|Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
We come now to our third and final study on this tremendous passage that we have been looking at for the last three studies, where Paul introduces us to and defines the unconditional good news of salvation in Gods Son, Jesus Christ. As we conclude this passage, Romans 3:21-31, there are certain important facts that you need to keep constantly in your mind:
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe....
...And [all] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
God 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 he 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.
But I would like to give you a text to remind you of what we covered in the last study; that is Hebrews 9:22. The Apostle Paul there, writing to the Jewish Christians, makes it very clear. Hebrews 9:22:
In fact, the law requies that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
God can legally forgive you, He can forgive me, because of the redemption that is in Christ. Now, lets turn to verse 27. Paul begins verse 27 by asking a question:
Where, then, is boasting?
Does the gospel leave any room for boasting? And his answer is:
It is excluded.
There is no room for boasting. Here is all of verse 27:
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith.
So the reason for this, he says, is: Since our works do not contribute one iota towards the righteousness of God that justifies us, and since the righteousness of God comes to us through faith alone, there is no room for human boasting.
Now there is room for boasting, but not for human boasting. If you turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 1, you will find that Paul makes a similar statement, but there he says, There is need for boasting. Except he puts it in a different way. So I want you to look at chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians, and look at the last two verses. In verse 30, Paul explains that our hope is in Christ, and that hope has come to us through God:
It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption....
Then, quoting from the Old Testament [Jer. 9:24], he says:
Therefore, as it is written: Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.
Yes, there is room for boasting, but our boasting must be in Jesus Christ. There is no boasting in ourselves. In other words, There is no room for human pride, there is no room for human bragging, says Paul, in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, because it is all of Gods doing.
In verse 29 and 30 of Romans 3, Paul goes on to say that this truth of Justification by Faith applies to the Jews and to the Gentiles alike. But before we touch that I want you to look at verse 28, because verse 28 is the bottom line, it is the conclusion of this whole passage. It is the key text of his argument which began in verse 21:
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
So a person is justified by faith is declared righteous by faith without the deeds of the law. Our law-keeping does not contribute one iota towards the righteousness that justifies us. It is all of God.
And this truth, says Paul, applies to the Jews as well as to the Gentiles. Verses 29-30:
Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles, too? Yes, of Gentiles, too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
In other words, God does not have one way of saving the Jews, and another way of saving the Gentiles. All people, from Adam to the last person, have been saved through the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, and this is made effective by faith alone.
This truth is something important for today, because there are many who would like to divide Gods dealings with the human race into dispensations: God had one way of saving Abraham, He had another way of saving Moses, He had another way of saving the New Testament people.
No, folks, from beginning to end we are saved by the righteousness of Christ which is through faith alone. God has only one way of saving Jews and Gentiles, and God has only one way of saving mankind in the Old Testament period and in the New Testament period. The only difference is that, in the Old Testament period, people were saved by faith in the promise. In the New Testament period, we are saved by the reality of the promise, which is Jesus Christ. But in both cases it is by faith, in what God has promised and in what God has fulfilled.
Now comes the problem. It is impossible, and Paul realizes this, it is impossible to preach and to teach that we are justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law without coming under fire. Paul knows that. Everywhere he travelled in his missionary journeys he was dogged by these Judaizers who accused him of undermining the law. They accused him of being a false teacher. They accused him of being a self-made Apostle. All kinds of accusations were thrust onto Paul. You see, there are two problems with this teaching of Justification by Faith:
He will say, Whats the news?
You respond, From head to foot, there is nothing good in you.
Now you will have been telling him, or her, the truth, but you have been insulting that person. Because that person is smaller and weaker than you, he wont box you. But he could take your name down, or your car number plate down and take you to court. You have insulted that person.
Man doesnt like to believe that there is nothing good in him. But the gospel of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of Justification by Faith, turns all our goodness into filthy rags. And that is very painful to the human ego.
This is an accusation that comes to everybody who preaches Justification by Faith alone. You cant escape it. In fact, when I was training ministers in Africa, I told them that this is what it will cost you. I am still waiting to come under fire in this church. I havent as of yet, and Im wondering why its taking so long. Maybe it has, behind my back, but I havent faced it yet openly. If somebody does accuse me behind my back, please send them to me. Ill be happy to sit down with them and give them what I understand from Scripture and they need to defend their position from Scripture. But the Bible is clear: we are justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Does this mean that the gospel, that the doctrine of Justification by Faith, undermines the law? Thats the question that Paul is asking in Romans 3, verse 31:
Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?
