(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 12/23/01 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Romans. I'll be reading from chapter 3, verses 19 through 31:
Romans 3: (19) But we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those within the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world be under judgment to God. (20) Because by works of Law not one of all flesh will be justified before Him, for through Law [is] full knowledge of sin. (21) But now a righteousness of God has been revealed apart from Law, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ toward all and upon all those believing; for there is no difference, (23) for all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God set forth [as] a propitiation through faith in His blood, as a demonstration of His righteousness through the passing over of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God, (26) for a demonstration of His righteousness in the present time, for His being just and justifying the [one] that [is] of the faith of Jesus. (27) Then where [is] the boasting? It was excluded. Through what law? Of works? No, but through a Law of faith. (28) Then we conclude a man to be justified by faith without works of Law. (29) Or [is He] the God of Jews only, and not also of the nations? Yes, of the nations also, (30) since [it is] one God who will justify circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. (31) Then [is] the Law annulled through faith? Let it not be! But we establish Law.
In the past month, we have been going over what the righteousness of God is that is revealed in the gospel. We have seen that this righteousness of God is revealed apart from the law, through the righteousness of Jesus Christ that is given unto all believers and resting upon all believers, who are declared not guilty through the blood of Christ that paid the penalty IN FULL and appeased God's wrath IN FULL for all for whom Christ died. This righteousness of God shows God to be both JUST and JUSTIFIER.
Verses 27 through 31 use a question and answer format to address some of the implications of the previous sentence. This question and answer format continues in the next paragraph, which starts with chapter 4 verse 1 and ends with verse 12. Let's go through each question and each answer in detail.
The first question is this: "Then where is the boasting?" The word "then" shows us the logical connection between the question and what came before it. Paul had just gotten through saying that the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is totally apart from the sinner's efforts, that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to His people, and that God's people are justified freely by grace through the work of Christ alone. That leaves the sinner TOTALLY OUT of the equation when it comes to the ground of salvation. "Then where is the boasting?" Paul asks. He asks this NOT because he doesn't know the answer, but to clearly bring home a point. The boasting that Paul is speaking of in this question is the boasting in one's own effort as forming at least some part of one's acceptance before God. We saw back in Romans 2:23 that the Jews boasted in Law. They believed that their law-keeping was a way of gaining acceptance before God. Yet Paul demolished the legalism of the Jews by showing that NO ONE can gain acceptance before God by law-keeping, because God only accepts PERFECT law-keeping, and none of the Jews were perfect law-keepers. None of US are perfect law-keepers either. Thus, by works of law, no one will be justified. Thus, law-keeping forms ABSOLUTELY NO PART of ANY PERSON'S acceptance before God. Then where is the boasting in one's own efforts? Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, answers definitively: IT WAS EXCLUDED. This righteousness of God revealed in the gospel TOTALLY EXCLUDES BOASTING IN MAN. Why does the gospel totally exclude boasting in man? Because it TOTALLY EXCLUDES THE WORK OF MAN. Paul didn't hem and haw and try to find a middle ground. He didn't answer the question with "It depends on the situation." He didn't answer with "Well, there's a tiny bit of boasting in man and a whole lot of boasting in God." He didn't say, "Well, there are two sides of the coin here - God's work and man's work." No - he answered this question as every true Christian answers it: BOASTING IN MAN IS EXCLUDED. If anyone boasts in man, he is unsaved. And, like I've said many times before, and as the Bible makes very clear, what you believe makes the difference between salvation and damnation is what you boast in. Every true Christian believes that it is the work of Christ ALONE that makes the difference between salvation and damnation. We boast in Christ crucified. Galatians 6:14 says, "May it never be for me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." But what about those who believe that Christ's work was for everyone without exception? Well, since they believe that Christ's work was for everyone without exception and yet some go to hell, they believe that it is NOT Christ's work that makes the difference between salvation and damnation. Instead, they believe that it is the effort of the SINNER that makes the difference. So what is it that they boast in? Do they boast in nothing but the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ? They say they do. But their damnable heresy of universal atonement shows that they BOAST IN THEMSELVES. THE SINNER is what they glory in. THEY made THEMSELVES to differ. So, according to this first question and answer, do these people believe in the gospel that was presented in verses 21 through 27? Of course they don't. Anyone who has been given eyes to see can easily see this. Those who boast in themselves, including all who believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception, are lost, unregenerate, dead in their sins, sons of the devil. And if God brings any of them to a knowledge of Him, they will REPENT of their boasting in themselves and will IMMEDIATELY BEGIN boasting in the work of Christ alone. Does this mean that all regenerate people will immediately speak verbally? No - boasting is done in the heart, and those who can speak and are able to articulate their boast will do so. Do you want to know the first step in finding out who are your brothers and who are not? Find out what they boast in. If they believe that Christ died for everyone without exception, you don't need to go any further in your assessment. They are lost. If they say they believe that Christ died only for His sheep, then you can go further to see if they make their judgments based on this truth.
