The passage starts with a question: are Jews any better than Gentiles? Now, up until Christ’s ministry, the Jews looked down on any Gentile as one who is not of God’s chosen people; because of this prejudice, any Jew hearing this question would immediately say “yes, we are better than Gentile’s, because we are of God’s chosen people”. In answer to his own posed question, Paul blows their legalistic minds with a radical, Christ-like answer of “No, not at all” (verse 9, NLT). He then goes on to quote a handful of different scriptures from Psalms that all have the general theme that every member of mankind is fallen and sinful. Continuing, he says that the law that was set up by Moses is no longer in place to regulate that sin nor is it there to determine the punishment of sins that everyone is prone to. Instead, the laws are there to reveal to us as humans our great fault and our intense need for a savior. He ends the section in verse 20 by saying that no one can get back on God’s good side by simply following the law; he then sums it up once more with a statement that the law is just a mirror for us to view our faults in.
This passage is extremely important to the universality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The mark of Christianity, as Jesus set it up, was to be inclusive of every human in the world by way of a common love for God. This universal love is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion; it is not bound by geographical location or by human blood lines, but it is accepting of anyone and, indeed, everyone. That universality must include the Jews, but the rub here is in that they have worked their entire society and lifestyle around the Mosaic Law. This passage is here to show that Jesus did not come to negate their way of living (in all actuality, Jesus was a pious Jew). Instead, the law can be kept in place and abided by as long as it is regarded only as a tool for self reflection and not the way of salvation in itself.
This is applicable to our current lives in that we as western Christians tend to get legalistic and exclusive just like the Jews in the times surrounding Jesus’ life. We are bias of newcomers to our churches and we tend to be kind of stuck up. In effect, we are doing what the Pharisees did and using the “rules” that we make up for ourselves to exclude people from the Kingdom of God. Instead, we should take the advice of Paul here and use the righteous lifestyle that was modeled by Jesus as a mirror in which to soberly examine ourselves to gage where we are in becoming more Christ-like.
My personal reaction to this passage was a burst of excitement. I feel like I belong to a church that really has this concept down and I know from experience that this, unfortunately, is a rarity. In the future, I hope to be in full time ministry of some type and I expect to lean on this verse to keep myself in check when I start feeling “holier than thou”.