Is this what I am doing in my preaching of the doctrine of Justification by Faith? Do we make void the law through faith? And what is his answer [in the same verse]?
Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
Now I would like to confess that this is one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible. I have heard lots of talks, I have read a lot of material on this verse, but I am afraid I have to disagree with all of them. Let me give you a typical interpretation of verse 31 that you often read and hear:
Do we then make void the law through faith? No! By faith God gives us His Spirit. He gives us power. And we are able to keep the law by Gods power, and by keeping the law, we are establishing the law.
That is a typical interpretation of verse 31. I would like to suggest that this is far from what Paul is talking about. Ill give you three reasons:
We need to be honest with every text that we read. Paul is not saying here that by faith we keep the law through the grace of God, through the power of God, and that way we establish the law. Let me explain each one of them.
First of all, contextually. Paul is not dealing in this passage which we have covered with the doctrine of Sanctification. He is dealing with the doctrine of Justification by Faith. Yes, Paul has much to say in Romans on this doctrine of Sanctification, in chapters 6, 7, and 8. And Paul has much to say on the issue of Christian living, which must be in harmony with the law, in chapter 12 up to chapter 16. But here, in this passage, he is not dealing with the subjective experience of the Christian. He is dealing with the truth of the righteousness of God which justifies us apart from the works of the law. So the context wont allow you to give you that interpretation.
Let us look at the second problem, historically. What do I mean that this interpretation disagrees historically? Well, it is impossible. I am going to make a statement first, and I will explain it, because I know that many will misunderstand me just making the statement: It is impossible for you and me to establish the law.
Now I do not mean by that it is impossible for you and me, by the grace of God, to keep the law. I am not discussing that. We will come to that when we come to the sections on sanctification and the sections on Christian living. What I am saying here, and what Paul is saying here, is that its impossible for you and me, and it has never happened in the history of the human race, or in the history of the Christian church, where any believer has established the law.
Now to explain that. What do I mean? What does Paul mean when he uses the word establish? It means that the law is totally and fully satisfied with you. When every demand of the law on you has been satisfied, then and then only you have established the law. And that is impossible. Ill tell you why folks. The law demands two things from you and me. Not one, but two things:
And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
If we walk in the Spirit, the righteousness of the law can be fulfilled in us. But the righteousness of the law is not the justice of the law. The justice of the law is that [Eze. 18:4 & 20]:
The soul who sins is the one who will die.
And the death that the law demands from you and me as sinners is not the first death, its good-bye to life forever. Therefore, it is impossible to meet the justice of the law and still live because, when you die the second death, thats the end of you.
So there are two requirements that the law demands from each one of us. If you fail to fulfil those two requirements, you cannot establish the law, the law will condemn you, youre still under the curse. But in Christ the law has been established. Christ met on behalf of all people the two demands. By His perfect life, He has met the positive demand of the law, which the Bible calls the righteousness of the law. And, by His death, He has met the justice of the law, so that, in the doing and the dying of Christ, the law has been established. That is what Paul is saying in verse 31. Ill come back to it.
Lets go to number three: grammatically. You see, the word faith is the key state word in this verse, 31:
Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? [Some translations read: Do we then make void the law through faith?]
Now the word faith has more than one meaning in the New Testament. Paul is not saying here, Do we then make void the law through our faith? He is not discussing the believers faith, which is one of the key definitions of faith in the New Testament. But hes not discussing that, because, in the original, which is not in the English [translations of the] Bible, in the original, the word faith is preceded by the definite article. So what Paul says here is:
Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? [Some translations read: Do we then make void the law through the faith?]
When he uses the word faith with the definite article, it can have more than one meaning. I want to give you an example of what it can mean before I turn to this verse. Turn your Bibles to a very important passage, Galatians chapter 3, the passage that brought a tremendous controversy, not only in the Christian church, but in ours, 100 years ago. Galatians chapter 3, and I want to look at two verses, 23 and 25. And here Paul does the same thing. He uses the word faith with the definite article. I read in verse 23:
Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.
Now what is Paul saying in verse 23? The word faith here is not applying to the believers faith but to the object of faith, which is Jesus Christ. So what Paul is saying here in Galatians 3:23 is: Before Christ came, historically, before He came to this world, before Christ came and redeemed us by His life and death, the human race was kept in prison. We were all in death row legally before Christ came.
