If you’ve tried typing on that tiny keypad on your smart phone, you know that it’s pretty easy to make a mistake since your thumbs are as relative in size to the keys as LeBron James is to a Smart Car. Phone manufacturers know this, which is why they developed the ostensibly helpful feature called “auto-correct,” which is supposed to correct your terrible typing into a discernible message for your friend, co-worker or loved one. Problem is that while auto-correct can read your typing, it can’t read your mind; and the results are often, well, disturbing.
Mom reacting to picture of daughter: “You look affordable.” I suppose she meant, “You look adorable.”
Brother to sister: “Mom got me chocolate covered marshmallow rabbis for Easter. Just shoved three in my mouth and almost choked.” Sister: “Be careful. Rabbis can be a bit chewy.” Yep, I suppose that rabbis (and priests) are often hard to swallow.
Mom to son: “Where are you?”
Son: “I’m having a little seizure.”
Mom: “Oh no! I’m calling 911!”
Son: “No, mom! I meant I’m having a Little Caesar’s – I’m eating pizza!”
Susie to Jane: “Hold on a minute, I think there are some Bible badgers at the door.”
Jane: “Bible badgers? I’ll bet they’re tenacious.”
Susie: “No, Bible bangers. But, actually, badgers may not be far off.”
Sometimes, we Bible badgers can get the words wrong, too, especially when we’re looking at Scripture. In today’s Epistle, the apostle Paul is writing to a Roman church that’s struggling with a conflict between Jewish Christians, who recently returned to Rome after being expelled by the emperor, Claudius, and the Gentile converts who likely made up most of the group in the small house churches that dotted the city. Paul is trying to help them get their terms right, since both groups tend to auto-correct their language and understanding back to what they knew before they became followers of Jesus.
Indeed, Paul’s been making a particular argument throughout the letter to the Romans, inviting them to take on a common vocabulary. Paul was mapping out the common language and community that was now possible for both Jews and Gentiles to share because of what God has done in Jesus – the language of faith. Whereas the Jews once focused on the law and the Gentiles once focused on philosophy and social status, now their common focus was on Christ. Jesus was the climax of the divine plan, and now God’s covenant faithfulness not only extends to the Jews, but to all who believe and have faith in Christ.
Problem is, however, that when many people want to type “faith,” they actually mean “law,” and vice versa. Paul defines these terms distinctly in verses 5-8. Moses defined the “righteousness that comes from the law” as the things that one does – namely, adherence to the commandments.
Paul never denies that obedience is something that God requires from us (1:5), but outward obedience to a set of rules isn’t the primary way we become the people of God. That requires the “righteousness of faith,” putting our complete trust in God and patterning our lives after his Son (v. 5). Faith doesn’t spend its energy trying to be so righteous as to go up to heaven to find God, nor does it wait for death to find God, either (v. 6). Faith recognizes that God has come to us in Christ, who descended from heaven and was raised from the dead.
In short, God doesn’t require us to be Bible badgers, or Bible bangers, for that matter. Our faith isn’t expressed by cracking people over the head with a Scofield Reference Bible and reminding them of the rules they’re not following. Nor is it about focusing on the rules as the primary way we can make ourselves acceptable to God. That’s auto-correction of the worst sort. “Auto” means “self,” and if the only correction we get is by depending on our own self-righteous adherence to a set of laws, our lives are going to look way sillier than a messed up text message.
Instead, Paul says, we are to focus on a faith defined as giving our whole allegiance to Christ, and that faith is expressed in two ways:
First, “Confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord.” But this confession isn’t just dogmatic agreement to a set of principles about Jesus.
Instead, we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The implications of that confession would have been startling to those Roman Christians. For them to say that Jesus is Lord means that Caesar is not Lord, and to say that meant they were committing treason against the empire (which was, in fact, the charge that sent many of them to their deaths). Confessing Jesus as Lord meant then, and it means now, that we’re giving our allegiance to a new world order, with Christ as the ruler of all. We commit treason against the powers of this world and acknowledge that we have no power of our own. To speak of Jesus as Lord is to say that we’re his subjects and that we will order our lives according to his lordship.
Second, “Believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.” Death is the curse that results from human sin. The law told us what sin was and reminded us of its consequences. Jesus, however, has reversed that curse. In Jesus, God has defeated death, and those who believe in him with their whole hearts will share in his resurrection. And because death has been ultimately defeated, that means that we can live as people who are free from fear. “Salvation” isn’t just some future hope, it’s a present reality!
Faith, in other words, isn’t a set of rules, it’s a way of life. Paul doesn’t want us to be auto-corrected; he calls us to be Christ-corrected. “No one who believes in [Jesus] will be put to shame” says Paul (v. 11). It doesn’t matter if you’re a Jew or a Greek, or if you’re affordable or adorable; when you are in Christ, you will always be made right!
But it’s not just about getting ourselves Christ-corrected, it’s about sharing him with the rest of the world that’s been constantly getting the wrong message. “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?” says Paul, “And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim to them?” (v. 14).
A couple of weeks ago I got on an airplane. I never saw the pilot but I trusted that there was one there. I trusted that the pilot was competent. I never met the pilot but trusted that he or she had not been drinking. I trusted that the mechanic was faithful.
You can’t live without faith. You are wired for faith. It doesn’t have anything to do with intellectual understanding because I know nothing about aeronautical engineering. I don’t understand those principles of lift and thrust, but I got on that plane because of faith. Everybody has some faith.
If you have faith in God, the one who is going to lead you from life to death, from despair to hope, from confusion to clarity, then this is what you proclaim: Jesus is Lord.
Sharing and living out faith in Christ are the ways in which God uses us to bring his Christ-correcting grace into the world. It’s not about badgering people into it, but about sharing the grace and love of Christ. After all, we above all people know that we are bad auto-correctors, but we also know that, in Christ, God is making the whole world right, including us.
Church of England Bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright puts it this way: “God is putting the world right, so God puts people right, so that they might be his right-putting people.”
Now that’s a message that every Bible badger should be tapping out every day.