Faith: The Instrument by Which We Receive the Righteousness of God
If you have your Bibles, Id invite you to turn with me to Romans, chapter 3. Weve been in Romans 3:21 through 26 for the last few weeks as we have meditated upon this glorious doctrine of justification by grace through faith. And just as Isaiah, before he gives us that beautiful presentation of the gospel of grace which he begins to unfold for us in the 30s and especially in Isaiah 40 and on. He gives us first the bad news of Gods judgment, warning and woe. So also Paul in Romans, and especially chapters 1 and 2, and the first part of chapter 3 prepares us for the good news with the bad news. The good news makes no sense if we dont understand the bad news, and if we do not embrace the delivery of the bad news. You can hear the bad news and still say, "Well, Im not sure I buy that." Pauls good news makes no sense if youre not a person who senses the need for the forgiveness of sin, senses the need for the reconciliation with God, senses the need for redemption and propitiation and forgiveness and justification. Those things make no sense.
Now you understand, of course, that just because you dont sense it, doesnt mean that you dont need it. But Paul spends all that time with the bad news, not because hes morbid, but because he wants you to embrace with joy the salvation provided by God that you do need. That urgency for Paul is still here today. As we read his words, theyre just as urgent today speaking to us. So, lets hear Gods holy word here in Romans 3, beginning now in verse 27:
"Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the law through faith? May it never be. On the contrary, we establish the law."
Amen, and thus ends this reading of Gods holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Lets pray.
Our Heavenly Father, we ask that this day, not only as every Lords Day, but especially this day that You would open our eyes, our hearts, to understand Your word. Perhaps there are some here who have never embraced Christ by faith. Theyve never understood the glory of what it means to be justified and to receive that justification by faith alone. They dont understand the terms, they dont understand the offer, they dont understand the grounds. They certainly never embraced it themselves. For those we pray that You would open their eyes. That they would see just how grand this truth is. That I would overwhelm them, that it would flood them with the knowledge of God and of grace. Perhaps there are other believers here who have never adequately taken into account the implication of justification for their own lives. Theyve never known the freedom that the believer can have. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from fear of condemnation that comes only through the free justification provided in Christ Jesus. We pray for those believers, that You would shake them, shake them with the grace of the gospel so that they embrace it in a way that they never quite understood it before. Perhaps there are others, O God, who have presumed upon Your love. They think of themselves as believers, but they have presumed upon Your love. Theyve never really trusted in Jesus Christ. Theyve never known the power of the Holy Spirit transforming them by the gospel of grace. Take hold of them, show them their sin, their need, and then display the Savior and the gospel and humble them and exalt them simultaneously. Hear our prayers, we pray, in Jesus name, Amen.
Beginning in Romans, chapter 3, verse 27 Paul is interested in drawing some deductions from the teaching which he has been giving to us in Romans 3:21 through 26. He has set forth all the basics of his doctrine of justification, his doctrine of salvation by Gods free justification based upon the finished work of Jesus Christ received by faith alone. He has set forth all the basics of that doctrine here in a short span of verses from 21 to 26. Now He wants you to see some of the implications of that doctrine. In fact, he wants you to see a lot of implications in that doctrine. Much of the rest of the theological section of the book of Romans will be based upon Pauls expounding the implication, his applying the truth of justification and its ground, its origins, and its implications for your life.
Why is Paul so concerned to talk about this? Why is Paul so preoccupied? Why is he so fixated on this? Why does he spend all this time thinking with you, telling you about justification? Because its at the heart of Christianity. Because justification is at the very heart of the gospel of grace. Its at the very heart of Gods plan to reconcile sinners to Himself.
Confusion in this area is spiritually deadly. The person who thinks that he or she has something in and of himself or herself to commend himself or herself to God is in trouble. The person who thinks that Christ plus a little bit that they do makes you safe before the searching judgment of God is in trouble. The person who believes that God does a little bit, and we do a little bit. The person who thinks that God does something, and we do something in response that merits His justification. All of those mistakes are of a kind, and they are deadly. They are spiritually deadly. And Paul knows that. And Paul is concerned for both the Jewish and the Gentile believers in this young church, this young congregation of Christians in Rome. Hes concerned for both of those groups of Christians to understand the basics of the gospel and the basics of how people relate to God almighty.