In other words, even Enoch and Moses, even Elijah, had no right to be in heaven. But they were there because of a promise. If Christ had failed to keep that promise, they would have to come down and die. But the fact is that, legally, the whole world was in prison, sentenced to eternal death, until the faith of Christ came. That is why Paul says in Galatians 3, verses 24-25:
So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
In verse 23, the faith had not come; in verse 25, He had already come. But after the faith had come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law [or under the schoolmaster, as some translations read] because Christ has set us free.
So the word faith in Galatians 3 does not refer to the believers faith, but to the object of the believers faith, which is Jesus Christ.
With this in mind, lets go to Romans 3. How then does Paul use the word faith in verse 31 of chapter 3? Well, the context tells us here that he is discussing the doctrine of Justification by Faith. He has told us in verse 28 that the righteousness of God which justifies us by faith is apart from the law. That means our keeping of the law does not contribute towards the righteousness which justifies us. But the question in verse 31 is, What about Gods righteousness? Does Gods righteousness satisfy the law? In other words, is God righteous when He justifies us sinners? Can His righteousness stand up with the law in the judgment? The answer is yes.
In other words, what Paul is defending here is, once again, the legal framework of the atonement. Thats why, if we destroy the legal framework of the atonement, which some of our theologians are trying to do, we have destroyed one of the key passages, one of the key teachings of the New Testament.
Let me ask you a question. If you stand before the judgment seat of God today, and the law says to you, Have you obeyed me? What are you going to say?
Well, we have been taught that the law no longer applies.
And God will say, Who told you that?
Well, some theologian with a Ph.D.
And God will say, Since when was he your Saviour?
The Bible is the measuring stick of truth. And the Bible says [Heb. 9:22]:
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
On the cross, Jesus met the justice of the law. And, by His life, He met the positive demands of the law. And when I stand before the judgment seat of God, and the law of God says to me, Have you obeyed me? I will not say to the law, Well, I did my best.
The law says, I did not ask that question.
Well, I kept most of the law.
The law will say, I did not ask you that question either. Have you obeyed me in every detail?
Well, I goofed up a few times.
And the law says, Im sorry, you must die. Once is enough.
But I thank God I will not answer the law that way. I will say, Yes, I have obeyed you perfectly.
The law will say, When did you obey me perfectly?
When I was in Christ. Then I had perfect obedience.
But the law will say, Youre a sinner, you must die.
And I will say to the law, Well I have bad news for you, I have already died.
The law will say, When did you die?
I will quote to the law Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live....
The law will say, Well, if thats your position, then you are free to live.
And I will say to the law, Thank you.
Because, in Christ, the law has been established on behalf of you and me. That is what verse 31 says. God doesnt bypass His law to justify us. God holds His integrity to His law when He justifies me through His Son Jesus Christ. Because, in His Sons holy history, God has met every demand of the law for you and for me. That is the good news of the Gospel.
Now I would like to emphasize this because it is extremely important for a Christian to realize this. Ill tell you why. It is impossible and I repeat, it is impossible for you and me to experience genuine sanctification if we have not understood justification. It is like trying to produce oranges out of an apple tree. The ground of our sanctification is Justification by Faith.
Ill tell you why its impossible. Hebrews 2:15:
...and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Because Hebrews 2:15 tells me that I am a slave; I was born that way. I am a slave to the fear of death. Every human being has a fear of dying. Even the atheist is scared to die when the time comes. And thats why theres a saying, There are no atheists in foxholes, because theyre scared to die.
Now the thing is this, unless God delivers me from that fear, it is impossible for me to experience the love of God. In other words, it is impossible for you and me to live the Christian life. It is impossible for you and me to keep the law if we are still slaves to fear.
Because God doesnt look at the act, He looks at the heart. The moment you do the right act for the wrong reason, God looks at that as filthy rags.
How can God produce a people who can serve Him without fear or without a desire for reward? It is only when He has established them in Justification by Faith, and has given them peace! And if you have no peace today, if you are not sure that in Christ you stand perfect before His law, there is no way that God can liberate you from the fear of death. Because there is only one way: through the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. And Hebrews 2:14,15 says so:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death that is, the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
So please, there is a vital issue here. Im saying this and Im emphasizing this because of one reason: I have discovered in my almost 25 years of the Adventist Church that most Adventists are very insecure about their salvation. Am I correct? Or do I have some different people here? And because we are insecure, it is very hard for this denomination to send missionaries in countries where their lives are in danger, very difficult. We closed our Middle East College. Why? Because it got too hot there. We had difficulties finding doctors for Uganda. Why? Because life was on the block the moment you stepped in this country, under Idi Amin. Why are we scared? Because we cannot say with Paul [Philippians 1:21]:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Can you say that from the heart? If you can, then you are not afraid to die.
