One God and One Salvation for All the Nations
Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. 31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.
Biblical Foundations for a Public Proclamation of Christ
I am staying with Romans 3:27-31 one more Sunday because what we are about today in the outdoor service and the praise march is so powerfully addressed in this text, as you will see. Our aim today is to declare truth about God in a more public way than we usually do in the building on Sundays. Our aim is to exult in the value of Christ before the neighborhoods and nations around the church building.
Now, there are some tremendous foundations in Romans 3:29-30 for this public declaration. So what I want to do in these few minutes is put Biblical rock underneath your feet this morning so that you know why you are doing this and can enter in with a sense of clear, deep biblical purpose.
One God, One Way of Salvation for all Peoples
Let's look at verses 29-30. Paul has just said that we are justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Now he asks, "Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one."
There is an order of thought here, and I will state it for you in reverse order and then take these three steps one at a time and show you how they relate to what we are doing today. First, there is the great affirmation in verse 30 that "God is one." Second, there is the inference that since he is one, therefore he justifies Jews and Gentiles in the same way, not two different ways. He "will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith." Third, since he is one and justifies all peoples in the same way, not different ways, he is not the God of the Jews only, but the God of the nations as well.
That is the gist of the passage. And you can see immediately why it is so relevant to what we are doing today. But let's take it a step at a time.
God is One
First, from verse 30, let's focus on the oneness of God: ". .. since indeed God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith, is one." God is one. What does this mean?
1. There Is One True God
Paul's statement that "God is one" has several implications. It means, first of all, that there is only one true God, not many gods. That is the way the NIV translates it: "there is only one God." This is an absolutely necessary belief, in view of what it means to be God. Paul says in Romans 11:36, "All things are from Him and through Him and to Him. To Him be glory for ever." If that is what it means to be God, there cannot be two of them. If the very meaning of being God is that He is the ultimate source of all that is, there can be only one. Two beings cannot both be the ultimate source of all things. One would be the ultimate source of the other, and so only one would be God; or both would be equally ultimate and neither would be the source of all things, and so neither would be God, by Paul's definition. There is only one God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is outside of God.
This is more relevant in our situation than it used to seem. On Monday, I had thirty minutes in a taxi with a Sikh from northern India. Sikhs are monotheists located mainly in the Punjab of northern India. As I tried to share my faith with this man, it became clear that he was happy for me to have my God and him to have his. It did not matter much whether they were drastically different. For him, what mattered was if I was a nice man and cared about people. God could be one or many.
In a little while we will march by Muslim people, Hindu people, Jewish people, atheist people, animistic people, Christian people. Some of these will believe, in a kind of hazy way, that there are several gods and you can choose which one you want, as long as you are sincere and good. Others will believe that the one God is so indefinite that he can be known through almost any ideas about him.
2. God's Unity and Coherence
Which leads us to a second implication of Paul's statement in Romans 3:30 that "God is one." For Paul, the oneness of God is not simply a statement that there is only one true God, but also a statement that this God has a unity and coherence to his identity. That is, he is what he is and not what we make of him. He is what he is and not something else. He has identity in himself. He has fixed attributes. He does not change. He is not inconsistent or schizophrenic. He does not have contradictory personalities. All his characteristics cohere in one unified Being. He makes himself known as who he is. He is one.
This has tremendous implications for religious pluralism in Minneapolis and Chicago and New York and London and Jerusalem and Sao Paulo and Delhi and Tokyo and Sydney and Jakarta and Cairo and Pretoria. It implies, for example, that not all religions are true and lead to heaven. It also implies that those who know the true God because of his gracious revelation should try to persuade others to know and trust the one true God. And it implies that, since the true God of the Bible is a God who is known only by faith and not external coercion, no violence or force will be used to demand or restrict religious belief.
Which means, interestingly, that the uniqueness and singleness of the one true God of the Bible is both a threat and protection for religious pluralism. We need to get this very clear, because we live in an increasingly pluralistic society. The absolute claim of the God of the Bible on all persons and all religions is a spiritual threat to religious pluralism in that it does call for repentance from all false religion and faith in the one true God through his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. But this single, true God of the Bible is a protection for religious pluralism because he forbids that his cause be advanced by the sword or by external coercion. Jesus said to Pilate, "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world." (John 18:36). Christians are called to love our enemies and to suffer injustice rather than return evil for evil.
Therefore, true Christianity is both a threat and a support for religious pluralism. It is a spiritual threat, and a political support. True Christianity will not endorse ethnic cleansing against Muslims or pogroms against Jews or legalized hostilities against Hindus. True Christianity does not advance by the sword or the gun. It advances by proclamation and persuasion and prayer and love and by being persecuted, not persecuting.
We must make both of these clear.
