exchanging news of the dangers in the world, Eomer grieves, “How shall a man judge what to do in such times?” Aragorn answers, “As he has ever judged. Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men.”
This truth is put forth in today’s reading from Romans. The law, given by God to Israel, is upheld, for it still expresses the moral absolutes infused into the universe by God, translated in a special way to his people. Israel’s failure to obey the law only reflects all of humanity’s failure to obey what is universally right and true.
We have all failed to do what we know to do. But deliverance from this hopeless cycle is made possible by “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement.” Only God’s gift of himself utterly breaks the cycle and makes the impossible possible for anyone who will accept it.
David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 45 years, 39 of them in the Diocese of Los Angeles. He now serves as part-time priest in southern Illinois. He has published devotions, articles, and essays, as well as science fiction novels and short stories.
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