ROMANS LIVE: INSTALLMENT 19

 

With Dale Ratzlaff

 

We continue our study in Romans 3:27-4:5.

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 (Rom. 3:27-31).

 

Commentary

Paul likes to state a truth clearly, then look at it from several other perspectives and make application. Coming from a Jewish background, he knew the mindset behind their unique boast. They alone received the law. This fact made them special over all the other nations who did not have the law. They had God’s law, and they were commanded to obey. It was a natural step for them to boast in their obedience to the law. Not only did they receive God’s law, their main tenet of faith was, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut. 6:4). YHWH was Israel’s God, and He is one.

However, Christ has come, and the righteousness of God is now manifested apart from law. In the preceding verses Paul has shown that sinners can be justified by faith alone. God can legally justify them based upon Christ’s paying the ransom price for our redemption and becoming the propitiation for our sin by suffering the wrath of God in our place. Because this saving activity is all God’s work, there is no ground for human boasting. It is excluded. How? Not by any works, but by the principle of faith alone.

As noted above, the Jews were monotheists. The one true God was their God. Paul, however, gives an insight regarding monotheism that the Jews somehow seemed to overlook. If there is but one God, then He is God of all. Paul has shown two principles that exclude all Jewish boasting.

(1) Obedience to law has nothing to do with receiving the “righteousness of God”.

(2) The Jewish claim that YHWH is Israel’s God, while correct, does not mean that the true God is God of Israel only; He is God of all.

So the obedient Jew worshiping the one true God has nothing regarding new covenant righteousness that the gentile does not have. Both are justified by faith. There is no difference in the way Jews are justified from the way gentiles are justified. “God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.”

Paul shows that believers (both Jew and gentile) are justified by faith, and observance of the Torah does not bring right standing. The Jewish readers of this letter must recognize that their claim to a unique relationship to the one, true God does not give them any advantage regarding salvation. Immediately, the Jewish Christians in Rome would think Paul is doing away with the law. True, he has undermined their perception of the law as a means of earning righteousness, but he has by no means voided out the law. He now states:

Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

This text has been a key text in Adventism to prove we must continue to obey the law as a necessary component of Christian living. Accepting this conclusion leads to the necessity to keep the Fourth Commandment which requires the observance of the Seventh-day Sabbath. This interpretation places this whole passage into confusion, for Paul has carefully laid down and supported the conclusion that God’s righteousness is received “apart from law” and “we are justified by faith apart from works of the law.” So what does Paul mean by dropping into this letter what at first reading appears to contradict what he has just written?

The answer is context. What Paul is now going to provide is an expansion of his statement he made in Romans 3:21.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.

Paul is going to support this statement by bring in two key examples in the Old Testament to prove his new covenant theology—salvation is by grace alone, without the works of the law. Starting in Romans 4, Paul will bring both Abraham and David into his presentation, and he will use them to prove that they, too, were justified by faith alone. There is no division of chapters in the early manuscripts, so chapter 4 flows naturally at the end of Chapter 3.

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Rom. 4:1-5).

Paul refers to the story recorded in Genesis 15.

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.” Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness (Gen 15:1-6).

Abraham is considered by all to be the father of the Jewish people. So Paul has proved his point that the Jews are saved by faith—believing what God has declared—without works of the law. For as Paul clearly states,

What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise (Gal. 3:17-18).

Even though we have not exhausted Paul’s use of the example of Abraham and have not yet considered David, his statement at the conclusion of chapter three now makes sense.

Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

The law is established as a historical foundation to the gospel of Christ. When it is rightly interpreted, it is in total agreement with the new covenant gospel of grace—justification is by faith alone.

 

Application

While there is much more that Paul will bring from the example of Abraham, we can now at least define the “faith of Abraham” which is saving faith. The faith of Abraham is taking God at His word; it believes what God has declared, it trusts one’s life to God’s promise.

 

Prayer

Father, may I truly believe what you have declared about the Christian who has been justified and freed from sin. May I go through your word, find the promises that you have made and may I, like childless Abraham, believe your word, even though I have no evidence other than your declaration.

In Jesus name

 

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DaleRatzlaff
DaleRatzlaff

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