Romans 3:27-31 (2)
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Romans, chapter 3. We’re going to be looking again at that same section that we’ve been pondering for the last couple of weeks beginning in verse 27. Romans 3:27-31. As we do so, we’re going to concentrate especially on Paul’s statement in verse 28 and two parts of that statement. This sermon is sort of a spill over from what was supposed to be a three-point sermon. So you’re going to get two points today.
I’m going to be looking at two questions. Two simple questions. What’s so important about being justified by faith alone? Isn’t it a little nit picky to just insist that it’s got to be by faith alone? Paul, aren’t you being a little unreasonable? Martin Luther, aren’t you going just a little bit far. I mean, after all the Catholics, they believe in salvation by grace. Aren’t you being just a little too insistent to say that justification is by faith alone? I think you know Martin Luther’s answer. I hope by the time we’re done today, you know Paul’s as well. Paul is very insistent on this. Why is he so insistent on this? Why is it that over and over in our hymns we sing about justification by faith alone. Do you realize how often you sing about justification by faith alone? Let me just illustrate. In some of your favorite hymns and then some that you don’t know perhaps so well, let’s look at how often you sing about justification by faith alone. For instance, turn to 463. Four hundred sixty-three is a hymn called “A Debtor to Mercy Alone.” Now Augustus Toplady who gave us “Rock of Ages” is the author of this hymn. And notice what he says. “A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing; nor fear, with your righteousness on, my person and off’ring to me. The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do; my Savior’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.” He’s talking about appearing before God, trusting in Christ’s righteousness alone, justification by faith. Look what he says. The implications of that are for him, especially in verse 3. “My name from the palm of His hands eternity will not erase, impressed on His heart it remains in marks of indelible grace. Yes, I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is giv’n; more happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heav’n.” Do you see what he’s saying? He’s saying that a man is justified by faith may be more happy in heaven, but he will never be more secure than he is right now as he trusts in Jesus Christ alone for his salvation.
Turn back to 461. Bonar’s great hymn, “Not what my hands alone have done can save my guilty soul; not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole. Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God; not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load. Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin; Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within. Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee, can rid me of this dark unrest, and set my spirit free.” He’s focusing on what Christ’s work does in justification, not what we do.
Turn forward to 500. One of our favorite hymns in this congregation. “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.” Notice what he says in the second verse. “Not the labors of my hands can fulfill thy law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone, thou must save, and thou alone.” Then look at verse 3. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling; naked come to Thee for dress; helpless look to Thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.” And then Toplady goes on to say in the last stanza, that even when he’s in glory he’s not going to trust in his own works. “While I draw this fleeting breath, when mine eyelids close in death, when I soar to worlds unknown, see thee on thy judgment throne.” What’s my plea going to be? “Rock of Ages cleft for me, let me hid myself in thee.” There’s never going to be a time when he doesn’t stand on the righteousness of Christ alone.
And then forward to number 520. “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress.” Now what does he say? What is it that enables him to stand before God with joy? Verse 2: “Bold shall I stand in they great day; for who aught to my charge shall lay? Fully absolved through these am I from sin and fear, and guilt and shame. Jesus, be endless praise to thee, whose boundless mercy hath for me a full atonement made, an everlasting ransom paid.”
Focusing upon the work of Christ and in the very next page. “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less.” Page 521. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood; when all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.”
And then 523. “My Hope Is in the Lord.” “My hope is in the Lord who gave Himself for me, and paid the price of all my sin at Calvary. No merit of my own, His anger to suppress, my only hope is found in Jesus’ righteousness. For me He died, for me He lives, and everlasting life and light He freely gives.”
And then the very next hymn. “Thy Works, Not Mine, O Christ.” Another Bonar hymn. “Thy works, not mine, O Christ speak gladness to this heart; they tell me all is done; and bid my fear depart. To whom save thee, who canst alone for sin atone Lord, shall I flee?”
