Romans 1-3 - The Best of Us is a Mess
This article is written by Mike Poole and is used with his permission.

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Grace or Works?
How are we saved, by grace or by works? Well the simple answer to this is that we are saved by grace which is God's part of the spiritual equation. In order to take advantage of this man must have the faith. As Hebrews 11:6 describes this type of saving faith. God is looking for us to "believe the facts of the Bible, trust the promises of the Bible and obey the commands of the Bible"1 in order to have a right relationship with him.

Judged by What Standards?
I am a perfectionist (Having at different times in my life trained as a town planner, an army officer and a computer programmer). As such I can try to live a perfect life to work my way to Heaven (though I don't call it that out loud because I know Ephesians 2:9 says we are not saved by works). Living with this impossible standard inevitebly means I can be critical of others who don't match up to the same standard.

For the perfectionist Galatians 3:10-12 is a very scary passage because it makes it very clear that if we want to judge ourselves by the law by trying to be perfect that's fine by God, but that's the standard which he will hold us to. This puts us on very shakey ground because, as I, you and God know, we will never be perfect (Romans 3:23 and 1st John 1:8), no matter how hard we try. By this standard God would have no choice but to find us guilty of sin. This is a very difficult way for someone, especially one who is working very hard at living a perfect Christian life, to live because when someone points the finger at one of the inevitable areas of their life where they fall short of Jesus' standard they attempt to defend their position with excuses and justifications. They have to because the alternative would be to admit to being imperfect and therefore incapable of going to Heaven.

God, as always, has a better plan - the way of faith. The law was never there so we could qualify as righteous, it was there so that we could realise how sinful we are. Without a standard to judge our lives by we could mistakenly think our way of living is okay. He knows we are sinful and so offers us a solution. All we have to believe is that when we fall he will catch us. How good is that? Everytime we sin God will say, that's fine, you're still okay. But he wants us to believe that. If we don't believe that and we try to work our way to Heaven he can't help us.

It's the Motivation that Counts
Often we wonder if we're doing something out of legalistic duty or whether we're doing it with a faithful spirit. To tell the difference we should look at our attitude rather than our actions. Why are we doing it? It's true that two people can do the same thing but one action is despised by God and the other God holds up as pleasing to him. Let's look at a couple of examples:

The Widow's Mite
Luke 21 contains just four verses about a widow giving all she had to live on into the temple treasury but the story has become a legendary of giving. This is a story of faith as she gave everything she had to live on, putting herself in the situation where she had to trust in her unseen God. She didn't do this for the glory but she pleased God with her heart.

Cain and Abel
I think God knew Cain's motivation before it became obvious to the rest of the small world that he wasn't sacrificing to God with the right heart (Genesis 4:5). Verses 6 and 7 are very interesting in our study of Romans:

Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

We are not saved by doing righteous works, but those rightoeus works save us from being overcome by a sinful way of life.

How can a loving God send us to Hell?
It's not about being sent to Hell. We've seen that none of us are perfect, we are indeed far from it! Our sins are so bad in God's eyes that we should receive the death penalty for just one sinful act (Romans 6:23). This is what is amazing about God's grace, that he plucks people from their headlong dive into Hell and gives them forgiveness for our evil deeds.

This is great news to the "sinner", but the "righteous" don't like this plan so much because it puts those who have done the worst of crimes on the same level as those who have led a reletavely blameless life. This upset the Jews when Romans was written and is upsetting the modern day church goer even now.

It is a horrible disease that all mankind has thinking he is better than everyone else. We all suffer from this pride. At it's worst it can seem to the one infected with arrogance that he is the only one who is not infected. Everyone else is wrong, but he or she is okay. My conviction is that God hates pride so much because it leads mankind to say they know better than God. God is a fool in the eyes of arrogant man, and man is very sick in the eyes of God.

Our social values state that murder is worse than pride, rape worse than greed and theft is worse than idolitary. We need to adjust our outlook and see that pride, greed and idolitary are all crimes that God punished by death.

The pew warmer may not see himself as evil but god knows what goes on in his heart (Matthew 7:11) and that without a relationship with him he is doomed.

From he who has been given much, much will be expected
In chapter 2 of Romans Paul is very forthright with the Jews. For generations God has been using the Law in an attempt to teach the Jewish nation to be godly. When it came to Pentecost we saw that some had learned because 3,000 Jews were baptised, but many more had missed the point, not learning that the ten commandments and the rest of the Levitical Law could be sumarised as loving God and loving your neighbour. The Jewish religion was so far from understanding this that they were stoning God's contemporary prophets.

The Gentiles, who did not have a history of being trained by God in the same way as the Jews, were given more slack, but they were still expected to place their faith firmly in God.

So How Does God Want us to Live?
This is explained by much of the rest of the Book of Romans which goes on to explain that we need to be faithful to him. I think faith is the opposite of pride. Think about it, a faithful person says that they might not understand all the facts in a situation but they are going to do what is right anyway. A proud person ont he other hands will only do what they think they should on the facts they can see and understand. With this in mind it's easy to see why God can only work in the lives of people for are determined that they are going to trust in him, no matter what.

How Has This Changed Me?
Having studied these chapters I think I understand more than ever that God loves me for who I am, understands I am sinful and wants to stop me from being overcome by the wrong desires.

I have tried to make sure my motivation for doing things is right, the last thing I want Jesus to say to me is "sin is crouching at your door Mike". In particular my relationship with God and my relationships with others have benefitted from my increased convition to give my heart, rather than just my energies, in everything I do. I think this is helping me become more obedient, softer hearted, a better listener and kinder. All areas I can only change with God's help.

The Law has shown me my sin
Grace has shown me the way
and faith has helped me obey

1 Romans, The Heart Set Free, Gordon Ferguson, DPI 2001