Think about it - if salvation is all God's work and none of your work, what do you have to boast in? If your efforts form no part of the ground of your salvation, your acceptance before God, your continuance in the faith, your entitlement to heaven, what do you have to boast in? It's ALL GOD and NO ME. If it were me even in the tiniest degree, I would at least have that tiny part to boast in. But I don't. There's a saying that I saw in the home of a Wesleyan some years back that said something like, "Reach up as high as you can, and God will reach down the rest of the way." This, of course, was implying that the sinner could reach up, even a little bit. But that's a false gospel. God doesn't help those who help themselves; God helps the HELPLESS. God is not a crutch, because that implies that I have one good leg to stand on. God is a LIFE SUPPORT. It's not 1% me and 99% God; it's not .01% me and 99.99% God; it can only be ZERO PERCENT me and ONE HUNDRED PERCENT God. Anything that deviates from this in the least bit, even in the minutest degree, is a false gospel from the pit of hell. Our boast, and the boast of all true Christians, shall ALWAYS be, "WORTHY IS THE LAMB."
The next question is "Through what law?" The word "law" here means "principle" or "doctrine." So the question Paul is asking is this: "By what doctrine is this boasting excluded?" He then asks a second question to make a point: The question is: "Of works?" This means, "Is it by the doctrine of justification by works?" Paul answers, "No." Boasting WOULD NOT be excluded by such a doctrine; instead, it would be ESTABLISHED. What doctrine, then, excludes boasting? Paul says that it is through a law, or doctrine, of justification by faith."
What does "justification by faith" mean? That's what we'll be dealing with next, as we go to the next sentence, which is verse 28:
Romans 3: (28) Then we conclude a man to be justified by faith without works of Law.
Now this has been the subject of debate for centuries. Some would say that this passage means that it is the act of faith that justifies. But that would contradict what was said in verse 24, which is "being justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus." The truth of this passage is that we are justified by grace through the instrument of faith. Without faith, we would not be able to receive the free gift of justification. This shows us just how important belief of the truth of the gospel is. There is no justification without it. But it must NEVER be concluded from this that faith is the CONDITION of salvation. I would like to read from several authors on this. Gill says this:
<<but by the law of faith: not by a law requiring faith; nor as if the Gospel was a law, a new law, a remedial law, a law of milder terms; but the word "law" here answers to the Hebrew word which signifies any "doctrine" or "instruction", and oftentimes the doctrine of the Gospel, as in Isaiah 2:3, and here particularly, the doctrine of a sinner's justification by faith in the righteousness of Christ; according to which doctrine the most unlikely persons are justified, even ungodly persons, the worst and vilest of sinners; and that without any consideration of works, by faith only, which is freely given them; and by faith in Christ's righteousness only: so that there is not the least room for boasting in the creature, but all their boasting is in Christ, who is made unto them righteousness, and by whom they are justified. Ver. 28. Therefore we conclude, ... This is the conclusion from the premises, the sum total of the whole account: that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. The subject of justification is, "man", not in opposition to angels; nor does it design the Jew against the Gentile, though some have so thought; but the apostle names neither Jew nor Gentile, but "man", to show that Christ's righteousness is unto all, and every man, that believes, be he who he will; and is to be understood indefinitely, that every man that is justified is justified by faith. The means is "by faith", not habitually or actually considered; that is, either as an habit and principle infused into us, or as an act performed by us; but either organically, as it is a means of receiving Christ's righteousness; or objectively, as it denotes Christ the object of it: and all this is done "without works", of any sort; not by a faith which is without works, for such a faith is dead, and of no avail; but by faith without works joined to it, in the affair of justification; or by the righteousness of Christ imputed by God the Father, without any consideration of them, and received by faith, and relied upon by the believer, without any regard unto them.>>
Haldane says this:
<<Faith in the righteousness of Christ is, by the appointment of God, the medium of a sinner's justification, without any consideration of works. This way of justification clearly shows that a man has no righteousness of his own, and that he can obtain nothing by means of conformity to the law, which can have no place, since he must admit that he is a transgressor. It impels him to flee out of himself, and to lay hold of the righteousness of another, and so leaves no room for glorying or boasting in himself, or in his own performances more or less. His justification is solely by faith; and it is clear that to believe a testimony, and rely on what has been done by another, furnish no ground for boasting. 'Therefore it is by faith, that it might be by grace.' The whole plan of salvation proceeds on this principle, 'that no flesh should glory in His presence,' but 'that, according as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.' No ingenuity can ever make elevation by human merit consistent with the passage before us. ... Justified by faith. -- Faith does not justify as an act of righteousness, but as the instrument by which we receive Christ and His righteousness. Believers are said to be justified by faith and of faith, and through faith, but never on account of faith.>>
Hoeksema says this:
