Paul has been teaching us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This is true for Jews and it is true for Gentiles. So, there is no-one righteous, not even one. Though the Jews in Paul’s day boasted that they had the law of Moses, and they had circumcision, and they were God’s special people, nevertheless what did it matter? What did it matter? — because they were still sinners who had broken God’s law. And since we’re all sinners, and since there is no one righteous, not even one, then we’re all liable to God’s wrath.
And, of course, Paul has also been teaching us that God’s wrath is being revealed every day. Not by sending thunderbolts from heaven to destroy the wicked, but by letting sinners fall deeper and deeper and deeper into sin and into the misery it causes us.
Paul’s letter to the Romans begins with the bad news that all of us are sinners and all of us are liable to God’s wrath which he reveals every day. However, then there’s the good news that in the gospel God reveals a way for sinners to be declared righteous in his sight. In the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith and not by works of the law.
So, while no one will be declared righteous in the sight of God by keeping the law — because all of us have broken the law — nevertheless, through faith in Jesus Christ sinners are justified, so that our sins are pardoned forever and we’re declared righteous in the sight of God forever. Through we have may have done everything wrong, God treats us as if we had done everything right. That’s the good news.
And last time we were studying verses 21 to 26 of chapter 3, where Paul says that we’re justified through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. The Lord Jesus laid down his life on the cross as the ransom price to set us free from the condemnation we deserve. And so, all who believe in him are redeemed: that is, they are freed from their sin and misery and from condemnation. And Paul also said that we’re justified through faith in Jesus Christ because God the Father presented Jesus Christ as the sacrifice of atonement. And do you remember? A sacrifice of atonement or a sacrifice of propitiation is a sacrifice which turns away God’s wrath. God is justly angry with us because of our sin and guilt, because every day we sin against him and we break his laws. He’s justly angry with us. But the Lord Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God in our place when he offered himself on the cross as the true sacrifice for sins. God’s wrath was turned aside from us and directed to Christ who was punished in our place. And so, by believing in the Lord Jesus, we have peace with God.
In the verses which follow — from verse 27 of chapter 3 to verse 25 of chapter 4 — Paul focuses on faith. And he uses Abraham to drive home the point that we’re justified — pardoned and accepted by God — through faith alone. So, in verses 1 to 8 of chapter 4 he contrasts faith and works, using the example of Abraham who was declared righteous because he believed God’s promises. Then, in verses 9 to 12, he contrasts faith and circumcision and he makes the point that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. And in verses 13 to 22, Paul discusses faith and the law. Abraham received the promise of God through the righteousness that is by faith and not through the keeping the law. And right at the end of chapter 4, Paul makes the point that Genesis 15:6 — which says that Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness — was written for us and for our benefit, to teach us that sinners are justified by faith and not by keeping the law. And Paul introduces this topic in verses 27 to 31 of chapter 3. And that’s what we’ll turn to now.
Verses 27 and 28
Where then is boasting?
The Jews used to boast that they had the law. And they boasted that they had circumcision. And they boasted that they alone, of all the nations of the world, had been chosen by God. And the Jews also boasted about themselves and their good deeds. Just think about the Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. The Pharisee went up to the temple and prayed about himself that he was so much better than the tax-collector. Well, perhaps that’s the kind of attitude Paul is thinking about here. The way the Jews boasted about their obedience to the law, and their good deeds and their accomplishments. And it seems that they relied on their good deeds as if what they did meant they had some kind of claim on God: that they deserved something from God because of what they had done.
All such boasting, all such pride in ourselves and our own good deeds is excluded, says Paul. On what principle? On what basis? Well, on the principle of faith and on the principle that no one will be justified — pardoned and accepted by God — by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So, once we have that principle established, once we understand that, and accept that, then there’s no reason for anyone to boast, because if we’re justified — if we’ve been pardoned and accepted by God — then it’s not because of any good deed we have performed, because we’re justified only through faith in Jesus Christ and in what he’s done for us. So, when justified sinners reach heaven, we won’t be able to boast. We won’t be able to say:
Let me tell you what I’ve done to get here.
Instead, we’ll bow before the throne and we’ll worship God and we’ll worship the Lamb who was slain, and we’ll praise them for what they have done for us.
And, of course, we need to be careful, don’t we? Think again of the Pharisee in the Lord’s parable who prayed about himself and how he was better than the tax-collector. And perhaps we’re tempted sometimes to pray about ourselves about how we’re better than the people around the church who do not believe. After all, we’ve believed, and they haven’t. So that makes us better than they are. We’re bette than they are because we’ve accepted Christ as Lord, and they haven’t. So that makes us better than they are.
But we mustn’t think like that; and we must make sure that we don’t ever regard faith and the act of believing as a good deed which we can boast about. Do you remember? Paul teaches us in Ephesians that even our faith is a gift from God. He’s the one who enables us to believe. So, it’s as if we’re sick. And the Lord Jesus has the medicine to make us well. But we don’t even have the strength to lift the medicine to our mouth. So he does it for us. We’re in a burning building. And the Lord Jesus has provided the way out. But he’s also the one who picks us up and carries us through the open door. And so, we really have no reason to boast, because the Lord Jesus is the one who accomplished our redemption by his death. And the Lord Jesus is the one who gives it to us by enabling us to repent and believe. And, of course, he’s the one who gives us the strength to persevere so that we keep repenting and believing throughout our lives. So, we never have a reason to boast, because our salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.