Think of the struggles, for instance, the Jewish Christians in that congregation would have undergone. Not only had they been reared in a system which taught them to think about salvation in different terms than Paul is talking to them, but they have a circle of family from which they have come. They are Jewish Christians, and if you know Jewish Christians today, you know the enormous strife and tension that can be created in a family when a person reared in the Jewish ethnic situation and faith comes to faith in Christ. Suddenly theres enormous tension in these young Christians who are of a Jewish extraction. They know that tension, perhaps more than any generation of Jewish Christians has ever known. And Paul knows that their friends and their family, and their relations, their colleagues, their associates, all of them have a different view of salvation than the one that he is setting forth, and the one that the apostles are preaching. And he wants those young Jewish Christians to be grounded in the faith as Christ wants them to understand it. And they can so easily be confused. And so he dwells on this doctrine, because its almost alien to their categories of thinking. They naturally think in terms of meriting. They naturally think in terms of boasting in the unique privileges which they have been given, and that those privileges in and of themselves set them apart from the Gentiles and warrant them as recipients of the blessings of God. And Paul wants to completely disabuse them of that kind of thing.
And then there are those Gentile Christians. Bless their hearts. They dont know Genesis from Malachi. They havent been reared in good Bible believing Jewish homes. They dont know anything. They dont know anything about salvation history. And they could be so confused by the crazy ideas about salvation floating around in the Greco Roman world, and Paul knows that he needs to take them right back to the Old Testament. They need to understand their Bibles so that they can understand how glorious and how free is this justification that God has provided for them in Christ. And so both those Jewish Christians and those Gentile Christians are in need of grounding in the way of salvation. Of course, Paul is fixated on this because to conceive of relating to God on the basis of ones own merits in any way, shape or form is to condemn yourself to eternal perdition. And so Paul here directs us again to reflect upon the truth of justification by faith.
And I want to put three matters before you in this passage, and really Im going to zero in just on the first one today. Well see how far we get, and maybe well get to the other two next week. Lets look especially at verse 27 to begin with. Notice what Paul says in response to his exposition of justification by faith. He says this. "Where then is boasting? It is excluded," he says. "By what kind of law, of works?" No, but by a law of faith. Paul has been concerned all along about misguided Jewish boasting. We saw that in Romans, chapter 2. The Jewish people had responded to his presentation of the gospel by saying, "Paul, look, you dont understand. Were the elect. Weve been chosen by God from among the nations. Weve been set apart. Were His people. All this that youre saying, well, it may be nice for the Gentiles, but we dont need this. We are the elect. We have circumcision. We have the sign of membership in the community. Weve received a law. God has revealed Himself to us in His law. Weve been set apart. Were Gods people. We dont need reconciliation with God. Weve already got it. Weve got privileges. Weve got standing. We dont need this gospel that youre peddling." Paul has been concerned about that kind of misguided Jewish boasting precisely because that religious self-confidence blinds the Jew to his need of the gospel. The Jewish person who thinks that hes already got it, doesnt want to respond to Pauls exposition of the gospel by saying, "Well, you know, I really am needy, and I need Christ."
