We Are Not Ignorant: Cultural Strife in Romans

When dermatologists diagnose melanoma, they often perform a skin test called the “ugly duckling” test, where the doctor looks for that mole which stands out or a mark that appears different than all the others. A difference in appearance on the skin may be the difference between life and death. This seemingly minor difference may pose a threat to health, even to life.

Unfortunately, this is a perspective we can transfer to our interactions with people. We may see someone who is different from us as a threat. However, in our dealings with each other, we shouldn’t do “ugly duckling” tests, but rather learn to overlook our differences.

It is all too easy as humans, and as Christians, to focus on our differences. Undeniably, there are many different people and cultures, with a wide range of traditions, food, skin color, hair color, height, etc. However, to dwell on what ultimately proves to be trivial differences is to miss the fact that we are all the same when it comes to our sin, to our salvation, and to our sainthood. Whether we consider ourselves “strong” or “weak” in the faith, we all started our Christian journey the same way.

Paul addressed this issue in Romans, because of the question of equality amongst the Jews and the Gentiles in Rome. In Romans 3:2-23, Paul is clear when it comes to God’s perspective of our sin: there is no difference between anyone. Likewise, Romans 10:12-13 explains that when it comes to God’s salvation, once again there is no difference. It’s clear then, that there is no difference when it comes to anyone who becomes a child of God. We all stand on the same ground of mercy and grace.

We often preach in the gospel that it is not our perspective of ourselves that matters, but God’s perspective of us. So, if God finds no difference (Rom 2:11) then we should strive as Christians (being Christ-like) to find no difference either. This means treating others as equals, regardless of their country of origin, native language, skin color, or culture. Remember, they are the same in God’s eyes, regarding both their sins and salvation. Most importantly, just as Christ died for us, He died for them also (Rom 14:15).

Paul also emphasized this equality in talking to the Jews. In Romans 3:9, he reminded the Jewish believers they were no better or worse than the Gentile believers. Therefore, as Romans 11:18 states, there is no boasting, because all have come by God’s grace. If we accentuate the cultural differences between ourselves, we invite the possible complex of either the superiority seen in Romans 12:3 or the inferiority seen in Romans 14:10.

How do we counteract this? I believe the answer is to think of others. We need to think about serving others even as Christ served (Rom 15:3). Therefore, just as the strong in faith should be considered, so should the weak in faith (Rom 14:1 and 15:1). In all we think and do, we must love one another. In Romans 12:10, Paul says we should be affectionate one to another. Romans 13:8 commands us to love one another and so fulfill the law. Romans 12:10 tells us we should prefer others over ourselves. Again, in Romans 12:16 and 15:6, we are told to be of the same mind with one another. In Romans 15:7 we are instructed to receive one another, and even to greet each other with a kiss of affection (Rom 16:16). In so doing, we act as Christ did.

This character of unity is seen in the Godhead and should be seen in us as well. Paul reminds the Romans of this, explaining that there is one God (Rom 3:29), one Father (Rom 4:12), and one Savior (Rom 5:19). Therefore, it is no surprise that there is, for us, one calling (Rom 9:24). Since we have heard His voice and responded to the call as sinners, let us now live up to this calling as Christians. Paul states that we are called Sons (Rom 8:14) and also called Saints (Rom 1:7). These are titles not to be taken lightly. Let us live up to them!