Righteousness and Faith
The second chapter of Paul’s letter to Roman believers concluded with the argument that he that would be approved of God is he that is “circumcised” inwardly, rather than outwardly. This refers to those who keep the righteous requirements of the law, whether or not they are physically circumcised, and thereby might receive praise not from men but from God.
In the third chapter, Paul continues his discussion of what constitutes righteousness, and what righteousness means to God.
God's FaithfulnessWhile Gentiles have been invited into God’s inheritance by faith in Jesus, Paul assures the Romans that those Jewish believers in Christ have a great advantage. God entrusted his very words with His chosen people. Yet surely there were Jews who did not have faith, but Paul asserts that only serves to highlight the perfect righteousness of God. It isn’t any aspect of God that causes us to stray, nor do our acts of disobedience in any way affect God’s faithfulness to us. For He knows our character, and our faults.
1What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.
3What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God's faithfulness? 4Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written:
"So that you may be proved right when you speak
and prevail when you judge."
5But if our unrighteousness brings out God's righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7Someone might argue, "If my falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?" 8Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—"Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved. (Romans 3:1-8)
God shows His righteousness despite how we respond to Him. Paul quotes Psalms 51:4, and poses the rhetorical question, that if our unrighteousness by contrast proves God’s righteousness, shouldn’t that service to God cause Him to spare His wrath?
Ends don’t ever necessarily justify means. A positive outcome in no way proves the righteousness of what it took to get there. This is similar to Paul’s warning about tempting Grace. Once we are saved, we may be tempted to think that we can knowingly continue in sin, with the knowledge that Jesus forgave us once for all. That flouts God’s law, and may very well try God’s patience.
God’s mercy exists before and beyond any effort of our part to obey. It exists before and beyond our failures and falling short. For this is God who declares his kindnesses and tender mercies.
22 Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,Contemporary Christian artists Casting Crowns say it best in their song, Who Am I:
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Not because of who I amIt is not because of who we are, nor what we do for God. It is what He did with the sacrifice of His son, and His essential character.
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are
No One is RighteousThe law condemned us. None of us can live perfectly under God’s law. Under the law, even the slightest departure from the law brought condemnation. None of us by our own accord or the total of our works can stand in God’s perfect presence without the Savior being our mediator and covering for our sin.
9What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
11there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
12All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."
13"Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit."
"The poison of vipers is on their lips."
14"Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."
15"Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16ruin and misery mark their ways,
17and the way of peace they do not know."
18"There is no fear of God before their eyes."
19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:9-20)
We may be successful for a time, we may be accounted righteous by fellow men and women, but in the end our imperfections make a life lived wholly under the law worthless, without the atoning sacrifice once for all. That was the lesson of the children of Israel. And that is the point of the law, as Paul presents it, that the law condemns, convicts, “so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”
The law, and our shame in falling short, are part of the way in which God communicates His plan of salvation to those who would be His children. We must find faith, for we cannot be justified under God without it.
Righteousness Through FaithThere is a new work under the sun with the arrival of Messiah. A work foretold, a work in existence with God at the beginning of the world – “the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2)
21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:21-31)
Jesus had to serve as the sacrifice, or God’s justice would be unfinished. Paul here declares that God had left sins unpunished, and that the sacrifice of His Son demonstrated the necessity of His judgment, as well as the depth of His mercy in providing the sacrifice.
This is what is spoken of in Hebrews, where:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.We need to accept our sinful state. We, like Abraham, need to confess that we fall short of the glory of God, that we none of us are righteous, that we should all be laid out like Abraham’s son Isaac. And that is when God can work salvation in His mercy, and at the same time demonstrate His perfect justice as well in requiring the sacrifice for sin, sin that is vanquished in the atoning death of His Son Jesus.
Faith that we have salvation as a gift from God confirms what would have been our penalty under true justice, and reassures us that the penalty has been paid in full once for all. And by so acknowledging, we confirm and uphold the law, that in our own power, we are incapable of fulfilling perfectly. And that is God’s greatest mercy, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)