Paul instructs us in Romans 15:7: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” This word “welcome” means to accept or admit others into fellowship. Paul roots this command to receive one another in the example of how Christ has welcomed us in the gospel. How did our Savior welcome or receive us as rebel sinners? Did he wait for us to get our acts together before he died for us? Did Christ expect us to get rid of all of our depravity before he decided to come to earth and serve us? What if Christ had the attitude that he would only accept or welcome us if we were worthy or polished enough to earn God’s love? If Christ adopted that attitude, none of us would ever be saved. At the end of the verse, Paul tells us the overarching aim of embracing one another—the glory of God. When we have a lifestyle of accepting and welcoming one another by showing love and concern, we model the love of Christ, which glorifies God. The opposite of embracing one another involves a plastic fakeness where we display attitudes of perfectionism, hypocrisy, and judgmentalism where there is no real communication or authenticity. That behavior does not glorify God.
So how do we welcome or accept one another as Jesus accepted us? Galatians 3:28 provides a helpful, practical model of how we should welcome one another as fellow believers. Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul addresses three issues that our sinful culture abuses and distorts that should have no place in the life of the church. Think about the questions or comments our culture asks: “What color is your skin? What language do you speak? How much money do you make? Why are you so poor? She’s a stupid blond. He’s a male chauvinist.” These statements reflect a worldly attitude toward others instead of welcoming one another for the glory of God.
First, there is neither Jew nor Greek, which represents the ethnic or racial barrier that prevents us from receiving one another. In that culture, Greek and Roman men regularly thanked the pagan gods that they were not born as barbarians, slaves, or women. Jewish men would ask rabbis to say a blessing of thanksgiving over them that they were not born a gentile, slave, or woman as well. As baptized believers, we are all one in Christ as the children of God. He has adopted us into his family, and there should be no sinful divisions. We all share a unified gospel identity in the Trinity that binds us together. Christ eradicates all ethnic barriers in the church. Sadly, not understanding this unity can lead to the sin of racism. Racism is utterly sinful, and we should never mistreat, malign, or show prejudice against anybody who is of a different color or ethnicity than we are. In the church, we should fellowship and love one another across racial and ethnic barriers.
The second issue reflects the socioeconomic barrier of neither slave nor free in Christ. Our world naturally associates according to class and socioeconomic issues where the rich look down on the poor and the poor look down on the rich. We should fellowship across socioeconomic barriers. Sadly, this barrier often leads to materialism and oppression. The rich get richer by oppressing the poor. Or those less fortunate shun and resent the well-off.
Paul’s final description refers to the gender or sex barrier of neither male nor female in Christ. We need to be careful here because some have taken this verse to promote radical feminism and say that there are no gender distinctions in the home or the church. I hold to a complementarian theology which means that I believe that the Bible instructs that men should be the spiritual leaders in their homes and that wives should graciously submit to that leadership. Likewise, in the church, only males can be elders who teach and preach in positions of authority. This verse warns against the sin of chauvinism, sexism, or misogyny.
Here’s the bottom line: When God saved us from sin and baptized us into a church family, he freed us from the evil forces of racism, materialism, oppression, and sexism. Instead of acting like the world which abuses and distorts these categories and distinctions, we who have a gospel identity in the Trinity should live lives which are radically different from the culture around us.