Turning Scary Verses Into Invitations to Life
Today our lectionary text comes to us from Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 3, which reads:
22 This righteousness is given through faith in[a] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.In the evangelical faith communities of my youth, verse 23 of this passage was part of a series of verses from Romans that were often used to proselytize non-Christians.
We called this series of verses, "The Romans Road," which was shorthand for "road to salvation." The idea was that if you were able to use those verses as a guide you could tell someone all about why and how they should become a Christian.
Unfortunately, most of the verses were taken completely out of context, or chopped up to include just short phrases from the actual verses themselves.
Take Romans 3:23, for example: "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We were asked to memorize it as proof that all human beings are rotten, awful sinners, depraved and worthy of punishment.
However, there are three important things about the verse and the passage within which it's contained that I believe offer a more nuanced view.
First, when you read verse 23 in context it's clearly about differences between Jews and Gentiles, which Paul argues don't exist when it comes to how people are seen by God. Everybody is in the same boat, according to Paul. No one is better than another.
Second, when you break verse 23 down from the ancient biblical Greek it was written in, you find something interesting:
"...for all of us have missed the mark and fallen short of God's glory."
There's nothing judgmental about that translation. It simply states a fact: There is a God and we are not God.
Third, if you keep reading, verse 24 goes on to say that even though all have fallen short of God's glory, because of the redemption and justification we have through Jesus rescuing work...
"...all are justified freely by [God's] grace."
Do you see how much more hopeful Romans 3:23 becomes when we read it this way? It moves from being a weapon that some people use to bludgeon people into guilt and shame, to an invitation to a better, more vibrant view of God and the world.
It's so vital that we read Scripture within its context, and to not just pull verses out of the Bible for our own purposes (even if our purposes are good ones).
Try sharing a faith story of your own today with someone. Share with them how you've experienced the expansive, inclusive love of God. Share how God is always moving us to restoration and renewal so that we can live our best lives.
Share your story, and let the Spirit of God do the heavy lifting so that the person your sharing with comes to it willingly, and for the right reason: to begin living eternal life right here, right now.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.