The Law of Faith

Text: Romans 3:27-28

We come to the conclusion of our survey of justification in Romans 3. We’ve talked about the guilt of the law and the propitiation found in Christ, and now we come to the conclusion of it all, that “a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” But what we need to notice is that this conclusion is itself supported by the observation that boasting is excluded. That means Paul’s argument runs like this: No one can boast because everyone’s guilt was atoned for in the same way and by the same person, by the death of Jesus the messiah. That can only then mean that we are justified by faith alone. In short, penal substitutionary atonement and justification by faith alone are two sides of the same coin. They both imply the other, and they both mean that we must be humble and dependent upon God. The shorthand which Paul comes up with to explain this relationship is what he calls “the law of faith.”

The Law of Faith is Established

Now this expression, “the law of faith,” is a sort of play on words. Paul is using it to trump the other law, the law of works. He’s basically saying, “If you want a law, here’s one for you, the law of faith.” This is the same “law” that he says is “established” in vs. 31. So there are two laws, a law of works and a low of faith, and the law of faith overrules and disproves the law of works. And the law of faith excludes, it prohibits, boasting on the part of any human. So, the law of faith is “Thou shalt not boast.” Continue reading

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God Demonstrates His Righteousness

Text: Romans 3:21-26

We’ve been discussing justification by faith these last few weeks, with a special emphasis on Romans chapter 3. Last week we set up the “problem” with a discussion of sin and the role of the law in revealing sin. This week we move to the next component, which is really the central component, the justice of God. As we will see, the righteousness of God which is revealed in justification is both His righteousness and the righteousness by which we are declared righteous. The two are the same in Christ so that God may be righteous in declaring His people righteous, the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Our justification is also God’s justification, as in it He demonstrates His righteousness.

Righteousness(es)

This word righteousness is very important in the book of Romans, and right in the first chapter we read that “in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:17). But as obviously important and central as this word “righteousness” is, its meaning has been the source of considerable controversy. To begin, you should know that the English words “righteous” and “justice” are the same word in both Hebrew and Greek. Furthermore, the term “justification” shares this same root, and so “justification” can also be translated “vindication” or “rectification.” While each of these terms has slightly different connotations and emphases, they all come together in the biblical word for righteousness. Continue reading

Stopping the Mouth of the World

Text: Romans 3:19-20

 

This sermon took me about three drafts to write. I filled up about ten pages with words, and I thought I was almost done for a minute, before I decided to throw it all away and start yet again. This text kept stopping me in my tracks. There’s a lot that you could say about it, and part of my problem was that I kept trying to say it all. So instead I decided to say just one thing. Shut your mouth.

This is Paul’s argument here in a nutshell. You cannot find justification in the law because the law will not even let you speak. You cannot defend yourself. You are a sinner, and when you call upon justice the first thing that is exposed is yourself. The law shuts your mouth, and you are left with nothing to say. All you can do is ask for mercy. And that’s exactly where God wants you.

The Law

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). In this text, the Apostle Paul is essentially telling the Jews and Jewish Christians alike to shut up. They have no ground for boasting in their standing before God, and they cannot appeal to their law-keeping as proof that they are somehow better than Gentiles. This is because the law which they are appealing to actually condemns them. It does not support their case at all but instead shows that God is righteous in judging both Jews and Gentiles to be sinners and under the curse of death. Continue reading

Why Justification by Faith Alone?

Text: Romans 3:19-28

This past Friday was the 497th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Saturday was All Saints Day, and so we celebrate both today. You might ask why we celebrate one, the other, or both. Well, the two days are historically united. They go together. Martin Luther chose the eve of All Saints Day to begin his public dispute. The date had symbolic relevance. He wanted to talk about what it means to be a saint and, really, how one is saved. Because of the power and success of the Reformation, the two days continue to be united in their theme. We are today celebrating the work of those Christians who have gone before us to proclaim the gospel and to bear witness to the power of Christ unto salvation to all who believe, including the Reformers. We celebrate both days because we believe that both days, rightly understood, proclaim the power of that gospel and the glory of God as He has been at work in history.

The Protestant Reformation dealt with lots of issues, but the main one, the only real bottom line, was the doctrine of justification. How a man is made right with God, and subsequently how he becomes a saint, are both answered by this doctrine. Protestants make their stand on this issue because the Bible makes its stand there too. “We have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law” (Galatians 2:16). Justification by faith alone is a central and essential teaching of our faith because it points us back to Jesus, the cross of Christ as the exclusive ground for our acceptance by God. This truth underlies all other teachings on salvation, the church, and Christian living. John Calvin called it a lynchpin upon which all else turned. Martin Luther said it was the article of a standing or falling church. This is true, as we said, because it directly informs our understanding of God in Christ— not only Who He is, but How He works. It tells us how we can know Him.

