by Maria Rudolph
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[God] will give to each person according to what they have done (Romans 2:6).
How many times have you heard a Bible verse quoted out of its context? Can you think of any situation at all where a Scripture passage is used to argue a certain point, yet it doesn’t sit right, and at closer inspection doesn’t actually fit with the supposed interpretation? It might only seem like a little thing, but the consequences can be very damaging, such as when a passage of Scripture is used to become legalistic about who can participate in Christian ministry. There is a verse in the Romans passage today, which, if read on its own, can lead to a completely wrong understanding of God and rob us of the comfort of knowing our redemption in Jesus. ‘God will give to each person according to what they have done’ (Romans 2:6). In another place (Psalm 62:12 and Proverbs 24:12), the same phrase is posed as a question: ‘Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?’ Well, the answer is surely yes. But also surely not.
What we require to understand one verse of Scripture is the wider context of the gospel. In God’s eyes, ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). That means each and every person can never lead a life so upright as to escape God’s judgement for something, even if it is only in their secret thoughts. The harsh reality is that you, I and all people we know, Christian or not, have utterly missed the mark and would be punished most severely by God. But then Jesus stepped in. In his unfathomable grace, he took all the wrath and punishment of God upon himself and died on our behalf. Then Jesus handed us a whitewashed robe dripping with his blood and covered us with it. So, when God sees us, he sees the blood of Jesus upon us, and we are clean, forgiven, redeemed, accepted, adopted. Loved. Amazing. ‘All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood’ (Romans 3:24,25).
Context matters. Reading any given Scripture passage in the wider context of the Bible is important. Picking a verse out of its context and using it to make a point when it does not fit with the broader story of the Bible is harmful. But when we read Scripture in its context of God’s love, grace and acceptance, it becomes life-giving for and through us.
For you, what is an important Scripture passage to be read in its proper context?
Loving God, help us to seek the bigger picture in your Scriptures. May your Holy Spirit constantly lead and guide us as we read and hear your word. In Jesus’ name. Amen.