In or out?

15 08 2011

For most people it’s really important to belong.  We want to be with the “in” group, the group that is most important for us – sports team, computer whizzes, cool grannies!  Belonging to someone else’s important group isn’t significant – I don’t care whether or not I’m accepted as a Saints fan because I’m not interested in football, but I do care about being a cool granny! (Ridiculous, but you get the point.)

So how do you belong to the group “God’s people”, people who have been made right with God?

This is the question that exercises Paul when he writes his letter to the Romans.  Right at the start of the letter, he tells them that, “he has called you to be his very own people.” (1:7) These Roman Christians are “in”.

Yes, but how?

Jump on to chapter 3:22 to find out – “We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.”  And further to chapter 10:10 –“For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God.”

That all seems clear enough, but there is a problem.  The Jewish people were designated as “God’s people” way, way back in Genesis.*  They were to be the “in” group, but strangely they were to be so for the benefit of others, not for their own kudos.  God gave them a special responsibility to live in such a way that those who were “out” would find God and come “in”.  (The Old Testament section of the Bible often talks about these outsiders as “the nations”; when we come to the New Testament they are usually called “Gentiles”.) But somewhere in history that responsibility was blurred.

So here is Paul’s problem.  Gentile Christians in Rome have responded in faith to the good news about Jesus and how they could get right with God; they are now the special people of God.  But the Jewish people wanted to maintain their special relationship without having faith in Jesus but by “clinging to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law”. (Romans 10:3)

Paul argues his case that Gentile Christians are now “in” and develops a beautiful metaphor of grafting branches into an olive tree in chapters 9-11. It’s worth reading them through at one sitting to get the flow.

His conclusion?  A response of worship – “What a wonderful God we have…to him be glory for ever.”

*Follow this up with the story of Abraham – Genesis 12:1-3, 15:5-6, 17:4-8 and link back to the previous post  Who’s who and where’s where? for more on this topic.

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