The Gospel in Romans – WHO, not WHAT

“There is nothing you can do to cause God to love you more than He already does—and there is nothing you can do to cause God to love you any less.” This statement is entirely true, and it resonates best for Westerners who find their identity in doing things- work, hobbies, causes, etc.  We feel guilty for not doing enough. So, rightfully, we need to remember that God’s love is not based on our performance. Amen!

However, Paul’s letter to Rome addresses an honor-shame reality–a group of people who doubted God’s love and acceptance because of who they were.  They felt shame for not being enough, or conversely, a sense of false honor for thinking they were part of the right group.

Apostle Paul, Saint Sophia of Kyiv, circa 1000
Apostle Paul, Saint Sophia of Kyiv, circa 1000

When was the last time you felt shamed or unclean for being a Gentile?  Probably not recently. But such ethnic/group/shame issues appear throughout Romans.

Here was the problem in Rome: the various ethnic groups (Jews, Romans, Gentiles) claimed honor based on their cultural status, and rejected others as shameful and unclean people.  The Jews were especially inclined towards ethnocentrism (‘our group is better than yours’) because God’s gift of Torah apparently set them above apart from the nations. Obviously, such cultural exceptionalism runs counter to the gospel of worldwide blessing. So Paul wrote Romans to help them understand who is saved, who Abraham’s children are (Rom 4), who God’s family is (Rom 8), and who Israel is (Rom 9-11).

It doesn’t matter which social mechanisms of shame and exclusion you fall victim to, if you are in Christ you are eternally honored and accepted as one of God’s people.  At the cross all the boundaries were redrawn.  The honor derived from adoption into a prestigious group (in this case, God’s) is cherished by people of honor-shame cultures. The honorable status as a member of God’s group, overcoming the shame of any cultural identity, is the good news.

The question, ‘Who are the descendants of Abraham?’ is significant because God promised that Abraham’s descendants would become an honored people (great nation, blessed, great name, divine protection, benefactor of blessing, cf. Gen. 12:1-3). Romans 4 redefines descent from Abraham as being by faith, not ethnicity.  Through Abraham-like faith in the Creator, people of all groups can obtain the honorable heritage of Abraham. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” Gal. 3:28. The fullest explanation of God’s redefined, new-covenant people is Romans 9-11.  Who is Israel?  In 9:22, Paul explains that God’s actions before Christ were pre-planned for the purpose of bringing the “riches of his honor” to the Gentiles.    God’s beloved people are predestined “for glory” (Rom. 9:22-26).  Believers in Christ are “grafted into the olive tree” planted long ago by God (11:17-24).  Salvific inclusion into this shame-free community is through faith, not participation in ethnic Israel by observing the Torah.

God is working in history to create his own family of honored members from the entire world.   This  grace – God’s acceptance of the shamed –trivializes all false claims to honor, whether based on Jewish Torah observance, Roman imperial power, or Greek wisdom.  Only through Christ’s shameful death for the shameful can we be integrated into God’s community and bear eternal honor.  Amen! Paul certainly does explain “How are we saved?”  (A: ‘through faith in Jesus Messiah’), but that soteriological question is a part of the broader ethnic, group-oriented, ecclesiastical, Jew-Gentile, honor-shame question of “Who is saved?” So perhaps the message of God’s love for honor-shame cultures would be:  “No matter who you are, God loves you.  There is no one we can be that causes God to love us any more or less.”

Previous posts in ‘WHO, not WHAT’ series: 1- 2- 

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4 Comments on “The Gospel in Romans – WHO, not WHAT

  1. Thanks for writing on Romans! (And no need to apologize…there is no shame in theology!)

    It’s fascinating to reread Romans with an eye to H/S. E.g.

    Rom 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory [honor?] of God.

    Rom 8:28-30 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified [restored honor?].

    I just reviewed my seminary notes on the ordo salutis (the “steps” in the outworking of God’s plan).

    “Glorified” was seen as a future event “proleptically* consummated in us.”

    Might that have missed the entire point that we now have our lost honor restored, without having to do grammatical gymnastics with the aorist?

    *the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished

  2. Yes, great connections Gary. That is true how much we emphasize the future aspect of glorification, and use Greek gymnastics. Although our bodies and soul await full glory, our adoption as God’s children and participation in Abraham’s family is quite glorious and real.

    There is so much to be said about HonorShame in Romans (because so much was said by Paul). I forgot to mention the lengthier theological reading of Romans for HonorShame contexts available at

  3. Ah yes, the article by J. Georges. I had forgotten about that. I’ll have to re read it! (Maybe that’s where I got my keen insights from and then took the credit myself!)

  4. Good words! I’m a true product of my ‘do’ society…a day’s success is rate by how much I got done effectively…but recently I heard God say, “You’re great at doing! Now be great at ‘being.'” These words today have taken me a step farther – thanks for posting!

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