We have come along way in our journey though Romans, and we have seen man’s problem and God’s solution, the righteousness of God and the redemption of man. In the verses we previously covered, Romans 3:25-26, we saw His purpose to reveal His own value and glory while at the same time delivering us from our bondage to sin and redeeming us back to Him. He had it planned all along, and Christ demonstrated this by living out a perfect life and by His being executed on the cross and rising from the dead.
It's a humbling experience to realize that had God not stepped in to rescue us we would be lost forever, eternally separated from the love and fellowship of our Lord. It takes us even further to realize, as we saw in the verses before today, that saving us was not God’s primary concern, but the demonstration of His own glory, the unfathomable evil of sin and the value of God, and our salvation included in that as a secondary matter, praise that God He thought of us at all!
How can we boast before God as though we contributed something to our salvation? How can we boast as if there was something in us worth saving, when it was about God’s worth not ours? Boast in the cross of Christ, for it demonstrates the mercy and the justice of God, the holiness and value of God, the awfulness of sin and the love of God (Galatians 6:14).
At this point in our text Paul wants to drive home the point that the God who justifies us in Christ is the same God who declares and demonstrates that He is the One true God. And so the God of the Jews is also the God of the Gentiles. He is drawing this section to a close, he has concluded what all this means, that we are justified by faith. Jesus paid the just penalty due us and because of that we can be rightly justified, declared as righteous as He and not guilty. In claiming that God was only the God of the Jews, in the sense that only they could have a relationship with Him, the Jews boasted in themselves, thinking that God came to them based on something in them which deemed them worthy of God's special attention. But boasting is excluded, and God is the God of all and all men may have a relationship with Him through faith in Christ.
A man is justified, declared by God as righteous, and not guilty, based solely on Jesus Christ and our faith in His redeeming work on our behalf (Galatians 2:16, 3:8,24). The design of the Law was to lead people to Christ.
Apart from works of the Law – Paul makes sure he includes not only the positive of justified by faith, but also the negative. He says the Law can't make us right with God. We get right with God by faith "apart from works of the Law." He is referring to the moral law code written down by Moses, the Ten Commandments, the sacrificial system, the priesthood, and all the other 613 commandments given in what they called the Law. The Ten Commandments are not some ten-step stairway to heaven they are proof positive that no one could climb up to God even if it were only one step. The Ten Commandments are just the preamble to the Law and no one can even do them and Jesus gave us the true sense of the Law which upped the spiritual ante so high that no one dare lay claim to a perfect righteousness. Paul says none of that and none of our own works can save us. The Law has no power to save because men are unable to keep it.
By stressing the “apart from the Law” Paul had been accused, wrongly, of promoting a faith in Christ that sees no need for the Law and a total disregard for obedience or compliance with the statutes of God's word. His contemporaries felt he was promoting a “religion” which had no morality. In other words, they felt he was teaching, “only believe in Christ and don't worry about any aspect of God's Law because it has absolutely no use.”
In answering his contemporaries who accused him of such things Paul says in Romans 3:31 that we don’t abolish the Law we establish it. What he means by this is very important, because he also says in Romans 10:4 that Jesus Christ is the end of Law to all who believe in Him. So they might say he is abolishing the Law, but Paul says we establish it by faith. Amazing statement, and what does Paul mean we establish the Law when he says we aren’t justified by it?
He means that by our faith we establish that the Law is righteous, but that it cannot provide righteousness because of the weakness of mankind (Romans 8:3); we establish that its demands must be met, but that we cannot meet them, we establish that it cannot be met apart from faith in Christ, who did meet them (Matthew 5:17); we establish that people of faith now pursue it by faith, as those who are already justified, and not by works, in order to be justified. By faith we establish the power of the Holy Spirit who is living in, and we can now be living out the spirit of the Law, as opposed to the mere letter, as Jesus spoke of it in the Sermon on the Mount, not in order to justify us, but to show the fruit of being justified.
We live in the love, the acceptance, and the justification that Jesus provides us as our safety, our satisfaction, and our rest, and our all in all. Jesus fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the Law, and we establish that fact in our lives and in our world by our faith. Faith does not produce disobedient, lazy Christians; it produces obedient, loving Christians who follow Jesus by the Spirit from the heart. Romans 13:8-10 – love is the fulfilling of the Law. In other words, love fulfills or establishes the Law. And where does love come from? It is a fruit of the Spirit in our lives, and the fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of faith.
Although we are not under the Law we are not above it either, but rather we are more in tune with its spiritual components, a heart circumcised to believe and obey, trusting in Him and glorifying His name through our obedience; not being saved by it but being saved we fulfill it. Justification does not mean to be righteous or to make righteous but to declare righteous, for the Christian we are declared righteous based on the perfect righteousness of Jesus the Messiah. He has fulfilled the Law for us and by our faith we establish that fact.
The Law still has purposes, for the non-believer and also for the believer. It is designed to lead people to the gospel of Christ and also to indict what is not in accord with the gospel. Using the Law lawfully means using it to convict people of living out of accordance with the gospel. It is for those that don’t know it and those that should know better. That is why we use both, we give the Law to the proud and grace to the humble, both Christian and non-Christian.
Through faith or by faith means it is not the ground or on account of faith, it is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). God is absolutely holy and just, and so any justification, any declaration of righteousness, any acquittal of guilt, must be on a just basis; it must be right to do so. The penalty of the Law had to be satisfied and Christ paid that for us, and so God declares us righteous not on some whim, but because of Christ, and it is a just declaration. We are guilty but Christ pays the penalty, and then God is just in justifying the ungodly, declaring us righteous, because of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our account (2 Corinthians 5:21).
