Romans 1-3 and Gym Membership

Yesterday in my Sunday school class we continued our study of Romans, reaching the start of chapter 3. In trying to sum up Paul’s seemingly conflicting points about the advantage of being a member of the Jewish people (yes there is an advantage, no we are not any better off) I used the analogy of gym membership. I wonder whether others find this a useful analogy for illustrating Paul’s point.

Paul’s contrast in Romans 2 can be compared to a contrast between someone who boasts of being in good shape, having a membership in an excellent gym, and someone who has no such membership but (unlike the first person) exercises regularly. Paul’s point about the advantage of the Jews in Romans 3 is akin to pointing out to the first of the two individuals previously mentioned that the advantage of gym membership is access to equipment that facilitates being healthy, not that membership itself automatically means that one is in good shape.

Paul’s point is that belonging to God’s chosen people conveys the advantage of having revelation of God’s will, but it is still up to a person to respond to that revelation. And as he said in chapter 2, those outside the Jewish people who seek after God and do what the Law requires without even having the Law will be more pleasing to God than those who have the Law but do not do what it requires.

Of course, some of this is in at least apparent tension with the Lutheran tradition of exegesis which claims that trying to observe the Law is misguided. Paul, thus far at least, says just the opposite.

I still believe that Romans has a powerful message to challenge the church in our time, if it is contextualized to address the church. It is ironic that the church often seems to reflect a stance closer to the one that Paul is arguing against here rather than Paul’s own view. I could imagine Paul writing to the church asking whether there is any advantage to being a Christian, and saying yes – but at the same time, emphasizing that it is not the hearers but the doers of the Gospel who will be saved, and that the non-Christian who shows that God’s requirements are written on his or her heart will condemn the Christian who is part of the ‘right group’ and has access to the message and teachings of the Bible, but does not respond to them, and is not even aware of how they have failed to respond to them, because, like many in ancient Israel and many Jews in Paul’s time, they understand membership in the chosen people to constitute privilege rather than responsibility.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Are you saying that an atheist or one such as I could be saved if either of us had the love of God for all in our hearts and deeds?

  • Christian attempts to explain Paul's contradictions always reminds me of adding "in bed" to fortune cookies. Just add "in spirit" to whatever Paul said.

  • I was just trying to offer an illustration of what I think Paul was saying. In your question, Neil, you refer to being "saved" which, if used in the standard Evangelical sense, refers to being included in a blissful afterlife, and as you probably know from my blog, that is a notion about which I am skeptical.

  • Daniel O

    I never though that reading your blog would make me want to go fo a run… : )

  • Anonymous

    It seems like a good analogy James. Paul is rather confusing, even the NT acknowledges that, but I would invent any excuse I could to eat delicious swine. Mike Wilson

  • "In your question, Neil, you refer to being 'saved' which, if used in the standard Evangelical sense, refers to being included in a blissful afterlife, and as you probably know from my blog, that is a notion about which I am skeptical."This is the same thing that makes it difficult for me to discuss theology with evangelicals these days. I feel there is a pervasive disagreement or misunderstanding of what "saved" means that results from the pop Christianity that seems so common today — an afterlife-centric mixture of Hollywood, Milton and Dante that I don't think is anything that Jesus or the early apostles had in mind.