<<... we receive this righteousness by faith only: not indeed as if faith were another ground for our justification, but simply as the means whereby we are ingrafted into Christ and become partakers of all His benefits. ... It is also evident from this passage that we are not justified because of the worthiness of our faith, but only because faith lays hold upon the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He is our righteousness before God, and we are justified freely by His grace. ... for instance, the governmental theory maintains that Christ died not to atone and to pay for the sins of all the elect, but as a setting forth of the justice and righteousness of God, as an expression of what God might justly do to all sinners. And if they acknowledge the justice of God and repent, God is satisfied because His moral government of the world is maintained and vindicated in the consciences of men, and He freely forgives them their iniquity. It is plain that according to this view faith becomes a work, a meritorious work of man, rather than the complete reliance upon the righteousness of Christ. The Arminians, who deny particular atonement, that is, the truth that Christ died only for the elect, and who for that reason must ultimately deny vicarious atonement altogether, present this view of the relationship between faith and justification. ... Especially in the last quoted article, in which the grievous error of the Socinians, -- which was followed by the Arminians, -- is exposed, it is plain that faith is presented as a work of man acceptable to God. It is not faith in the merits of Christ by which we are justified before God; but faith as a work and the works of faith, though they are imperfect in themselves, are regarded by God as perfect obedience and worthy of eternal life. That all this is contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture is very evident. It denies both the satisfaction and vicarious atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ and salvation by pure grace against all work and merit of man. ... Nor is the relation between faith and justification to be conceived as that of a benefit on God's part and a condition on our part. This also has often been alleged. Justification is conditioned by faith. Yet this cannot be the relation. ... For the same reason we must repudiate the illustration of faith as the hand on our part whereby we accept the proffered salvation. That figure is often used. Someone offers one a present, for instance, a watch. All that is necessary for the one that is offered the watch to become possessor of it is to accept the gift. But, first of all, salvation is not to be compared at all to an external gift which we may accept or reject. And, secondly, we should never overlook the fact that no man has of himself such a hand whereby he can accept the gift of salvation. He is by nature dead in sin and misery, so that he hates the very gift of righteousness if it should be offered him by God. He loves the darkness rather than the light. The only proper conception of the relation between justification and faith is that faith is a means, or instrument, which God gives us whereby He unites us with Christ and whereby we receive Him and all His benefits. ... God declares the ungodly righteous certainly not because of any work of faith or on any condition of faith, but because He imputes the objective legal relation which the sinner sustains to Christ as righteousness. And this is the relation of faith only.>>
I'll just say that I agree with this position and could not have said it better.
The next question comes in verse 29: "Or is He the God of the Jews only, and not also of the nations?" This question is to show that the doctrine of justification through faith is the only doctrine that would include the Gentiles in the plan of salvation, because if it were of works of Law, then the Gentiles, who were without Law, would automatically be excluded. But the doctrine of justification through faith alone shows that the gospel is a gospel that shows no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. The Gentiles who have faith are justified, just as the Jews who have faith are justified.
Paul answers the question in the second part of verse 29 and all of verse 30, which is all one sentence. God is one God; He is the God of both the Jews and the Gentiles, and He justifies them both in the very same way. There is no respecter of persons with God. Some people have made a big deal of the words "by" and "through," suggesting that there is a slight difference between how God justifies the Jews and how He justifies the Gentiles. The absurdity of this is evident when we read in Galatians 3:8 that the Gentiles are justified "by" faith, using the same word as what was used to describe the Jews in this verse. "By" and "through" are different ways of saying the same thing.
The last question of the chapter answers an objection: "Then do we make the law of no effect through faith?" You can hear the legalists now, can't you? They would say, "If justification has nothing to do with our efforts to keep the law, then you've just dissolved the obligation of the law." And how would the antinomians answer that? They would say, "You're right. The obligation of the law has been dissolved." But how does the Holy Spirit through Paul answer that? He says, "Let it not be! But we establish law." He uses the phrase "let it not be" as the strongest form of negation. He strongly answers that the obligation of the law is NOT dissolved; in fact, it is just the opposite -- the law is ESTABLISHED and MAGNIFIED. In what way? Through the gospel, we can see God's holiness through His law. We see the holy demands of God's Law. We see what perfect righteousness is. We see Christ's perfect righteousness. We see our own inability to be justified by the law. And we see God's Law as the standard by which we should live our lives and which we should strive to obey. Paul goes into this in more detail later in Romans.
We have seen today that this gospel that reveals the righteousness of God TOTALLY EXCLUDES all boasting in man, because it is TOTALLY THE WORK OF GOD. We have seen that salvation, which is by grace alone, is received by means of, or through the instrument of, faith in Christ, which is a belief of the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. We have seen that the way of salvation is the same no matter what one's background or nationality. And we have seen that God's law is established through the gospel. Let us who have received this great salvation through God-given faith be diligent to obey God's law, always knowing that our justification is not through our obedience to God's law but through the work of Christ alone. And since we believe that the work of Christ alone is the ground of our salvation, may it never be for us to boast except in the cross of Christ. Amen.