I heard someone suggest a test we can give ourselves. It’s not a completely accurate test, but it’s a worthwhile test to try. Imagine you’re standing at the entrance to heaven. And the Lord asks why he should let you in. What do you say to him? Well, if your answer begins with the words, ‘Because I…’ then that’s an indication that perhaps, perhaps you haven’t yet understood what Paul is teaching us here. You see, instead of saying ‘Because I did this’ or even ‘Because I believed’ or ‘Because I asked Jesus into my life’, we ought to say, ‘Because Jesus Christ died for me and drew me to himself.’ In our thinking, and in our speaking, we want to be careful that we don’t give ourselves any room for boasting. And we want to make sure that he gets all the glory and the praise and the honour. Paul asked:
Where, then, is boasting?
And he answered:
It is excluded.
And so, let’s make sure that we have excluded all boasting about our salvation.
And, of course, this will have a wonderfully practical effect on our life and how we respond to criticism. You see, the person who takes pride in themselves gets offended whenever someone criticises them. He thinks:
How dare she say that about me. I don’t deserve to be treated like this.
But the person who is convinced that he’s a sinner, saved entirely by God’s grace, won’t get so upset. He’ll think to himself:
Well, you know. I’m even worse than this person thinks I am. And I’ve fallen short in my duty to God a million times worse than he knows. And you know what? Any good I’ve managed to achieve in my life is down to God and his kindness to me.
Instead of boasting in ourselves, we must humble ourselves. And instead of boasting in ourselves, we need to boast in the Lord.
Verses 29 and 30
In verses 29 and 30, Paul goes on to refer to the most basic and essential belief in Judaism. And he uses this most basic and essential belief to argue against the Jews who boasted in themselves. You see, the Jews would confess every day:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
There’s only one God. That was the most basic and essential belief in Judaism. Though the pagans believed in many gods, the Jews knew there was only one true God. And it’s the Lord.
And so, Paul is arguing here: If there’s only one God, then he must be God of the Gentiles as well as the God of the Jews. There’s not one God for the Gentiles and another God for the Jews. There’s only one God.
Okay, if that’s the case, then how can Jews — the circumcised — and Gentiles — the uncircumcised — come to know him and his salvation? How can they be justified so that their sins are pardoned and they are declared righteous in God’s sight? How? Well, Jews are justified by faith in Jesus Christ and Gentiles are justified in precisely the same way, because there aren’t two Gods with two ways of salvation. There’s only one God and he’ll justify Jews and Gentiles in the same way which is through faith in his Son.
And that’s very important, because, of course, as in Paul’s day, so today there are many religions in the world. All kinds of people believe in all kinds of gods. You have the big, worldwide religions like Islam and Hinduism. And then there are other mini-religions, and strange cults, and all kinds of other beliefs about angels and spirits and that kind of thing. But, the Bible is clear. There’s only one God. And since there’s only one God, there’s only one way to be saved. And the one way to be saved is through faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, in whom there is redemption. And that’s why the Lord Jesus commanded his church to go into all the world, because there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
In the final verse of chapter 3, Paul is briefly responding to an objection. Since he seems to be playing down the role of the law by saying that no-one will be justified by keeping the law, but only through faith in Jesus Christ, then is he nullifying the law and making it of no importance? What’s the point of the law if it’s not to lead to salvation? And Paul’s response is very brief: Instead of nullifying the law, we uphold the law.
Now, it’s not entirely clear what he means by this. I’ll give you three options. The first is that when Paul refers to ‘the law’ in this verse, he simply means the Old Testament Scriptures. In that case, Paul is saying that he’s not undermining what the Old Testament teaches. And to prove it, he goes on in chapter 4 to base his argument on the life of Abraham, which is recorded for us in the Old Testament Scriptures. So, he’s saying:
I’m not undermining the Old Testament. After all, the things I’ve been saying are in the Old Testament.
That’s one option. The second option is that when he says we uphold the law, he means that all who trust in the Lord Jesus are regarded by God as having met all the demands of the Old Testament moral law. So, the law demands perfect obedience from us. And while we sinners who have disobeyed God’s law, nevertheless the Lord Jesus obeyed it perfectly in our place. He obeyed God’s law for us. In that case, Paul means that the demands of the law have been upheld by Christ, and though we may have done everything wrong, God regards us — for the sake of Christ — as if we have done everything right.
The third option is that all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are enabled more and more to obey the law because we have the Spirit of God to help us. In that case, we uphold the law because the Holy Spirit enables believers to keep it.
So, there are three options. It’s not clear which one fits here, but nevertheless all three are true. The Old Testament does teach that sinners are justified by faith alone. Jesus Christ did indeed fulfil the demands of the law in our place. And we do have the Spirit of God to help us to obey God’s law more and more. And that’s where we’ll leave things today.