John Calvin once said, “[M]any are content to have the gospel preached, provided it does not touch them, or make them uncomfortable” (Sermons on Micah). If folks were uncomfortable with Calvin, they certainly would have been uncomfortable with Paul. Paul pulls no punches, and we cannot read Paul’s writings, especially Romans, without being touched or made uncomfortable.
As we said yesterday, Paul’s great concern in Romans is to “explain the theological realities of the Christian gospel and its implications for the living a Christ-honoring life.” And, his purpose for doing so is to see his readers come to Jesus in faith and repentance, confessing him as Lord and living a faithful life that glorifies Christ. In order to do this, we have to come to grips with our sinfulness and with our need for salvation. So, Paul begins there by explaining that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), which I believe he does by dividing all of humanity into one of three categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The Good (Romans 2:1-11)
In the beginning of chapter 2, I believe that Paul writes generally about people who consider themselves acceptable before God because their lives are characterized by relatively good moral behavior. There is no glaring sin present in their lives. They are considered by many to be good people, to be people who have a good moral compass. They’re generally accepted and held in esteem in the wider culture in which they live. And, they take great pride in their morality. But, their goodness is not good enough. God has been patient with, and kind to, them in order to lead them to repentance; however, they misunderstand this kindness and take advantage of it.
The Bad (Romans 1:18-31)
In the last half of chapter 1, Paul describes people who are simply lawless. They don’t care about God or his laws. He defines them as those who are “filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, and malice” and as those who not only practice unrighteousness, but encourage others to do so as well. They suppress the truth that God that he wrote on their hearts and exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal men and birds and animals and creeping things.” Therefore, God gave them up to their lustful desires and immoral behaviors.
The Ugly (Romans 2:12-29)
The last group that Paul discusses is the religious. These are folks who have been given the privilege of intimately knowing the righteous requirements of God and of receiving his revelation of himself. Paul specifically addressed the Jews in the Roman congregation and their experience of circumcision. They took pride in their outward adherence to the ceremonies and stated standards of their religion; yet, they ignored the condition of their hearts before God out of which this outward adherence should flow. But, this description can be applied to many folks consider who themselves to be Christians as well.
The Uncomfortable Reality and Gracious Encouragement
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul has effectively placed every one of us into one of these three categories. We naturally line up with one of these three groups. And, therefore, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. But, God has the power to save those who have rebelled against him and fallen short of his glory through Jesus Christ our Lord. Be encouraged today in Jesus. Run to him, the great Savior of sinners.