The word of the day is “only.” Tribalism is found throughout human society. Humans favor their own group however they define it. And they distinguish themselves from other such groupings. Thus, it seems natural to believe that the scope of God’s concern is concentrated on one’s own associations. However, in today’s reading of Romans 3:28-4:3, we hear an important question, “Is He the God of the Jews only?” (Romans 3:29). Today we reflect on Paul’s reasoning that salvation must be by faith if it to be offered to all. We will find that this thinking requires that the church and its members to play a key role in the divine plan of salvation.
As we reflect on Paul’s question of how whether God’s deity is limited to the Jews, we might substitute the name of a nation, tribe, race, ethnic heritage, language, class, religion, family, gender, or just “people like us.” Is God Almighty only the God of those who belong to, think like, relate to, or practice the ways of the cluster of people to which we belong?
Thinking That God is Partial Insults God’s Glory
St. John Chrysostom says that to think that God is partial to one group or another is an insult to God’s glory. The preacher reminds us that God is “one.” If God is not “one,” then perhaps there are other gods, one for the Jews, a god of the Gentiles, a god of right-handed people, and a god of the left-handed, etc.”
However, the oneness of God means His deity is “common to all” (NfPf1:11, 379). Chrysostom says, “For He is not partial as the fables of the Gentiles are, but common to all, and One” (NFPf1:11, 379). That premise is the foundation of Paul’s claim of the Gentile mission. The logic is that “If He is of all, then He taketh care of all; and if He cares for all, then He saveth all, alike by faith” (NfPf1:11, 379).
Three Assumptions That Underlie Paul’s Logic
Three assumptions underlie this logic. First, God is consistent in his justice. If God is one over all, then the treatment He shows to one group, He must show to all other like associations. Therefore, since He cares for the Jews, He must care for non-Jews as well.
Second, God cares by saving those who would otherwise be condemned. But if God saves the Jews, then justice requires that He save the non-Jews, the Gentiles.
Third, the Mosaic law applies to the people whom Moses led out of Egypt. It is not universal. Paul’s opponents confirm this when they insist that circumcision and bondage to the law is necessary for salvation. Jesus said, “Salvation is from the Jews” (OSB John 4:22). But “from” refers to its origin, not its application. How can salvation apply to the non-Jews? Paul’s answer is faith. Keeping the law is impossible even for those to whom it was given. Faith is possible for all people.
Faith Is the Universal Basis for the Distribution of Grace
If faith is a universal trait, it follows that it is the basis on which God can distribute His grace. Respecting human freedom, the Almighty can offer salvation to all who hear the Gospel and believe in Christ. This gift of grace does not nullify the law. The Gospel proclaims that Christ has fulfilled it. In this way, the righteousness of the law is confirmed, while that same righteousness is given to all by faith in Christ.
So then, on what basis will the One God judge all people? It cannot be based on the knowledge, ways, standing, or actions of one group or another—even of the Jews. For again, whatever the qualifications would be, they would be partial to that group. No, St. Paul argues, the one standard of God’s judgment must be faith apart from works that demand conformity to some particular set of expectations (Romans 3:28). Faith in the Crucified and Risen Christ is available to all without limitation since He died and rose again for all (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
In Paul’s view, salvation based on faith is to be offered to all. Quoting from Joel 2:32, he writes, “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (OSB Romans 10:13). However, this proclamation depends on one necessary action that must involve us. No one seeks salvation from someone unless they believe in Him. And no one puts their trust in something or someone unknown. Therefore, if salvation is to be offered to all without distinction (Romans 10:12), the Gospel must be preached to all people without difference. Only when they hear the Good News can people believe it and put their faith in Christ.
Without a Preacher They Cannot Hear and Believe
Therefore, Paul writes of the urgency of preaching throughout the world: “How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (OSB Romans 10:15).
The Almighty has so designed the plan of the world’s salvation that it depends on us, the church. Our hearing and believing the Gospel is not complete until we participate in the sending (OSB Romans 10:15) of preachers, teachers, and witnesses to the message of salvation.