Who in their right minds tells people today to “try less”? Not a coach in the world would tell his players to “not try too hard”. No orchestra director, no CEO, no leader ever would put up a poster in their office of a person swinging in a hammock taking a nap with a thick black border and the caption, “Quit trying!”
So what do we do with Paul’s teachings? Not Paul’s interpretation, nor Paul’s opinion, but Paul’s description of what God is doing in the world. The Jews who have tried hard forever to find righteousness by following the law have all failed – every one. But the Gentiles, who didn’t even try, were declared righteous through faith in Jesus. Paul seems to be promoting the motto, “Don’t try so hard.”
Evangelical Christians get very uncomfortable with passages like this. In fact, when we read Rom. 9 and similar teachings, we may literally squirm. We justify it by saying that following Jesus here means following Jesus’ new set of rules instead of the OT rules. We ignore it and proclaim that salvation comes through obedience to Jesus’ law. Or we fight it, citing myriad other verses that tell of all we need to do to to be acceptable to Jesus.
Just like the Jews reading this 2000 years ago.
But what if? What if what God wants of us is less striving to be loveable and more amazement that we are loved? What if it truly isn’t about following the rules, but is in stead about following Jesus? What if God is less interested in our sins and more interested in His destruction of our sinfulness through the cross? What if we are taking the easy road to righteousness by making it a checklist of sins we have avoided, only to find that that easy road is a dead end? What if righteousness is the much harder task of living in relationship with God, something that requires far more of our time, energy, focus, and will than just following a bunch of rules?
How long will we ignore, justify, or fight Paul’s (and God’s) teachings in Romans and beyond?