You may have remembered about twenty years ago a campaign was mounted, and it was called the "I Found It" campaign. It was a gospel evangelistic campaign to spread the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in the United States. It was entered into by a variety of denominations and paired church groups. Well, there were many Jews that were offended by that campaign. And they began to run billboards themselves that said, "We Never Lost It." Pauls used to that kind of response from the Jewish people. To say that youre lost and that you need to be found is dependent upon the reality of your lostness. Paul is concerned about people who say, "Well, Ive never been lost. Im not in need of this that youre offering." And here Paul is telling us that when you understand salvation, when you understand justification, when you understand the grounds on which God accepts a person, when you understand the way that you receive the blessings of justification, then there is no room left for pride. Theres no room left for boasting. Theres no room for saying, "Well, you know, I didnt need this. I didnt need grace. I didnt need the death of the Messiah. I didnt need forgiveness." Theres no room for boasting. Theres no room for saying, "Well, you know, there was a little something I did that set me apart from him. In the final analysis, I was a little better person than that person, and that is why I was accepted by God." Paul says, "If you understand the way that God saves, theres no room left for self-congratulation. Theres no room left for self-commendation." You would never, ever think of presenting yourself before God and saying, "Well, Lord, you know, actually I have been a pretty good person." You would never even think of it if you understand the way of salvation.
And this is very significant my friends because the way that you come into the kingdom dictates in large measure the quality of life that you will experience in the kingdom. If you think that you become a Christian through something that you do, that will determine in large measure the kind of Christianity that you practice as a professing believer. If you think that its a little of God and a little of you, then you will work like a beaver as a professing believer to try and assure that you get the things that are offered in the word. You will begin more and more to work for the promises of God. If, however, you understand that free justification is the entrance gate into a reconciled experience of communion with God, then the whole of your experience as a believer you will understand is under- girded by free and sovereign grace. And everything that you do in your believing experience is the result of Gods grace in you, not the cause of it. Its what God is aiming to work in you, not that which you have to do in order for Him to love you. And my friends its all the difference in the world. If you have ever known anyone who is racked with struggles, with assurance because they werent sure that they had done right enough to be accepted by God. You know how crucial that distinction is. The apostle Paul is hitting it with full force.
This is important, my friends, because true religion in the Bible is always characterized by humility. Anywhere the Bible defines for us true religion, I promise you youll find humility somewhere nearby. When Micah is talking about it, he talks about humility. When Isaiah is talking about it, he can speak of God being high and lifted up, and yet dwelling with whom? With the humble and lowly of heart. And its not just an Old Testament thing. Humility is part and parcel of the Christian experience. And Paul is saying that the way that God saves us itself humbles us and leaves us with nothing to boast of. The way we are saved must accord with the spirit which is to characterize the true Christian. You cannot produce humility through a way of salvation which in and of itself leaves a person able to boast. If in the final analysis as I stand before God, my hope is that there is something about me and in me that is different from another person who is under Gods condemnation, then I am undone. Because the apostle Paul says "The hope that all those who trust in Christ have is not based upon something that has been done in them. It is based upon something that has been done outside of them. It is not based upon something which God is doing in an ongoing work in them, it is something that God has done for them in their place." And that something is the free justification which flows from the work of Jesus Christ. And, therefore, Paul says my doctrine of justification by faith does just that. You exclude boasting all together. You understand what I am saying about justification, you have no ground for boasting, but at the same time if you embrace it, you have no ground for fear. And those are the two directions that Id like to take this with you today for just a few moments.
But you may be asking, "Well, hold on. How is it that Pauls doctrine of justification by faith excludes boasting? How is that Pauls doctrine of justification by faith makes it absolutely impossible to reimport our obedience, our works, the things that we do, our efforts, however good they may be. How is it that that doctrine keeps you from importing those things into Gods salvation?"
Well, Im glad you asked that question. There are two parts to Pauls answer. You really see the two parts to Pauls answer in verse 27. "Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith." Now right there Paul focuses us on that way by which we receive our justification. He focuses us on the instrument of justification: Faith. But previous to verse 27, in verses 21 through 26, he has spent a lot of time telling us the ground or the basis on which we are saved. Now those two things are different. Theres the basis on which we are justified, theres the way in which we receive that justification. There are the two parts of Pauls answer. Let me tell you, Paul says, how it is that my doctrine of justification by faith excludes boasting. First look at justification, then look at faith. First look at the basis of your acceptance with God, then look at how you receive that acceptance. First, look at the ground of salvation, then look at the means of salvation. First, look at what I do to save you. Secondly, look at what you do to receive the gift that I have accomplished in salvation. And as you look at those things, Paul says, you will see how impossible it is to import your works and thus any of your boasting or self-congratulation or self-commendation back into salvation. So lets look at these two parts together.