Over and over, why is it in our enmity that we meditate upon the glory of justification by faith because it’s at the very heart of salvation. Do you realize that without an adequate understanding of justification by faith, you will lack assurance? Every Christian from time to time has a struggle with assurance. Now you see something in yourself, and you wonder what was I thinking. What am I thinking? Who do I really love? And if your salvation is based upon anything in you, you will be unsettled. For the doctrine of justification by faith alone reminds us that our acceptance of God is grounded on nothing in us. It’s grounded on something done for us, outside of us, by Jesus Christ. We merely receive it by faith. You don’t understand that. If you don’t believe it, you’ll never be assured. You’ll never be embolden for service because those who are not assured of the Father’s love will never be bold in his service to speak for Christ in His kingdom, to live for Him. The doctrine of justification by faith is very, very important. That’s why Paul wants us to meditate on it. Let’s hear God’s word, here in Romans 3, beginning in verse 27.
“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 the 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.”
Amen and thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s pray.
Father, help us as we come to this word, to see just how glorious is your free mercy and justification given to us in Christ. Shake us from our spiritual slumber. Free us from the inhibitions of our own misconceptions to assurance and to service and to praise. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.
The apostle Paul in this little verse, Romans 3:28, tells us a couple of things that we need to meditate upon. We need to meditate upon this teaching of justification by faith. Paul says it’s right at the heart of the gospel. It’s not all there is to the Christian life, but without this truth, nothing else matters. For without this truth, we are still in our sin and under the judgment and condemnation of God. And so this truth is the beginning truth of the whole of faith. And it’s especially important truth because every revival of Christianity that has occurred in the last 500 years of the church has been directly related to men and women understanding the doctrine of justification by faith. Every revival of religion in Christianity in the last 500 years has been directly related to men and women understanding the doctrine of justification by faith. People who have been in the church for years who perhaps have been believers for years suddenly are confronted with the truth of the doctrine, and they are awash in the apprehension of the love of God, and it changes their lives. And they almost feel as if they have been born anew themselves. They wonder how could I have not understood the fullness of God’s grace as displayed in his word in justification by faith. It transforms them, it transforms churches. People who are not Christians, who are confronted with the truth of justification by faith are at the same time leveled and humbled by its presentation of the holiness of God, and yet at the same time feel more loved and more comforted by the merciful God of heaven and earth than they ever have before. And they are drawn to Christ, and they become believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and they join His church. The doctrine of justification by faith is a doctrine that you and I cannot afford to be ignorant of. And so let’s meditate today just on the truth of this one verse, Paul’s words in Romans 3:28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. I want to say two things before we look at the main emphasis of Paul in this verse.
The first thing is this. Notice that Paul says we maintain. Paul makes it clear that this teaching is not some individual opinion of his. He does not say I maintain. He could have said that, and he would have been right. He did maintain this truth. But he says we maintain, because he wants to stress two things. First, that this is something that all Christians know and understand and embrace. We Christians, he’s saying, we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. But he’s also stressing, isn’t he, that this is not simply a New Testament doctrine, it’s a Bible doctrine. In fact, when he wants to emphasize the truth of this word, he goes right to the book of Genesis, and the story of Abraham to prove that justification is by faith. And so Paul wants to say, we maintain this truth, because he wants people to understand that this isn’t some new insight that I’ve brought about. This isn’t a doctrine that I’ve invented; this isn’t an opinion that I have in isolation. All Christians believe this, and we believe this because the Old Testament teaches it. And so Paul stresses that this is not some marginalized, peripheral, strange, individual opinion that he holds. This is what all believers know and understand, that we’re justified by faith.
