Call and Response

Psalm 53 and Romans 1–3 in Counterpoint

March 04, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Proverbs 4, Psalm 53, and Romans 1–3.

The ways in which the Bible draws on itself are sometimes astounding. A case in point: as is so often the case in my readings, the New Testament reading seems almost as though drawing explicitly on the Old Testament reading. I should note: I am not following a lectionary or any particular plan, so it is not as though this is an intentional thing. Indeed, my reading plan right now is basically: Psalms, Proverbs, wherever I need to be reading for my Old Testament survey class, and wherever I feel like reading in the New Testament. Not particularly complicated! The reason is simpler than a formal plan: it is that the authors were aware of each other, and later authors clearly drew quite consciously on the material left behind by those who went before them.

A case in point: Romans 1–3 and Psalm 53 both show us the state of humanity quite clearly. They get there in different ways, of course. The Psalm arrives by way of poetic rhythm and the steadily building refrain that there are those who reject God, culminating in the expectation of judgment on the enemies of God and blessings for his people (typical enough themes of the Psalms, in some ways.) In his letter to Rome, Paul builds up this notion by carefully measured argument (which is not to suggest any lack of verve in said argument—this is Paul we are talking about!) until he comes to the oft-cited and less-often-really-grasped reality that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

What was most striking about Psalm and epistle alike to me was not only their congruity on the state of humanity, but also their agreement on the answer to that problem. (This is not surprising. Just striking. Note well the difference between the two!) Both look not to human accomplishment or restitution for undone deeds and deeds that ought to have been left undone, but to the God who can save his people. The Psalmist cried out, praying, “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!” (Psalm 53:6). Paul answers:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. (Romans 3:21-30)

Salvation did come for Israel, from Israel, but not only to Israel. Salvation came also to the nations. For that, I am profoundly grateful: I am the nations, as is almost everyone reading this. We stood condemned under the law of our conscience just as the Jewish people stood condemned by the law God had given them. All of us stood in desperate need of intervention, and so God intervened. All peoples sin, and all peoples1 are justified by God’s grace. God is perfectly just, and he does not just overlook sin. He judges it. But he has judged it in Christ, and not in you or me.


  1. The plurals here are important. It is very different to say that all peoples will be saved than it is to say that all people will be saved.