Politics can be a messy game. So can religion. When the two are intertwined it can be like running into a hornets nest. Everyone thinks they are right which makes them entitled to having their way over whatever the conflict is about and that is that. The longer the conflict goes on, the more polarization takes hold and each side buckles down in their own self-righteousness as the slowly anathematize the other side.
How does such an ugly situation get resolved? Perhaps it starts by telling them the truth. The apostle Paul writes to some Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome who also had a conflict of sorts that is rooted in a theopolitical mess. Here is what Paul has to say in Romans 3:21-26:
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. (NRSV)
The simplest explanation is that Paul is telling both Jew and Gentile that they are all sinners declared right (justified) by God through his redemptive work in Christ Jesus.
In the previous two chapters Paul has recounted the history of both Jew and Gentile showing why both are sinners. Don’t mistake Paul’s earlier rhetoric with his fluid use of the Psalms (3:9-20) as a propositional degree about the nature of humanity. It is simply Paul bringing his point home so that he can conclude that all people are sinners and will only be justified by God.
This is the genesis for bringing God’s ministry of reconciliation into reality. Neither Jew or Gentile can boast. Both have been justified by God in Christ and therein lies the reason why they can accept each other which Paul will eventually start addressing with practical application in chapter 12 and beyond.
This is what grace is all about. No one can stand before God and boast in what they have done while condemning another person for what they have supposedly not done. Grace is about what God has done in Christ! Can people believe that, trusting in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to justify them?* Those who can stop trying to claim superiority while condemning the other because they realize that both have become a part of God’s family by God’s grace through faith.
That leads me to one final thought. The body of Christ is currently made up of many tribes who have various points of disagreement on certain doctrines and practices. Who is right and who is wrong? That’s the question that often seems to get asked but the reality, all are wrong and have only been declared right because of what God has done in Jesus Christ – not because any one particular tribe has correctly achieved and maintained sound doctrine and practice. So rather than any one tribe pretending as though they are the only Christians, it would be better off to recognize all who profess faith in Christ as people who belong to God. Perhaps then there would be grounds for discussing theological differences without condemning each other. Perhaps then, God’s people would present a picture of true reconciliation to the world.
* The alternate reading of v. 22 is, “the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.” The phrase “faithfulness of Jesus Christ” is a subjective reading of the genitive clause dia pisteōs Iēsou Christou which most English translations make mention of in a footnote. This is a choice which translators must make but is far from an settled question. I’m inclined to agree with scholars like Ben Witherington III and N.T. Wright regarding the subjective reading but there are certainly scholars such as C.E.B. Cranfield and James D.G. Dunn who think the traditional objective reading (“faith in Jesus Christ”) is correct.