Connections 07.17.2016: “Can I Get in Line?”

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Romans 3:21-31

Andrew, my five-year-old nephew, is a great source of joy in our family. Born at 29 weeks, weighing about 2.5 pounds, he lived in the neonatal intensive care unit of the hospital for 65 days before my brother Dusty and his wife Christy were able to bring him home. His first two years were full of feeding and sleeping issues—and also elated celebrations of every single milestone. Overall, he’s had very few problems and is a healthy child: wildly energetic, loving, and hilarious.

I love hearing stories about the things he says; some are funny, and others are profound. Recently, his mother shared this story:

Tonight, our Andrew experienced his first Communion. When it began, he wanted to participate and honestly, we didn’t really know what to do. Dusty and I were both raised in faith traditions where you just didn’t do that until you made a “public profession of faith.” So, while the line passed, full of people practicing their faith in God and remembering God’s faithfulness to them, we talked to Andrew about what was happening, what the bread and juice represented and, in simple terms, why we do it. We told him that we do it to remind us that God loves us and that we love him and want to follow him. With big, honest eyes, Andrew looked up at me and said, “Well, I love Jesus. Can I get in line?”

We’ve been walking through Romans together for a few weeks now, trying to make sense of the “World Gone Wrong.” The “verses to remember” for today’s session are Romans 3:22-24: “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. We know that sin is the root of the wrong in our world. We have all sinned. We all fall short.

In the rest of the lesson text, Paul continues to emphasize that we become righteous through faith alone (v. 28). Like my precious little nephew, our first words should be “I love Jesus.” I am willing to open the amazing gift of grace that Christ gave to me.

Paul, probably responding to people who got excited over what they thought was a license to sin, goes further: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (v. 31). Faith comes first. But after that, our lives should reflect our faith. Like Andrew, our next question should be, “Can I get in line?” Can I take the next step and follow Jesus with my life, showing how much I love him by living the way he lived as much as possible?

Do you love Jesus? If so, get in line!

Discussion

1. What profound lessons have you learned from the children in your life?
2. Why do you think children often have such simple acceptance of deep truths? What makes us lose this acceptance and become more skeptical as we grow older? When is such skepticism good? When is it not so good?
3. Paul wrote many words about rejecting religious legalism and embracing Christ. Why do you think legalism—the desire to follow (and make others follow) every letter of the law in order to be considered righteous—was such a big issue then? Is it a big issue now? If so, why?
4. What does Jesus’ gift of grace mean to you?
5. Do you truly love Jesus? If so, what steps can you take to “get in line,” to join his other followers and show his love to the rest of the world?

Reference Shelf

The emphasis on “all” who believe in Christ being recipients of God’s saving activity (v. 22a) is matched by an emphasis on “all” having sinned (v. 23a). This echoes the argument of 1:18–3:20. The point is contained in a parenthesis (vv. 22b-24a) inserted into the larger sentence. “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (cf. Apoc Moses 21:6), they are now justified by His grace as a gift.” There is no distinction. This harks back to the earlier section of the argument. It functions to keep the point already established before the readers’ minds: universal sinfulness. Paul’s point would have been shared by other Jews in the first century. For example, 4 Ezra 7:46 asks: “For who among the living is there that has not sinned, or who among men that has not transgressed thy covenant?” In 8:35 the statement is made: “For in truth there is no one among those who have been born who has not acted wickedly, and among those who have existed there is no one who has not transgressed.” At the same time, the parenthesis reiterates another point: “justified by His grace as a gift.” This also picks up the theme that no one will be justified “by deeds prescribed by the law” (v. 20). God’s saving activity is “apart from law” (v. 20). Justification here is probably to be understood as acquittal, release from guilt, forgiveness (cf. 4:7-8).

Charles H. Talbert, Romans, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002) 109.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters, and watching television shows on Netflix.

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