But the second thing that I want to remind you when we look at this passage, just to make sure you are clear, is what justification means itself. We’ve said it over and over, but you know, one of the strange things is in times of reviving, people who have heard the doctrine of justification by faith over and over again say things like this: “I’ve never heard that before. The preacher may have read the passage and may have preached on it, but I never heard it before.” So I want to say it one more time. When we mean justification or when we say justification, we mean by justification a declaration by God that you are righteous because of Christ. It is God’s declaration of you as not guilty because of what His Son has done. And so when Paul speaks of free justification in this passage that is precisely what he is talking about. God declaring you to be righteous. Not making you righteous, not accepting you because you are righteous, but accepting you as righteous because of the righteousness of His Son. Justification is God’s act of free grace whereby He pardons you of all your sins and accepts you as righteous. Not because of your own righteousness, but because of the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Children, do you know what I’m saying. That’s your catechism, and it’s exactly right. Now, what is Paul’s main emphasis? It’s very clear, isn’t it? Justification is received by faith alone. He wants to drive that truth home. He’s already said it a couple of times, but he just wants to make sure that you’re listening. Justification. This declaration of God is received as a gift by faith alone. In other words, Paul is saying this: Works have no part in your acceptance by God. Works have no part in your acceptance before God. Not even works that God commands, not even works that God, by His grace, enables you to do, your works have no part in your justification. Paul is emphatic. God has established salvation for us, and he has established salvation for us by grace at both ends. What in the world do I mean by that? He has established salvation for us by grace at both ends. Let’s look at God’s end. Let’s look at our end. On both ends he has established us in salvation by grace.
First of all, in terms of meeting the demands of His righteousness, he has established salvation for us by grace in Jesus Christ. He doesn’t depend on what we do. He depends upon His work and His work in His Son. Paul uses to words in this passage to talk about that. Redemption and propitiation. Two words that most of us don’t use in our normal table conversation. Redemption refers to Jesus purchasing us back from the bondage of sin. Redeeming us out of our slavery to sin and the penalty that was due for it. Propitiation refers to Jesus turning away the just wrath of God against our sin. Jesus, thus, accomplished salvation. We contributed nothing to that. He did that. It’s by grace. God’s grace provided that sacrifice for sin. So on God’s end, salvation is provided by grace. But it’s not just God’s end. Our salvation is provided by grace. This is the second half of the equation. Paul wants to emphasize that that salvation purchased and accomplished by Jesus Christ is received by faith alone apart from the works of the law. No action of ours conditions God’s grace. No obedience of ours moves God to show grace to us. No thing that we do prompts the grace of God towards us.
Furthermore, even our faith, whereby we receive the grace of God in the gospel, is a gift of God. Paul makes this absolutely clear in Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8 and 9. Turn with me there. Some of you have that passage memorized. Good for you. Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8 and 9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God not as a result of works that no one should boast.” What’s Paul saying? That salvation and all that is entailed in it including faith is a gift of God. That’s why elsewhere Paul can say to one of the churches that he’s writing to, “I thank God for the faith that you have.” Now why would Paul thank God for something that they had done? I mean, they were the ones who believed, didn’t they? He thanks God because God is the author of faith. He gifts us with faith. So salvation is by grace at both ends. We don’t do things in order to condition God’s acceptance of us, and the one thing that God requires of us – faith – He gives. It goes right back to the glorious word of Augustin. You remember when Augustin in the confession says to God, “Command what you will and give what you command.” In other words, he’s saying, “Lord you can command me to do anything You want. Just enable me to do it.” God requires faith of those who would be justified, and He gives that faith by His grace.
And so Paul is emphasizing that salvation is by grace from beginning to end on both sides, on both ends. There is no work that we contribute to our acceptance before God. That is so important for us to understand. If you think there is something that you have to contribute in order to be accepted by God, you will never, ever understand the freeness of the Father’s love, or the costliness of the sacrifice that He initiated in order that you might experience the freeness of His love. There is no work whatsoever, even the works that God Himself commands and enables that has anything to do with our justification. The only works that have anything to do with your justification are the works of the Lord Jesus Christ. In sea any other works in that equation does not add to the work of Christ, it takes away from it. It’s says if we’re saying, well, Christ, Your work wasn’t quite enough. I’m going to add this to it. And Paul wants to make it absolutely clear here that we are accepted before God not on the basis of something in us, not even on the basis of something that He has wrought in us. But on the basis of Christ alone.