But I wonder, do we still believe this doctrine is all that important or interesting or does it strike us as a little passé? It is probably true that some pastors have overcooked this topic. They parse every question and sub-question in order to show how their tradition has a unique and essential interpretation. Others spend all their time arguing that their opponents cannot be Christians. All in all, what ought to be a dynamic and powerful teaching on God’s power and grace turns into a graduate school course in abstract theology. The prime rib becomes beef jerky. And this is a great tragedy.

You see, justification by faith alone is not an end in itself. No it is a means to explaining several other things, the problem of evil, the sovereignty of God, the redemption of sinners, the doctrine of the church, the role of the moral law in the life of believers, and even the end times. The point is not to dot all our I’s and cross our T’s, but to see that God is here, really here, and that He works directly and immediately in order to bring about His purposes. Justification by faith alone is a call to believe. Continue reading

Why Celebrate Reformation Day?

In addition to being Halloween, today marks the 497th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther chose the date intentionally. He was challenging the medieval teaching on indulgences, purgatory, and what it is that constitutes a saint. Thus there was a symbolic value in doing this on the eve of All Saints Day. Before he completed his theological project, however, Luther came to see that the central issue at debate was not a single errant practice, but an overarching theological and salvific confession: justification by faith alone, the article of the standing or falling church and, ultimately, the difference between salvation and despair. All Protestants, but especially Lutherans, Anglicans, and Reformed Christians look back to the Reformation as a definitive establishment of their confession of faith and as a mighty act of God through His Spirit. Traditionally, they have taken the occasion to celebrate.

But why celebrate the Reformation now? There are various reasons to ask this question and various ways to answer it, but instead of trying to say everything (my typical flaw), I want to get right to the bottom line because the Reformation is all about the bottom line. We celebrate Reformation Day because we believe in and celebrate justification by faith alone and the immediate work of God in the act of saving sinners. This means that God does the saving, He does it for free, and He does it on His terms. (See here if you want an extended discussion of mediation and all its ins and outs.)

This doctrine relativizes everything else in life. Continue reading

Peace of God and Peace of Mind

Text: Philippians 4:1-7

Do you worry? There is so much to worry about, of course. The economy, foreign wars, a collapsing culture, your mother-in-law, his mother-in-law!—there’s no shortage of problems. How do you handle this kind of anxiety? Do you ever worry that you might be worrying too much? Anxiety is everywhere we turn.

Anxiety

Anxiety has been defined as “A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Anxiety has been with us since the Fall, but the aspect of anxiety that is particular and noteworthy today is precisely that we have named it and identify it even among very privileged and otherwise comfortable people. It makes good sense, we say, to be anxious when running from wild beasts or struggling to find the next meal. It strikes us as odd to continue to be anxious when we have a steady a job, a family, and plenty of toys. Of course, this new twist really just shows anxiety in a clearer way. It isn’t simply an estimate of risk and probability. Instead, anxiety is a deep longing of the soul. It is the photo negative of romantic sentimentalism. Just as people can project all sorts of hopes and dreams onto the future, anxiety projects fears and dreads. And both anxiety and sentimentalism, being connected in this way, share the same problem. They look to find satisfaction for the soul in the wrong place. Instead of saying “In Thee, my soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness” (Psalm 63:5), we find ourselves constantly seeking, searching for more, but with no idea of where to look. Continue reading

And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment

It is well known that Jesus’ empty tomb was first discovered by women. We know that these women were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and Salome. But Luke’s gospel, unique among the canonical gospels, tells us that there was a large group of women at the tomb, and it also tells us that this group of women had been following Jesus for some while. “And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him” (Luke 23:27). After Jesus died, Luke says, “all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things” (Luke 23:49). These women– the ones who had followed Jesus to the cross, the ones who watched to see where he was buried, and the ones who rushed to his tomb on Easter– did one other thing as well. They waited.

And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. (Luke 23:55-56)

Can you imagine having to keep this Sabbath? After seeing Jesus die, after mourning him throughout the day, and after watching him be taken away to be buried, these women had to go back to their homes, and they had to rest. They could not mourn properly. They could not stay at the grave (which we know they would have liked to have done). They could not even complete the burial preparations, since we see them bringing extra spices on the Easter morning. Their funeral was cut short for the Sabbath. This is Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday is about waiting. It is the final Old Covenant Sabbath. From the human point of view, nothing is happening. It is a test of faith. Did it work? Is Jesus victorious? What will happen? Can we keep the faith?

But invisibly, something else is going on. Jesus is in Hades proclaiming His victory. He is preaching to the spirits below, binding the Strong Man, and taking captivity captive. Jesus is standing on the neck of Death even now.

This is Holy Saturday.

And yet here, lonely and sorrowful, we wait. We pray. We keep the Sabbath.

We look for tomorrow.