A defense for justification – Romans 3:27-31

                Previously, Paul gave a description of what justification is. Here in these verses we see a defense for justification. Paul is reaffirming the fact that justification is by faith alone. Such a defense is necessary due to the depraved mind which cannot grasp the full beauty of the Gospel. In his defense for justification, Paul shows us three rivals that affects our understanding of justification.

The law of works vs. The law of faith. Notice what is said in verses 27-28, Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”[1] Paul shows that there is no room for human boasting in God’s plan of salvation. The Jews, however, were inclined to boast due to the special privileges that they had received. “In this context “boasting” should be taken not in the sense of unwarranted self-adulation for meritorious achievement but as justifiable pride on the part of the Jewish nation for having been chosen by God for a special role in the drama of redemption (Rom 3:2; 9:4–5). Although the point has a wider application (faith necessarily excludes pride of achievement), Paul here had the Jewish perspective in mind.”[2] Though this argument is directed primarily to the Jew, there is a principle here that applies to us all. The principle is that God’s plan of salvation does not allow any room for boasting in ourselves. This can be difficult for us to swallow. As Mounce points out, our sinful nature has a natural tendency to want to take the credit. “One would think that the sinner would love to be forgiven at no cost. Unfortunately, that is not the case. After all, sinners have their pride. They desperately want to claim some role in their own redemption.”[3]

Paul then asks the question, ‘by what law is boasting excluding?’ Is it the law of works? Paul strongly says, ‘no’. It is by the law of faith that boasting is excluded. So, what is the difference then between the law of works and the law of faith? The law of works that Paul refers to is basically the law of Moses. Salvation by works rests on keeping the Mosaic Law. Dr. Constable points out, “This does not mean that the Mosaic Law required works for salvation but that those who hope to earn salvation by their works look to the Mosaic Law as what God requires.”[4] Therefore, if you decide that you will attempt to work for your salvation, then you must look to the Mosaic Law in order to learn what it is that God requires in order for you to earn salvation on your own merit. The law of faith is completely different from the law of works. The law or principle of faith says that salvation becomes ours by faith in Jesus Christ alone. Essentially, faith is what God requires for salvation, not works. William Newell wrote, “He has sent His son, who has borne sin for you. You do not look to Christ to do something to save you: He has done it on the cross. You simply receive God’s testimony as true, setting your seal thereto. You rest in God’s Word regarding Christ and His work for you. You rest in Christ’s shed blood.”[5] “Some people have difficulty understanding that faith is not a work. While faith does involve doing something, trusting, the Bible never regards trusting God as a meritorious work. It regards faith, rather, as an act of believing a statement and relying on the truthfulness of the One who made it. When God says, ‘Whosoever believes on Him (His Son) has eternal life’, faith involves accepting that promise as true.”[6] I like to think of salvation as a gift given at Christmas time. When I go to the store to buy my children a Christmas present, I sacrifice my own money and time to purchase the gift. I purchase the gift for my children simply because I love them. I then wrap the gift and place it under the Christmas tree. The gift has already been paid for. It is already there. It is available to my children. On Christmas Day, I give the gift to my children. However, in order for that gift to become theirs, they must reach out and take the gift. They must accept it. They do not have to do anything to earn the gift; all they must do is reach out and take it. That’s what saving faith is all about. Jesus paid the price of our sin for us on the cross. He has paid for the gift. He has given the gift to the whole world. However, it is up to us to reach out and take it, to accept it. We do not have to work for it. There are no strings attached. We just have to accept it. Believe in Him.

Since we are justified by faith apart from keeping the Mosaic Law as a means for salvation, there is no room for human boasting or pride. No one can say that they have been justified because of something that they did. All the glory must go to God. Salvation is made possible only by Him, not in anything that we may do. God designed such a plan in order to assure that all glory be given to Him.

The God of the Jews vs. The God of the Gentiles. Paul continues his defense for justification in verses 29-30. “Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” [7] The point being made here is that God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles. If justification comes by keeping the law, then God is the God of the Jews only, since the law was given to the Jews. However, since justification is by faith alone apart from the law, God is the God of all. In other words, if justification came by doing the works of the law, then God would not be the One true God, Creator of all things. He is either the God of all or He is not God at all. The fact that God is the God of all, solidifies the fact that justification is by faith alone.

The law as void vs. the law as established. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”[8] Since we are justified by faith alone apart from the law, does that mean that the law is useless? There are three views concerning this verse, all three may be correct. The first view is that the purpose of the law is to convict people of their sin and their inability to gain acceptance with God by their own works. This view is certainly correct and is the most probable interpretation of what Paul is saying in verse 31. Another view is that Paul meant that the Old Testament or the law testifies to justification by faith. We know that the law and the prophets point to salvation by faith in the one who was to come to be the Savior of the world. A third view is that faith provides the complete fulfillment of God’s demands in the law. This is also true. Faith does what the law could not do. Faith makes the law complete. The bottom line here is that the law was not given for the purpose of obtaining righteousness. The law simply points to our need for a Savior. The law shows how that man is not able to save himself; therefore, a Savior is needed. The law in a sense made Jesus’ death necessary. Is the law needed? Yes. Without the law, we would not see our need for Jesus. Does keeping the law save us? No. It is impossible for mankind to meet the demands of the law. How then are we saved? We are saved by faith in Jesus.

In these verses, Paul defends justification by faith by showing that justification must come to all people by faith alone. Justification by faith alone is the only acceptable way of salvation. Since we are justified by faith alone, we cannot boast. All of the credit, all of the glory, must go to God and God alone. God’s plan of justification by faith alone does not do away with the law; rather it reveals the true intended purpose of the law.

What about you? Have you been trying to earn your way to heaven? Have you been trying to be ‘good enough’? My friend, you can never be good enough. Stop trying to save yourself and come to Jesus by faith. Trust in Him completely. He is the only way!

[1] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 3:27–28). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, pp. 118–119). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, pp. 118–119). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Dr. Constable. Notes on Romans. p. 49

[5] Newell, William. Romans verse by verse. Moody Press. 1938.

[6] Dr. Constable. Notes on Romans. p. 50

[7] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 3:29–30). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[8] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 3:31). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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