Now that leads us to the second thing that I’d like you to see, because so often people look at this verse and they say well, I don’t know how this verse squares with James, chapter 2, verse 24. It seems to me that we’ve got a fundamental contradiction here. May I invite you to turn to James 2:24. In fact, I’d like you to look at James 2:14 all the way down to verse 24, because I want to walk through that with you very briefly. Now look, Paul’s teaching does not contradict James, in James 2:24. In fact Paul knows and teaches that faith must be accompanied by love, by obedience, but our love is not the means of God’s saving grace. It’s the result of God’s saving grace. Our obedience is not the means of God’s saving grace. It’s the result of God’s saving grace. And if you don’t get that right, you will have missed one of the greatest and most precious truths of the Christian faith. Let’s walk through it together. We are often confronted with someone saying. Oh yeah, Paul says justification is by faith alone. James says justification is by faith and works. Now somebody has got to be wrong. And sometimes they choose Paul, and sometimes they choose James. And then sometimes we have people that come along that say, well, okay, Paul says justification is by faith, James says it’s by faith and works, so what we need to do is we need to put them together and realize that that means that justification is by faith and works. I never have understood that, but people do that all the time. Both of those solutions are wrong.
Let’s look at the words though. Paul says in Romans 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” James in James 2:24 says, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” How do you explain that. On the surface it looks like a contradiction. Well, you explain it by looking at the context. Paul, as you will recall 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. And so he is specifically dealing with the issue of the way that we are justified. The way that we are declared righteous. The way that we are pardoned. The way that we are accepted. And he makes it clear that we are accepted first by what God does, and secondly that we receive the benefits of what God does, not by our doing something else, but simply by trusting. Simply by receiving through the empty hand of faith. That gift. That’s how we are justified.
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, they claim to be Christians, but their lives do not bear out the fruit of their profession. And so how do you sort that out? 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, faith and holiness, says James, demonstrates a person to be a believer.
But a close look at James reveals several points that emphatically prove that James is not contradicting what Paul says. I’d like to point you to four things that James says that show that he is not contradicting what Paul has said. First of all, notice that James is dealing with a different subject. Paul is dealing with how one is made right before God. James is dealing with the sin of hypocrisy. Now you say, well, Ligon, he didn’t write over that section. Now I’m going to deal with the sin of hypocrisy. Aren’t you just making that up so that it doesn’t seem like they're in contradiction? No, I got it right out of verse 14. Take a look at it. The very first sentence that James utters in the section is, “What use it my brethren if someone says he has faith, but he has no works.” James has introduced the subject of a person who claims to be a believer, but who does not live a life that looks like it accords with the life of a believer. He raised that issue, I didn’t. It is the issue of hypocrisy. What about a person who professes to be a believer, but his life certainly doesn’t look like a believer? James himself raises that question. That’s not what Paul is dealing with. There are two different subjects. Bear that in mind first.
Secondly, James does not ask the question can faith alone really save a person here? That’s not what James is talking about. He’s not asking can real faith by itself save a person? Or do you need to have real faith and works to save a person? That is not James’ question. James is asking another question. Can claimed faith demonstrate a person to really be a Christian? That is the question that James is asking; not can faith alone save you, but can a claimed faith really demonstrate that a person is a Christian. Now again you say to me. Hold on, there’s no marginal note from James that says that. You’re making that up. No, I’m not. Look at verse 14 again. Twice James emphasizes this. Notice how he phrases his first question. “What if someone says he has faith.” Now notice what James said. James did not say what if a person has faith but doesn’t have works? That’s not what James said. He said, “What if a man says he has faith.” What’s he focusing on? He’s focusing on a spoken confession. A spoken profession of faith, being contradicted by a lie. But that’s not the only time. He goes on to say at the end of verse 14, “Can that kind of faith save him?” Notice that James did not ask, can faith save him? He asked, “Can that kind of faith,” what kind of faith? A claimed faith that shows no reality. James is not talking about how a man is saved. James is talking about how you know a real Christian from a false one.
