Look who I am!
“Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” (Romans 3:29-30 ESV)
The key phrase here is, “since God is one.” He is clearly addressing the Jews at Rome since the oneness of God was and is to this day the central truth of Judaism. Every practicing Jew quotes each day the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
Paul applies the singularity of God to salvation and says, because God is one there is only one way to God. What’s that? Justification through faith. See it, “who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised by faith.” (Romans 3:30) “Circumcision” is code for Jews. “Uncircumcised” is code for Gentiles. In other words, one God. One way to God that is the same for everyone.
Here Paul is challenging ethnic pride or the assumption that so many Jews had, which was that because they were physical descendants of Abraham, the chosen people of God, their ethnicity was a basis for saving favor from God. We are Jews! God likes us more!
No. With God there is no discrimination or partiality. The most non-racist person in the universe is the one who made all the races and loves them—God. This was the lesson Jonah had to learn in Nineveh. This was the lesson Peter had to learn with his vision of the sheet coming down. Are we better than the prophet and the apostle? Do we subtly assume God’s favor because of some category we find ourselves in?
How about the ethnic category? There’s a part of that which I think is good and even celebrated in heaven. God loves the ethne and the diversity of heaven will reflect ethnic diversity. But we can take that much too far and assume, like the Jews, that our bloodline gives us status before God. Look at me, I’m ______. Ethnic boasting.
How about national pride or the assumption that our nation, no matter which it is, grants us favor before God? There’s a kind of national pride that is healthy and there is a kind that is unhealthy. When I am grateful for my country, grateful for the sacrifices of others for our country, pray for my country and my leaders, it’s all good and right. But when my national pride creeps into a spiritual category where I think God’s love for my country is more than other countries, something has gone drastically wrong.
To this we could add church bragging, our church is better and your church is not. We are from such and such a church and I will now share details about what’s happening that I hope makes you feel less than me because you don’t attend here.
Add to this all such spiritual boasting: I’m a Baptist. I’m a Presbyterian. I’m a mid-tribulationalist. I’m a whateveralist. Anything about me that I point to as a way to elevate me spiritually above others denies the essential gospel that I contribute nothing except my sin. God contributes everything. Remember, it was the Pharisee who promoted himself in prayer and the tax collector who said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus said, “I tell you, this [sinner] went down to his house justified, rather than the [Pharisee].” (Luke 18:14)
Let me illustrate it this way. What’s it like to fly United (not Southwest) out of O’Hare? In case you haven’t, it goes something like this. You get to the gate and immediately there is a clear sense of class distinction. You notice nicely dressed people going in and out of the United Preferred Passenger Lounge. They are the Preferred passengers. What does that make me? The time comes to board. First-class passengers, you are now free to board. There, lining up, is the Armani crowd. Lots of cashmere and button down. First-class. Next, business-class please line up for boarding. There they go. Again, a high percentage of Italian leather briefcases and Wall Street Journals.
Finally, the announcer says, All other passengers you may board now. So, then I go under the “other” category. I wait as the first-class and business-class get to their comfortable and spacious seats. Stretch their legs. Sip their Champagne. All us “other” passengers are forced to walk through first-class and business-class to get to the back of the plane where we sit. Is it just me or do you sense from the first-class passengers a certain disdain that my body has to physically walk past them in such close proximity? It’s like they detect a disease or something. Once everyone’s seated in their proper class of seating, off the plane goes.
In your self-opinion, if salvation is a United flight, where are you on the plane? Few would admit it, but do churches chronically have self-perceived first-class members? Not in terms of wealth, but self-perception of spirituality. Are you one? Business-class? I didn’t contribute as much as the first-class for this flight, but I’m no slouch either. These people say, I’m no Billy Graham, but you know.
That’s all wrong, but here’s the more common heresy in Christian churches. Its third-class church attenders. No, we didn’t contribute as much as first-class or business-class, but in terms of how this flight gets me to heaven, I did contribute something. These tickets weren’t free. Really? What did you contribute to get the plane to fly to heaven?
Dear friends, on the flight to heaven, we aren’t the pilot, we aren’t the first-class or business-class passengers, and we aren’t in rows 21 and above. On the flight to heaven, at best we’re the baggage. How does baggage get there? Somebody else paid their way.
God has so engineered salvation by faith alone so that nobody gets off the flight in heaven and says, Ta-da! Look at me! Look what I did! Let me tell you what I did to get here.
As the old story about Muhammed Ali goes while on a flight, the flight attendant asked him to buckle up. Ali said, “Superman don’t need a seatbelt.” The flight attendant said, “Superman don’t need a plane.”
Human pride takes us to hell where all human effort is rewarded with divine judgment. Salvation by faith alone eliminates all human boasting and self-righteousness. Salvation by faith alone ensures we all will say forever, look at Christ and what He did for me. There is Jesus. Let me tell you what he did for me.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2018 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
 Muhammed Ali and unnamed flight attendant as quoted by Thomas Hauser, Muhammed Ali: His Life and Times, p. 479.
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