Reconciliation in Romans
Reconciliation is a major theme in Apostle Paul’s book to the Romans. Much Post-Enlightenment scholarship reduces this to the reconciliation of the individual with God, that is, how can I get to heaven. Paul, however, has a broader view of rapprochement in mind. Romans explains how God’s people, both Jew and Gentile, are reconciled together in Christ. This is a two-fold rapprochement between God and God’s people, and between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The answer, of course, is that we are all reunited together in Christ. The problem again is that we tend to understand this too individualistically. We must state this clearly in terms of group reconcilement.
In the Old Testament, Yahweh reconciled himself to his people in Israel. Yahweh promised to save his people and thus my person salvation required me to be part of Israel. Whether I was inside or outside the congregation of Israel was of utmost importance. Being in Israel meant life, but being kicked outside of Israel meant death. We can already see a huge potential problem. Just because I am in a group does not say very much about me personally. Paul, as well as Prophets throughout the Old Testament, recognized this problem that “Not all of Israel is Israel.” Salvation of a group inevitability implies the problem of “free-riders” who join the group only for the benefits but who do not actively participate. Jesus acknowledged this in his parable of the Wheat and the Tares. How was this problem dealt with in the Old Testament?
In the Old Testament the problem of “free-riders” was dealt with by the Covenant. The people of Israel looked back with love at what Yahweh did for them in the past and looked forward in hope for God’s promised future Promised Land. Yahweh had shown himself to be faithful in the Exodus and promised them a bright future if only they were faithful to him. How were they to show their faithfulness to Yahweh? By faithfully keeping the Law right now, no matter how bleak the situation might get in the meantime. Keeping the covenant was how Yahweh reconciled himself to his people. It also regulated the “free-rider” problem. Not all Israel was Israel, only those who faithfully kept the Law. Those who faithfully kept the Law were in Israel while those who did not, even though they were ethnically Israelite, were not God’s people. (See Individualism vs. Communalism)
This Jewish view helps us understand Paul’s view of reconciliation in Romans. How were Jewish and Gentile Christians going to be brought together in one group? The Gentiles could be reconciled in Israel if they accepted the Law. This would be a simple solution but Paul recognizes this would deny the Creation transforming work of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection. Paul explains the much more complicated message that God’s people are no longer reconciled in Israel through the Law but we are brought together in the body of Christ through faith.
Paul argues in Romans that Abraham before the covenant of circumcision was justified by faith. God had promised Abraham a son through whom all the nations would be blessed. This seemed impossible at the time since Abraham and Sarah were old and far past the time when they could normally have children. Nonetheless, Abraham believed God’s promise and it was accounted to him as righteousness. Paul opens up a distinction between keeping the Law as an act of faith and the attempt complete all that the Law demands as a work. Paul argue that it was faith all along that saved us while our inability to fully keep the Law pointed to our need of someone to complete the Law. Paul states that Jesus fulfills the Law and that both Jew and Gentile are saved by faith if they acknowledge him as King and believe in their heart that he was raised from the dead.
We must be reminded again that Paul and the people in Rome understood salvation in a corporate framework. In Paul’s vocabulary salvation was accomplished by our inclusion in the body of Christ. While for the Jew keeping the Law was an act of faith that included them in Israel, now, both Jew and Gentile,would enter the body of Christ by the public confession that Jesus is Lord and a belief in our heart of the resurrection.
Thus being Paul rejects the requirement that Gentiles must abandon who they are and become Jewish in order to be reconciled together.