Thirdly, James is clearly concerned throughout this passage about what he calls dead faith. Look at verse 17 and then again at verse 26. Twice he uses the term “dead faith.” What does he mean by it? By dead faith he is referring to a faith which is empty or hollow. It doesn’t have a living reality. There is a verbal profession, but there’s no reality of life in the heart of the believer. There are no deeds which are in accordance with faith. There is no workmanship for which we were created in grace as Paul says in Ephesians 2. And so Paul is clearly concerned about people who make a profession but show no marks of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
And fourth and finally, notice the argument that James uses to cap off his point. He goes right to what? The story of Abraham. Now that’s very helpful because that’s right where Paul goes. In Romans, chapter 4, Paul is going to go to the story of Abraham in order to prove justification by faith alone. James goes to the story of Abraham and to one of the very same passages that Paul goes to in order to prove that faith without a life which is in accordance with faith, without deeds, without obedience, without love, is not real faith. He goes through the same story. But notice what he does. He gives you a wonderful clue. He quotes from Genesis 15:6 which says “Abraham believed and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.” And then he says what? Look down at verses 21 through 23. He says in verse 23, that Abraham was justified when he offered up Isaac, his son. And then he draws his conclusion. “So you see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
Now that’s a wonderful clue to actually help you understand that he’s not contradicting Paul. Why? 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, who knows where this passage is because he’s just quoted it, and he knows that his audience, being good Jewish Christians know where it is in Genesis, he knows that they know that God’s declaration that Abraham is righteous came seven chapters before Abraham offering up Isaac. Therefore, James is giving you a clue again 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 you clues to help you understand that he is not attempting to contradict what the apostle Paul said. In fact, my friends, turn back to Romans 3. Paul, in the very passage here, makes it clear that he not only knows that faith has to be accompanied by obedience, he teaches it himself. What was the very last verse we read in Romans 3? Do we nullify the law? On the contrary, Paul says, we establish the law. Now in the very passage we also read in Ephesians chapter 2. Look how Paul handles this. Turn again to Ephesians 2:8: “By grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” All of grace. And then listen to verse 10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Paul knows that faith and obedience go hand in hand in the Christian life. But listen to this. Paul also knows that our obedience has nothing to do whatsoever with God’s pre-justification, and he wants you to hold those two truths right together.
Does God call us to obedience as Christians? You better believe it? 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. Think about it, my friends. Conditionality inserted into any human relationship severs the capacity for intimacy in that relationship. How much more in our relationship with God? If you are obeying because you are afraid of the rejection of God, then you are obeying out of an ungodly fear. For if you were the beloved, God has accepted you in His Son, and your obedience is not rendered up in order to get Him to like you, to get Him to love you, to get Him to save you. It’s rendered up out of gratitude for the salvation that is already yours. I want to illustrate this for you out of the Old Testament. Turn with me to Exodus 20 as we close. In Exodus, chapter 20, in the very giving of the Ten Commandments, look at verse 2. The Ten Commandments are going to be given.
Is this another way of salvation that Moses is suggesting? Well, let’s see. Exodus 20, verse 2: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” verse 3, “you shall have no other Gods before Me.” My friends, that order is so important. Listen to what God says. He does not say now here are the Ten Commandments. If you will obey them, or if you will really try 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. My friends, redeem, obey. That’s the order. Not obey to be redeemed.
Do you hear 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 an order to condition the love of God. He already loves me more than I can ever know. My obedience flows from that love which I have received, and I receive the benefits of His justification by faith alone, and not by any deed that I do. That is the greatest news ever told, and there is no other religion in the world that has anything like it. Let’s pray.
Our Lord and our God, we come now to Your table to celebrate Your redeeming love and the free offer of Christ in the gospel. Help us then to feed on Christ by faith. We ask it in his name, Amen.