With Dale Ratzlaff
We continue our study in Romans 4:13-16.
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (Rom 4:13-16).
“For”, left out in some translations, is important because it links this passage to the preceding section. Paul has just shown that circumcision, which held such high value in Jewish thought, has no value when it comes to receiving God’s righteousness. Now, Paul tackles yet another central value of Judaism: the law. Not only was the promise God made to Abraham not through circumcision, but it was also not through law. The law was given 430 years after Abraham (See Gal. 3:17); therefore, it would have been impossible for Abraham’s obedience to law to be a factor in his being declared righteous. We remember our study of Rom. 3:21.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (Rom 3:21).
Note how Paul makes a statement and then follows it up with proof from “the Law and the Prophets.” Abraham’s faith was completely independent of the Mosaic Law because when he was counted righteous by God, the Mosaic Law had not yet been given. Paul’s statement is even stronger:
For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.
Several important concepts spring from this verse:
• Law and grace are incompatible. One is either saved by faith in Christ or by works of law. If one choses the way of law, it voids out the promise of God. This was heavy theology for the Jews of New Testament times, and it is also weighty truth for many who are Christians today who focus on law. God’s promises as well as His righteousness are apart from Law.
• The Law brings about wrath. This fact is true in two ways. First, the law points out sin, and sin brings a curse. It is the transgression of the law that we must face. All have sinned, and we all continue to fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). Second, sin is aroused by the law. Later in Chapter 7 Paul states,
For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death (Rom. 7:5).
I often use the illustration of the sign “wet paint, do not touch”. Something inside of me wants to touch it with the tip of my finger to see if the paint is still wet. The rule makes me think about the forbidden thing and wonder what would happen if I do it. The law was designed to show our need of a Savior—our natural inclination to satisfy ourselves and defy the rules—and make us realize we need Someone who will save us outside of the reach of the law.
• Where there is no law, there is no violation. One cannot get a ticket for speeding too fast if there is no speed limit. The idea behind the Greek word translated “violation” here is “overstepping”. The law draws a line, and if there is no line, then one cannot overstep the line. If there is no violation, then there is no need of salvation. The law shows us where we are, but it cannot save us no matter on which side of the line we find ourselves. Paul will come back to this topic in the next chapter for fuller development.
Paul is now ready to draw a conclusion.
For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.
Note the powerful gospel points: (1) righteousness is by faith—not by circumcision, not by obedience to law. (2) In order that it may be in accordance with grace—grace is unmerited favor, something that is given which is not deserved. Grace is not earned—not by prayer, not by demonstrating loving behavior, not by church attendance, nor by sacrificial giving. (3) Based upon these two foundations, (faith and grace) the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants. Sometimes we read over statements like these without letting the truth contained therein sink in. The promise of righteousness is guaranteed to all people who by faith accept God’s abundant grace!
Paul brings in the faith of Abraham again. It is foundational to an understanding of the gospel. Paul has proved the statement he made in Romans 3:29-30.
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.
We will review the main points taught in this section and then see how they relate to our lives. We must recognize that Paul is very careful as he builds the good news of the gospel brick by brick. He is not done yet. But the foundation is solidly laid.
- Law and grace are incompatible
- Righteousness is “apart from law”
- The promise is “apart from law”
- The promise is built on faith, not personal works
- The promise is totally by grace
- The promise of righteousness by faith is for all who respond to God’s grace by faith.
- The promise is guaranteed.
- The law brings wrath (1) it points out our sin, (2) it arouses sin. Paul will have more on this in chapter 5 and 7.
Some of our readers at this point are going to have questions. Where is the value of obedience? What purpose does the law have if it is not salvation? Doesn’t keeping the law bring many positive outcomes?
Rather than answer these questions now—Paul will answer them later in Romans. Let me ask you to arrange the following descriptions of Christ in the correct order. Tell me what is wrong if they are in the wrong order:
Christ is all of the following: Example, Representative and Substitute.
If you understand the gospel clearly you will get them in the right order. If not—well, we will see.
Father, as I contemplate the message of faith and grace in Romans, I realize what it means to have You as may Savior. You have done something I could never do. May I serve you with all my strength the rest of my life here on earth and praise you in heaven forever and ever.