I. The ground of our acceptance with God.
First, if youll look with me at verses 20 through 26. I want to focus for a few moments on the ground of our acceptation with God. How is it that boasting is excluded all together? Six ways, just in these few verses that Paul shows you. First, Paul emphasizes that it is God Himself who justifies. You dont justify yourself. God justifies you. Look at verse 26. "That He might be the justifier." Whos the 'He'? God. God is the justifier. God justifies. You dont justify yourself. Nobody else justifies you. God justifies you. Its not something that you do. Its something that he does.
Secondly, notice in verse 24, God emphasizes that that justification is a gift of grace. Look at his words. "Being justified as a gift by His grace." Once again, justification isnt something that you earn. Justification doesnt require that you do something to get it. Its a gift thats offered in grace. Notice how Paul is already building an argument as to why your works dont play a roll in it. Its a gift of grace, its not something you do. Its something you receive.
Thirdly, look again at verse 24. He emphasizes that that justification is itself grounded, not in something that you have done, but in fact its grounded in something that Christ did. Its grounded in the death of Christ. Its grounded in the redeeming death of Christ. Look at those words, "through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus."
Fourthly, notice again in verse 24 that Paul makes it clear that the basis of justification, the basis upon which he declares you to be righteous, is not something in you, its something outside of you. Notice those words, "whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation to demonstrate His righteousness." Whats he talking about? Hes talking about the death of the Lord Jesus Christ as an atoning sacrifice for sin, and Hes telling you that justification is based on that, not on what you do.
Fifthly, he goes on to say. And if youll look all the way back to verse 20, youll see it. He emphasizes that justification is accomplished apart from our obedience. Justification is not something that our obedience contributes to in any way, shape or form. He says it negatively, but look at verse 20: By the works of the law, no flesh will be justified. Paul doesnt even say by doing some nice deeds that you thought that you might just do on the spur of the moment. He even speaks of works of the law. Those things which God commands us to do in His law. He says, "Look, even if you do the things that God commands you to do in the law, you wont be justified, because, of course, everything that we do is riddled with sin. And those of us who are most self-aware are most aware of it. You take the casserole to your neighbor across the street. You know you muttered all the way back. "Oh, that house. I just couldnt stand to be in that house. Oh, its a pig sty." Or your neighbor who youve repaired the lawn mower for three times: "Couldnt he buy a new lawnmower." You help him out all right. Youre kind to him, you smile. Youre muttering under your breath all the way back home. Even the good things that we do are shot through with sin. Our motives are warped, our goals are warped, our attitude is skewed. Paul says, "By the works of the law no flesh will be justified." Justification is apart from our obedience.
And finally in verse 22 he makes it clear that justification is something which is received through an act of self-renunciation. Justification isnt based upon affirming something that you do. In fact, it is based upon renouncing yourself and entrusting yourself to another person. Thats what we call faith. Notice verse 22. It is through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Paul, just in case you forget, says it twice. Faith for all who believe. And so justification is received by the self-renouncing means of faith. In all those ways, Paul shows that the ground of our salvation is based upon something not in us but something outside of us. Not something that we do, but something that God does. And hes not finished yet. Because he even wants to talk with you about how you get the benefit of what God has done.
