The justification of the ungodly is the Gospel in most radical form
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The last event at my church in 2020 before we shuttered our doors against the advent of the covid-19 pandemic was a gathering of regional clergy to learn about what was then the latest proffered divorce settlement in the “United” Methodist Church.
In the brief worship time at the top of the meeting, I preached on this Sunday’s lectionary epistle text from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
“Shame on us if we think politics and sex are more interesting than the Gospel message that the lectionary has on the docket this week, “Therefore, since we are justified by our right interpretation, we have peace with God through our Lord...” Sorry, that’s not quite it. “Therefore, since we are justified by the wokeness of our social positions, we have peace with...”No. The Word with which the Living God addresses us is, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.””
Grace, given at the rock bottom price of absolutely free, through faith makes us compatible before a holy God.
Christianity cuts against the grain of every other religion.
This is why at the top of his letter to the Romans, Paul has to preemptively stipulate that he is “not ashamed of the Gospel.” Every religion the world has ever known is predicated on getting ungoldly people to turn to religion so that through religion they might become godly. And if they don’t turn to religion, if they don’t cease being ungodly, there is no good news for them. For Paul, the Gospel is something else entirely.
Near the end of his life, the British biblical scholar F.F Bruce was interviewed about the relationship between his academic study and his faith.
“What does it mean to be a Christian?” the interviewer asked him, “What does it mean to have faith— in what does a Christian put their faith?”
And Bruce responded:
“A Christian is someone who believes in the God who justifies the ungodly. To believe in him who justifies the ungodly, and nothing more and nothing less, is to be a Christian.“
For Paul, the justification of the ungodly is the Gospel in most radical form.
Paul says later in Romans that the whole Bible has been building to this revelation, and by revelation, Paul means that we could never have arrived at the justification of the ungodly on our own. It had to be disclosed to us.
It had to be revealed to us that God is not just a God on the side of the poor and oppressed, the covenant-keepers and the Law-obeyers— that’s what every religion believes.
The Gospel makes the offensive and audacious claim that God is also on the side of the irreligious, the immoral, and the unjust.
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