Boasting is one of the most obnoxious things that happens in conversations. We all hate it when others do it and we all do it ourselves. We laud ourselves over others thinking that we can prop ourselves up enough to the point where we feel that we matter, but everyone else’s boasting stands in opposition to our own and to us. Their boasting reminds us of the failures of our own boasts and our own identities. But what if we were to boast in someone other than ourselves—someone who could live up to our boasting? What if our boast didn’t destroy us, but actually gave us life?
It’s really easy for us to get bored with the cross. We tend to think that (even after the past two chapters) we are pretty decent people on our own and Jesus was just giving us an extra little boost into heaven. We can grow apathetic to the cross because when we look at it like this, it just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal because we did most of the work of getting to heaven by simply being intrinsically awesome. Paul crushes both parts of this by reminding us that we fall so short of God’s glorious standard and then packaging for us all that Christ did accomplish for us on the cross.
This section of Romans 3 has been described by some as the most important paragraph ever written. In the past two chapters Paul has taken us to the depths of our depravity and continues with “But now…”. Having shown us how hopeless our situation was, he now shows just how complete God’s salvation in Christ is for us. God’s righteousness has been manifested to us, justifying us in His sight and redeeming us from our sin through the propitiation offered by His Son.
At the close of these two chapters talking about our sinfulness, Paul makes his final assertion of our need for Christ. We are more sinful than we could possibly imagine, our sin is more dangerous to us than we would ever admit, and there is absolutely nothing that we can do about it. After Paul’s relentless arguments, we are left without excuse and without defense. Paul has brought us exactly where we need to be: the place where the only thing that we can do is look to Christ.
As we come to the end of a 5 week stretch of Paul’s case for all to be under God’s wrath, Romans makes one more argument to show us our true nature. None of us actually seek after God. Not only are those sins that we didn’t think were that bad actually that bad, they’re worse. We are each worse than we could have ever imagined and we are left helpless, unable to do anything but quiet all of our excuses and seek Christ as our only justification.
This section of Romans has been described as one of the most difficult sections of the whole epistle. Paul is addressing questions that Jews of his day would have raised and they can seem very detached and abstract, but if we go a little deeper and analyze the questionings of our own hearts, we see that while circumstances may be different, we still ask the same questions out of the same motivations to cover up the same sinful nature today that the Jews in Rome asked nearly 2,000 years ago.
Paul has just spent the better part of two chapters of this letter successively addressing all of humanity and showing how we are all justly under God’s wrath and in need of His grace. At this point, Paul anticipates the questions that are going through his readers’ heads, specifically, if everyone is under God’s wrath, what’s the advantage of being Jewish? For us today, there are so many “religious” things that we do (we take Communion, we get baptized, we preach to others, etc.). If none of these religious works can save us, what’s the point of doing them?
Paul has spent the past chapter and a half showing that we are all in need of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It would be really easy to argue that we’re exempt because of all of the good, religious things that we have done. We go to church, we’ve been baptized, we take communion, we read the Bible, we listen to sermons, but do those things on their own change our hearts? Are we transformed by reading words on a page? Or does the transformation that God requires happen on a much deeper level?
We really want to be able to identify who is “in” and who is “out”. The Jews asked if someone is circumcised, we may ask if someone is baptized, we may ask if someone has read a specific book or agrees with a certain theology, and there are so many other things we could ask. But is that the point? Is our salvation decided by these actions or by instructing others to do these things? Or is salvation a matter of the heart—a transformation that comes by a work of the Holy Spirit—compelling us to act and teach and learn?
Closing chapter 2, Paul now addresses specifically the Jews (more generally, those who identify as God’s people). They [we] have God’s Word to guide us and the knowledge of God and of His Gospel, yet we fail to live the transformed lives that we are called to and called to direct others to. Our persistent hypocrisy (knowing God’s Word, but daily living for idols) is evidence that our outward expressions of faith can’t cut it. We need more than just maximizing the good deeds and minimizing the bad, we need a transformed heart from God Himself.