1. Our belief in one true God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ in history means that we do not count all religions equally true or equally saving. Christianity is a missionary faith, or it is false to its own foundations. That is one thing we must make clear. And this will be very costly. People will call this arrogant and presumptuous and offensive.
2. So the other thing we must also make clear is that it is a loving thing to plead for people to know and trust the one and only living God through Jesus Christ. And the spread of our faith is not by violence or coercion. That would be self-defeating. No one is saved by a forced act. We spread our faith by proclamation, persuasion, prayer and love.
3. Not Three Gods, but One
There is a third implication of Paul's words, "God is one," but we will leave it for another time in our study of the book of Romans, namely, that the deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit do not make Christians polytheists. We do not worship three Gods, but one God. The mystery of the Trinity is a stumbling block for Muslims and Hindus and Jews and secularists. It always has been and it always will be. But it is not surprising that the one true God would exist from all eternity in a way that pushes our little minds to the breaking point. More on that later. Suffice it to say now that the revelation of God through Jesus Christ is that Jesus is God, the Spirit is God, the Father is God and there is one God.
That is the first step in verse 30: God is one.
God has One Way of Saving People
Now the second step is that this one God has one way of saving people; namely, justification by faith in Jesus Christ. Verse 30: " . . .since indeed God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith, is one." The oneness of God is connected to the oneness of the way he makes people right with himself.
One way to say this would be that God threatens religious pluralism with the glorious freeness of grace. He comes to every world religion and every personal religiousness or irreligiousness and says, I offer you the good news that you may have forgiveness of your sins and be reconciled to your Creator and have everlasting life by grace alone through faith alone in my Son Jesus Christ. I have already acted in history to remove my wrath and to take away human guilt. If you will have it as your loved and trusted treasure, it is yours.
Now you can call that arrogance and presumption if you will. But a better name for it is love. Yes, it undermines religious pluralism - the way antibiotics undermine the pluralism of bacterial diseases. The way vitamin C undermined the pluralistic symptoms of scurvy.
Christianity does not come to other religious systems and try to replace one way to work for God with another way to work for God. It comes with a declaration of amnesty. The one true God has made a truce at the cost of his Son's life. He offers pardon to every person freely and everlasting joy to those who will trust his Son.
The oneness of God means that there is one way to salvation, not the way of works, but the way of faith. And because it is a way of faith it cuts across all ethnic and political and language and cultural barriers. Verse 30: "God will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith." "Circumcision" stands for any religious or ethnic trait that you might think would commend you to God. And "uncircumcision" stands for any trait, or missing trait, that you think might keep you from God.
The gospel of Jesus Christ comes and says, "Justification (getting right with God) is by faith, not works. Therefore, having certain ethnic or religious advantages prove to be of no advantage. And not having certain ethnic or religious advantages proves to be of no disadvantage. The reason is that faith in Christ, by its very nature, looks away from distinctives (positive or negative) that you have in yourself, and looks to God's free grace in order to be justified and have eternal life.
God's oneness means that there is one way of salvation for all. And, because this one God is the great sovereign, self-sufficient God who can't be worked for, but overflows in grace, the one way of salvation is by grace through faith, and that is not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone - any culture or race or ethnic group - should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
That's the second step: since God is one, he justifies Jews and Gentiles in the same way, not two different ways. He justifies the circumcised (Jews) by faith and the uncircumcised by faith (Gentiles).
He Is the God of the Nations
Finally, the third step: since God is one, and justifies all peoples in the same way - by faith alone in Christ alone - not different ways, therefore, He is not the God of the Jews only, but the God of the nations as well. Verse 29: "Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also." And "Gentiles" refers to all kinds of ethnic groups.
So what does it mean for us today to say, God is the God of the nations, the God of every ethnic group that you will ever see in Elliot Park and Phillips neighborhoods? It means four things, at least.
1. That God is the God of the nations means that God created all the nations. Acts 17:26: "He made from one every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth." Ethnic differences are God's doing. Beware of your prejudices. Go to God for the love that he has for the nations.
2. That God is the God of the nations means that he will redeem a people for himself out of every nation. Revelation 5:9: "They sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.'" God means to have a redeemed people from every ethnic group. Therefore, none is to be despised, but loved and pursued with grace.
3. That God is the God of the nations means he is ready to justify anyone, anywhere, from any nation through faith alone in Jesus Christ. There is one way of salvation for all the nations. God is God of the nations because he has made a way for them all - the same way and it is a way of grace.
4. That God is the God of the nations means that God aims to be known by all the nations. Psalm 96:1-4: "O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods."
This is where the text is leading us for this afternoon. "Declare his glory among the nations" - and the neighborhoods. That is what the banners are for and the leaflets and the songs and the prayers and your presence. Stay with us and let your march be part of the fulfillment of this text today.