Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Now that's inclusive

It's a great comfort to me that the Bible does not describe an exclusive club, but an inclusive invitation to a life with God. Even when it appears to be exclusive, it's not really. A couple of weeks ago, the sermon about "Ruth the Moabitess" mentioned the place in Deuteronomy that says "No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation" (Deuteronomy 23.3). But Ruth the Moabitess bore Obed, the grandfather of King David.

And so in today's reading from Romans chapter 4. Here's a surprise, which still surprises me when I see it.
However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Romans 4.5
I can hardly believe this even though I'm sure I've read it a hundred times. Who does God justify -- who does God make right (or "make righteous")? "...God who justifies the wicked..." - God takes the wicked and makes them right. It doesn't say "... God who justifies those who try hard" or "who justifies those who are half-way there" or "justifies the nice people." Not just the imperfect, the wicked. Yow!

Then there's the issue of race and religious practices:
Therefore the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring -- not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations."
Romans 4.16-17
(By the way, "nations" here means non-Jewish nations.)

So the Bible's invitation is
  • for all nations, not just for one race
  • for people who don't practice religious rituals, not just for those who go to church (etc)
  • for the wicked, not just for "good" people.
In fact, as Lewis says, a self-righteous non-smoking church-going prig may be much nearer hell than your garden-variety "sinner."

I have one more thing to say about this passage. Have you ever heard someone say that God was different in the Old Testament than in the New? One theory says that God was concerned about the Jews in the Old Testament, and he widened that in the New Testament. Not so: it was back in Genesis that God told Abraham he'd be the father of many nations. Way back then, he was thinking of people outside his "chosen" race.

People like me. I'll tell you what -- it makes me feel pretty special. I hope it makes you feel special too, whether you're a Gentile or not. (And if you're not, take a look at Romans 3 where Paul talks about the advantages you have.)

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