Our Common Need
In the book of Romans, Paul first establishes the theological truths of the gospel and then, towards the end of his letter, he lays out the practical application of how the Christians in Rome were to live. He wanted them to apply practical instruction based on the theology at the beginning of his epistle since it would be pointless to give practical instructions without a foundation of truthful beliefs. God wants us to do the same. Simply put, our theology should change us and conform us to the image of Christ. To some point, what we believe has a bearing on how we behave, but for the one who is born again, the gospel has the power to transform us totally (1 Corinthians 5:17).
In Romans 1-3:20, Paul introduces some hard truths we all need to understand, and I believe understanding these truths is key to establishing unity in the church.
The gospel is our common ground and foundation. In the first verse, Paul calls it the gospel of God. In the ninth verse, he calls it the gospel of His Son. Believing the true gospel contained in the Scriptures is our common ground; it is the foundation for unity in the church. In the sixteenth verse, there is an application for us as well: “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” Paul was all out for the gospel; he didn’t hide his faith, he openly and boldly professed and proclaimed his faith, and each church member ought to do the same. In the gospel lies the power for people to enter the Kingdom of God; it is the power of God to everyone who believes, and every member’s duty is to make it known to others. It is in this gospel that Paul preached that the righteousness of God is revealed. Those who become righteous in God’s sight, by believing the gospel, will live by faith.
After laying the foundation of the gospel, Paul begins to build more truths on top of that foundation. In the second half of Romans 1, Paul tells us the common ground of all those outside of the kingdom of God. They will experience God’s wrath, both in the present and His wrath that will be unleashed in fullest measure if they do not repent and believe the gospel of God’s Son.
When we understand the doctrine of sovereign grace, we who are inside the kingdom of God will, first of all, feel compassion for them and proclaim the gospel. That is the only way God’s wrath is turned from them, and they become His child. Second, in light of sovereign grace, we realize we are no better than they. Grace has to do with God granting it to us, which is what Paul says in 2:4. Therefore, we are not to judge those outside of God’s family.
In Romans 1:18-32, Paul talks about those who are living in gross sin, who presently receive in themselves the due penalty for their error (verse 27). But at the beginning of chapter 2, he addresses the self-righteous person (possibly the Jews) who are practicing the very same things (perhaps not openly but in their hearts) who also stand guilty before God. Worse yet, they are judging others for their evil and immoral acts.
In the latter part of chapter 2, Paul touches on moralism. Moralism is extremely common and always has been. It is one of the most prominent religions in the world today. It is the religion of people who compare themselves with others. I’m sure that if we have shared the gospel with others, we have heard some people say they are “a lot more decent than other people,” and conclude: “If there is a God, he’ll certainly accept me. I’m a good person.” We feel “righteous” when we compare ourselves to others because we can always find people who are worse than we are. The problem with us comparing ourselves with others is that it’s not what God does with us. He sees all of mankind in the same sinking boat. God compares mankind with Himself and finds we are lacking; we are found wanting because we simply do not measure up to His standard of righteousness. (Romans 3:23)
Paul asks in 2:21, “You then who teach others, do you teach yourself?” Before judging others, we would be wise to first look at ourselves. The Jew’s circumcision was based on moralism (although not what God had intended). To them, there was a lot of emphasis put on the outward sign of circumcision, but Paul says circumcision or not, Jew or not, if you have broken even one of God’s laws, the verdict is in, and you are guilty, deserving of God’s wrath.
To have unity within the church, it is necessary to see Romans 3:11-20 as a mirror, to hold up and see only ourselves, that we are all in the sinking boat with the rest of mankind. Then we will see, as Ephesians 2:4-5 summarizes perfectly, that we are no better than anyone else because we are saved. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”