God judges impartially. God is concerned with the state of your heart, not the family you were born into. It is your love of God that makes you part of the family of God. Paul speaks to the Jewish people of Rome and reinforces that they are not saved simply because of their national identity but rather their personal identity. Paul is undermining their theology by equalising those who listen but do not obey the law with the gentile people. This unpicking of the 1st-century Jewish thinking helps establish Paul’s argument for salvation by faith in Christ.
The Story of Sin
Sin plays a large role over the first three chapters. To understand the concept of grace, we must first get to grips with sin. Here, the big picture story is told of God’s wrath in response to our deliberate “turning away from God”. God’s wrath culminates in the “giv[ing] them over to sinful desires of their hearts”. Although God is both slow and reluctant to execute his wrath, we see it here in the early part of Romans in order to best understand the arguments made later epistle for the greatness of his grace; “it serves as the background to his ‘proper work’ of mercy”.1
From verses 18 to 31, the story depicts a commonly accepted view of the world to the Jewish audience, often as propaganda against the pagan world. However, Paul condemns those who wish to cast judgement on the pagan world, stating they are also worthy of judgement. God does not show partiality in grace, nor in wrath. We are all under God, and to cast judgement on others is futile, for we are all deserving of condemnation.
Not Ashamed for the Gospel
The chapter starts in a familiar fashion with an introduction of the author, Paul. But in it, there is so much depth. The short introduction is an introduction to the gospel, a succinct explanation of the Christian reality (v1-7). Paul then lays out his intentions to see them face to face and his desire to “impart some spiritual gift to make you strong” (v11). The passage ends with the triumphant proclaiming of Paul’s honour and privilege to be a carrier of the gospel (v16).