Thursday, December 07, 2006

Romans 3:27-28

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

No one can boast; we are justified by faith. Prior to v.27, in v.21-26, Paul told us the grounds or basis on which we are saved. Here Paul focuses us on that way by which we receive our justification. He focuses us on faith, the instrument of justification. Those two things are different. There’s the basis on which we are justified, the work of Christ, and there’s the way in which we receive that justification, faith. The doctrine of justification by faith excludes boasting, because it is not based on us or our works. It’s based on the work of Christ, and it’s a gift of grace received by faith. Paul first set forth the basics of the doctrine of justification, the doctrine of salvation by God’s free justification based upon the finished work of Jesus Christ received through faith alone. And now much of Paul’s remaining theological section of Romans is based upon the implications of the doctrine of justification for our lives.

Paul is saying in these verses that when we understand salvation, justification, and the grounds on which God accepts a person, when we understand the way that we receive the blessings of justification, there is no room left for pride, no room left for boasting. Would you say this: “There was something I did, something I believed, that set me apart from others, that made me special, that made God bring me into His Kingdom and not others. In the final analysis, something in me accounted for my eternal life. I improved the grace given me by contributing my faith, whereas others failed to do so. I believed and thereby fulfilled God’s plan, whereas others did not believe and failed to receive the benefits of God’s gracious offer, and that is why I was accepted by God”? Paul wants us to understand that our standing with God has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anything in us. Faith corresponds to grace. Work corresponds to debt. Therefore faith excludes boasting, and work supports boasting. If you are the beneficiary of grace in all that you are and have, you cannot boast in yourself. 1 Corinthians 4:7 “What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” When all is gift, boasting is excluded. We’ll see more of this in Romans 4.

Paul says in v.28: “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” This seems to contradict James 2:24: “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” How do we reconcile these statements? Charles Spurgeon said, “There’s no need to reconcile friends.” Paul is clearly talking about how a man is accepted by God. He is dealing with the issue of how it can be that unrighteous people can be accepted by a righteous God. He is specifically dealing with the issue of the way that we are justified, declared righteous, pardoned, and accepted. James, however, is talking about something else. James is writing in the context of dealing with hypocrisy in the church. There are some people who claim to believe, claim to be Christians, but their lives do not bear the fruit of their profession. How do you tell the difference between somebody who claims to be a Christian but isn’t, and someone who claims to be a Christian and is? How do you know whether a person really believes? What demonstrates their Christianity? James answer is clear. “Faith brings forth the fruit of holiness.” So faith and obedience, holiness, says James, demonstrates a person to be a believer. See four notes on this issue:

(1) Paul is dealing with how one is made right before God. James is dealing with the sin of hypocrisy (see James 2:14). (2) James does not ask the question, “Can faith alone really save a person?” That’s not what James is talking about. He’s not asking if real faith by itself saves a person. James is asking another question: “Can claimed faith demonstrate a person to really be a Christian?” (3) James is clearly concerned about what he calls dead faith. There were no deeds from those claiming to have faith. There was no workmanship for which we were created in grace as Paul says in Ephesians 2. And so we know from Ephesians and elsewhere that Paul is clearly concerned about people who make a profession but show no marks of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. (4) Both James and Paul use Abraham to make their point: James goes to the story of Abraham in order to prove that faith without fruit, without deeds, without obedience, without love, is not real faith. But notice that he gives us a clue. He quotes from Genesis 15:6 “Abraham believed and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Then he says that Abraham was justified when he offered up Isaac. Then he draws his conclusion. “So you see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Now that’s the clue to show that he’s not contradicting Paul. When did God say to Abraham that he was justified by faith? Before Isaac was born. When did Abraham offer Isaac up? Years and years and years later. Therefore, James knows that his audience, being good Jewish Christians, knows that God’s declaration of Abraham as righteous came seven chapters before Abraham offered up Isaac. James is giving a clue that he is not talking about God’s acceptance of Abraham; he’s talking about Abraham’s demonstration that he does belong to God. Over and over James gives clues to help his audience understand that he is not attempting to contradict what Paul said. In fact, Paul, in the last verse of Romans 3, acknowledges that faith and obedience go hand in hand in the Christian life. But Paul also knows that our obedience has nothing to do with God’s justification, and he wants us to hold those two truths right together. There’s no need to reconcile friends. Does God call us to obedience as Christians? Absolutely. Does our obedience have anything to do whatsoever with God’s acceptance of us? Absolutely not. And if you get that wrong, you get everything wrong.

Conditionality inserted into any relationship severs the capacity for intimacy in that relationship. If you are obeying because you are afraid of the rejection of God, then you are obeying out of an ungodly fear. If you are a believer, then God has accepted you in His Son, and your obedience is not rendered in order to get Him to like you, love you, and save you. It’s rendered out of gratitude for the salvation that is already yours. Look quickly in Exodus 20:2-3. The Ten Commandments are going to be given. Is this another way of salvation that Moses is suggesting? No. “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery… You shall have no other gods before Me.” See what God says. He does not say “Here are the Ten Commandments. If you will obey them, or try really hard to obey them, then I will bring you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” That is not what God says. God says, “I have brought you out of the land of Egypt. I have brought you out of the house of slavery. I have redeemed you. Now obey.” Redeemed! Now obey. That’s the order. Not obey in order to be redeemed. Do you get that? Paul is emphasizing when he says justification is by faith alone that we are redeemed for obedience, not redeemed by obedience. And that makes all the difference in the world. My obedience is not in order to earn the saving love of God. He already loves me more than I can ever know. My obedience flows from that love which I have received. That is the greatest news ever told.

No comments: