How depressing! If you were to read only the above passage, you might think that Christianity, and St. Paul, see only darkness and the worst of humankind. But in the verse above, Paul is presenting his case—the ground of his theology—to help the reader understand not how depraved and lost is humankind, but how great is the good news that we are saved by God’s grace!
Paul is writing to the Church at Rome, which he hopes to visit in the near future. By way of introduction, he writes this epistle to them laying out his understanding of the Gospel. His hope is that they will not only receive him, but that they will support him financially as he leaves them and goes on to his next missionary journey to Spain. To gain such support, the Romans need to grasp fully this Gospel which Paul preaches. To understand the Gospel, however, they need first to understand human sin and the fact that we cannot save ourselves. So, Paul is indeed presenting the sad, tragic reality of human life—that none is righteous, no, not one. All have turned aside and gone wrong. Which then sets the stage for the next section of Paul’s letter, in which he proclaims the good news that “since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” The words above must never be quoted or cited without the proclamation of the Gospel which follows! Otherwise, we are left down-hearted and depressed, hopeless because all have sinned, no one understands, all have turned aside. Rather, we must hear immediately, “Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ—that we are saved/justified by His grace, as a gift!”
During Lent, there is always the danger that we will become obsessed with our own disobedience and sinfulness. There is always the temptation to make Lent about our unrighteousness and “wrong-headedness.” But Lent is to be first and foremost about Jesus Christ, and the forgiveness and salvation we have because of His death and resurrection! Let us meditate and reflect first, during Lent, on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Lord our God, because we are saved, because we have new life in Jesus Christ, turn us again toward you—let us seek you and let us find you, in Him; the same, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Taken from Wendel, David, From Ashes to Easter, Ashes Lenten Devotional Booklet, North American Lutheran Church.