As we saw in verses 24-26, the substitutionary atonement is the reason we can be justified by faith. It is faith in the person of Jesus and His finished work on the cross. With this passionately embraced theology – the wonderful doctrines of substitutionary atonement and justification by faith you can rest assured of your salvation, and as you cling to Christ in faith, you can conquer those voices that tell you tomorrow morning that you are a hopeless case. You don’t have to remember the names of the doctrines to remember who and what they are about. Jesus Christ dying for your sins and giving you a right standing before a satisfied God.
Paul anticipated what critics might say and then answered the charges. In perhaps similar fashion, when speaking of the glory of the great doctrines, you might hear someone say something like this. “Well this all just too abstract for me, what does doctrine do for me right now, how can I get a grip on what it means for today?” Okay, lets “go there”.
Let me start by saying that doctrine is the tool that helps you grow. It is a process, and it becomes applied as we live out life, not as we take them like a pill, but as we plant them like a seed. We see the doctrine, and what it says about Christ and about us, and we meet that with our faith, and it blooms as fruit in our lives. We don’t just look at it and then write it down or fill out some form, we believe it and become conformed into His image, from glory to glory as we see and believe it more and more (2 Corinthians 3:18).
It happens best within the context of a local church community but it is not an impersonal thing, but a very personal thing where the great doctrines make a great difference in our everyday living. And these particular doctrines are all-important, not only for our justification, but for our sanctification, our growth in grace, and we must understand that Jesus is the source of your life, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). Now let me just bring these doctrines right into your personal life right now, okay? So how does this filter out into giving God glory in my life? I’ll just apply this to one area that many have trouble with, perhaps all of us at times.
Many people measure their spirituality based solely on their self-control in one area or another. If they are “being good” in that one area that they are struggling with, then they feel spiritual, if not, then they feel like a failure spiritually. It is all or none, in a sense. It can be hard to help people find balance when they gauge the health of their relationship with Christ on a single issue – such as their sexual purity, anger issues, their thought life, or something else. Now we don’t want to give license to licentiousness or to excuse or encourage a lack of effort to control the self life, but instead of thinking solely about one issue as a measure, consider the whole life, are you advancing anywhere at all, in many areas, perhaps even in most areas?
If you are a “single issue voter” this may be why you fail to see your relationship with Christ as it is, a growing and complex dynamic of repentance and faith, based on His works, His love, His steadfastness. When a single issue carries so much weight the guilt and shame of failure can overwhelm a person. It also may be the reason why you neglect other areas, and as a result the whole life, spiritual and otherwise, suffers. Pay attention to your failings, sure, but don’t give them any more weight than they ought to have, and keep thanking God for the victories He has given you, and pray for more, all the while counting on this fact: it is not what we did, it is what He did that counts. The single issue has been forever settled in your favor.
Yes the sin is a problem, but it can lead to a greater problem because it can lead to more failure. The greater tragedy is not the failure of the individual sin, but when it leads to the failure to get back up, to be so swept away with guilt and shame that we let it bring us back down, away from any chance of victory. We settle for settling into a rut of routine spirituality, thinking that this is all there is, and we let the devil win, keeping us from becoming more solid in other areas as we lose the fight with this one issue. However, we must realize that the mark of faith is not that I don’t fail but that I do fight.
God makes a way where there is no way. There was no way for a man to be perfect and the Law pointed that out. By the deeds of the Law no man will be justified. But by the works of Christ and faith in Him any man may be justified.
Colossians 2:13-14 – God put the record of our sins in the palm of Christ’s hand and then He put a nail through it! Now being pronounced spiritually pure doesn't remove all the temporal consequences. God forgives us for the sin, but we might still have the broken heart, the addicted body, and we still have to care for the child out of wedlock. We still have repentance to do, restitution to seek, restoration to build upon. But we act from forgiveness, we don’t act for it.
Often we want forgiveness to be a magic pill that does away with all the consequences of our actions. We often fall into this trap especially with "personal" sins that no one else knows about. We need the integrity to deal with the consequences of the sin that no one sees. Again, we act from forgiveness, we don’t act for it. We are truly guilty, but we have been declared righteous, and God brings us to Him after we see both sides.
Micah 7:8-9 – the extended truth – the existing truth is that you are guilty, you have sinned, but the ongoing truth, the extended truth is also that you are forgiven, and that you will rise up again.
Of course, our sin is personal and we cannot simply expect theological ramblings to help us if they remain cold, sterile, and impersonal. These things must be lived out in community. Often what we need is to do a better job modeling brokenness and forgiveness in church. Somehow, we don't trust grace; we think we need to shame people into repentance first. I disagree with that. God's way is love; we draw people to repentance by showing them how much more beautiful life is when we are free from sin and free to love. We are able to rise up again. Whatever the issues may be, the single issue has been forever settled in your favor. Rise up to Him in faith.
When you are able to see this beautiful truth of the gospel more and more clearly you will sin less and less, because Christ will become more and more what you treasure. We have this great treasure and a down payment in our lowly bodies, these jars of clay hold the power of God. We have nothing of ourselves to boast about, but we can always be boasting of the cross, what God has done for us in Christ. That is something worth being thankful for. It is the reason we are at this church, and why we can rejoice in Christ with one another. It means that I can believe in you because I believe in God. I can believe in you because you believe in God. We are justified by faith, and we can live by that same faith. Amen.