I remember visiting a couple in Andrews [University] when I was on furlough there. They knew I was from Kenya and they were going to be sent to Kandu Hospital (and my son was born there) and the wife said to me, Are there snakes there?
I had two choices: to lie to her or to tell her the truth. I said, Yes, Im afraid there are many snakes at Kandu.
She asked, Are they poisonous?
What could I say? There are mambas there, both black and green. There are spitting cobras there. There are gaboon vipers there. I said, Well, sister, there are some very poisonous snakes there, but I do not know of a single missionary who has died by snakebite at Kandu Hospital.
She turned to her husband and said, Well, theres always a first time. We better not accept the call.
Are you afraid to die? Im not talking about physically, because human beings are human beings. But inwardly, in the spirit, can you say, For me to die is profit? Unless we have that peace, God cant use us to lighten this earth with His glory.
In 1980, [Anwar] Sadat was assassinated in Egypt. The speaker was from this country. He was scared to go there it was a week later after the assassination because life was now terrible. People were being killed in Egypt because of the assassination, especially Americans. And we had no speaker. They tried and they tried, and finally I got a call from Beirut (I was in Kenya) and they said, Would you go please?
I said, Sure.
I remember my missionary friends saying to me, You are a fool.
I asked, Why?
Why are you risking your life? they said.
I said, Look, the only person who risks his life is a person who has not died. But Im already dead. And I gave them Colossians 3:3:
For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
We are dead, and our life is hid in Christ. And nobody can kill that life, because it is eternal.
Do you believe that, in Christ, you stand perfect before God? Do you believe that if a person comes and shoots you now, heaven is yours not because youre good or not because youre living in the Christian life, but because in Christ the law has been established?
Justification by Faith is the greatest message the world needs, because men are living in fear, in insecurity. The only hope that we can give them is that the law has been established by the doctrine of Justification by Faith.
That is why it is impossible for me and for Paul to talk about sanctification, or to talk about Christian living, unless he has first established us in the truth of Justification by Faith.
It is my prayer that you remember one thing: that you have a peace that your country and your money and your food cannot give you. It is only in Jesus Christ. And I want you to share this peace with those who dont have it.
You know, I travel around here and I see all these wonderful homes and I ask myself, How many of them have peace? How many of them are churchgoers? Do people know that Jesus Christ has established the law for us? That, in Him, we can look at the law without blinking and realize that in Christ the law doesnt condemn us, the law justifies us.
I want to give you three facts:
The only one that is against you is the Devil, and he has no way to knock you down if you are established in Justification by Faith.
Let us remember that, when you and I stand before the Investigative Judgment, God doesnt have that investigation so that He might find out whether you and I deserve to go to heaven by our performance. No, the purpose of the Investigative Judgment is to vindicate our Justification by Faith by our Advocate, Jesus Christ. And I know what Christ will say to Satan in that judgment [Zech. 3:2]:
The Lord said to Satan, The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?
This is what Paul is saying to us [Romans 3:21]:
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
Is Justification by Faith able to stand up against the law of God? The answer is yes! The law has been established in the holy history of Jesus Christ. And this is the greatest news that you and I can ever accept.
It is my prayer that you will rejoice in Jesus Christ as your Righteousness, a righteousness that fully established the law in every demand.
In the meantime, read Romans 4. Im going to cover the whole of chapter 4 in one study. Im doing it because I dont want to stretch Romans too long. I know some people get weary, but its a wonderful book. In Romans 4, Paul defends Justification by Faith against three arguments: works, circumcision, and the law. And we need to understand what hes doing here. Hes defending what he says in verse 31.
May God help us that we may rejoice, we will have peace, and from now onward we will no longer be worried, Will I make it to heaven? That matter has been settled. From now onward [Philippians 1:21]:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
And if I have to die in that process, dont worry, folks, its only sleeping. I dont know about you, I enjoy sleeping, until the resurrection when I shall see my Lord. And I will say, Thank God for such a salvation as this! May God bless us.