II. How we receive the gift of eternal life?
How is it that you receive the gift of eternal life? And he meditates on that with you here in verse 27. He says that boasting is excluded because of the law of faith. By that he means the principle of faith. God has chosen that we would receive His salvation by the means, by the instrument, not of our own obedience, not by performing some work, but by faith. And Paul is saying that the very way that God has designed for us to receive the benefits of Christs work, that very way is in accord with grace. If salvation is purchased by grace, but received by obedience, then grace is overthrown, boasting is not excluded. Youve reimported the law. You can say, "Okay, God saves us by sacrificing His Son, and then we believe, and we do good works, and were saved." Youve just reimported good works back into salvation. Even he said, "Well, Im not saying that God accepts us because of those good works, its just that the way He accepts us involves us both believing and doing good work. Once youve done that, youve imported good works back into the scheme. Paul is saying that only the principle of faith and the principle of faith alone is conducive to the humbling grace offered in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Faith.
Think about it for a minute. Yes, faith is something that we do. Its an act that we do as humans. But, as an act it is in its essence essentially focused not on us and not on our works, its focused on someone else. Faith is focused on another. In this case, God. Faith doesnt look to what we do. It looks to what God does. Faith doesnt put trust in ourselves, it puts trust in God. Faith doesnt try and find strength from within, to stand before God is righteous, faith renounces our righteousness as filthy rags and looks to the righteousness of another, Jesus Christ. Now do you see the implications of what Paul is saying here?
There are just two things Id like you to think about for a moment. On the one hand there are those who think they have something to commend themselves to God by. And Paul is just saying here that no form of self-commendation whatsoever will work before the judgment throne of God on the last day. I mean you stand before the judgment throne of God and you say, "Well God, basically, Im a pretty good person." And the response is, "No, youre not. You are not basically a pretty good person. You have missed the point of everything that the prophets and the apostles were saying. Youre not basically a good person." You stand before God on the judgment day and say, "Well, I believe in Christ. But, you know, I believe that you not only need to believe in Christ, you need to add some of your good deeds to that. You know, in order to be saved." You know what youre saying there? Youre saying, "Lord, Christ is nice, but Hes not enough. I did a little bit better deal, Lord. I did Christ plus my works." You see, you understand, my friends, that that addition is actually subtraction. What youre saying to God almighty is, "Christ wasnt quite enough, so I did Christ, plus a little better." But Christ plus is always Christ minus. And so what youre saying is, "God, the sacrifice of Christ is insufficient. I needed to do something, too."
My friends, thats not something that God is prepared to hear. God is not prepared to hear on the last day, "Oh, and by the way, Lord, the sacrifice of Your only Son, the Son of Your love, it wasnt quite enough for me. I did a few extra things, you know, just to make up." Thats not something that God is prepared to hear. And so everyone who stands and commends their self in any way, will be condemned. Because Christ alone and faith alone in Christ alone is the way that God has dictated that His people will be saved. Thats the negative side of it.
Think of the positive of it. Every believer of any depth of maturity whatsoever has known the struggle of sin, has known the specter of the remnant of sin and habitual sins that are so difficult to slay; desires that we cant expunge from our hearts. And if our justification is based upon the eradication of those desires, well never have any assurance of it in this life, because those desires arent going anywhere. Gods mercy grows us some, but there are always some that stay with us. Theres always that thorn in the flesh.
The apostle wants us to understand that our standing with God has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anything in us. Because justification doesnt take place in us, it takes place outside of us.
Do you see the implication of that? Youre standing with God in the final analysis is based upon something to which you do not make even a thimbleful of a contribution. Thank God. Because if I even made a thimbleful of a contribution to it, Id mess it up. And this is the one thing I cant mess up, because I didnt have anything to do with it. I simply stretched out the empty hand of faith, and I said God have mercy on me, a sinner. Nothing in my hand I bring simply to Your cross I cling. My friends, that is the most comforting thing in the world. Now its utterly alien to the way we think. If were not religious, we think were basically good people, and Gods going to accept us anyway. If we are religious, we think weve got to get out there and start doing our thing so that God will accept us. And the apostle Paul says wrong on both counts. Christ alone, faith alone. Only way of salvation. Well start working out the implications of that next week. Lets pray.
Our Lord and our God, help us to understand the free justification which we have in Christ Jesus and then to embrace it by Your grace. We ask it in Jesus name, Amen.
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