Sermon preached on Romans 3:27-31 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/1/2012 in Novato, CA.
*** Note, due to technical difficulties, the audio for the sermon was not recorded.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“By the Law of Faith”
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Grace puts its hand on the boasting mouth, and shuts it once for all.” That’s essentially our topic for today. As we’ve been studying through Romans, we’ve seen those wonderful reformation solas coming out. We’ve seen how we’ve been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This was promised in the Scriptures and confirmed in the Scriptures. And now we see who gets the glory. To God be the glory. There is nothing in our salvation that’s gives reason for personal boasting. There’s nothing in our relationship with God that we should pridefully exalt ourselves. No, to God be the glory. This is our topic for today. We’ll look at two basic points today. First and foremost, we’ll consider today how our boasting is excluded. That’s verses 27-30. Then second, we’ll look at how God’s law is established in this. That’s verse 31.
Let’s dig right in, then. Let’s start with our first point, to consider how boasting is excluded. We’ll see how boasting in general is excluded. Then, we’ll see how Paul especially excludes Jewish boasting. Finally, we’ll apply this to all Christians, and see how boasting is excluded for all of us. So, we see then Paul’s’ general point in verse 27. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. Why is it excluded? On what principle is it excluded? He gives two options. By the law of works, or by the law of faith? Here he’s using the law in the sense of a principle. There’s two approaches for being right with God. The approach of our works, or the approach of our faith in Christ. What excludes then our boasting? The principle of our works, or the principle of our faith? Well, the idea of our works, is out altogether. It’s not really an option in this discussion. The concern of boasting is that you boast somehow in your special relationship with God. That’s the kind of boasting being described here. But Paul’s already made the point that by the works of the law, no man will be justified. If you go down the works principle, you actually have no temptation to even boast, if you realize your situation. You are under condemnation – what are you going to boast about?
And yet, if we come to the principle of faith, we find we are saved. Is there then something in ourselves to boast about? No Paul says. It is excluded. It is excluded even in that situation. Paul explains why in verse 28. He reminds us of the context. He reminds us of the whole point yet again. We’ve concluded that man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Our works will not save us. The only way to be right before God is via justification by grace through faith in Christ. But if that’s the case, how can you personally boast about your relationship with God? If the foundation of your relationship is not your works, you have nothing left to personally boast of!
And so Paul says that it’s the law of faith that excludes our boasting. This principle of justification by faith not works is what means there is no room left for boasting. In other words, with the gospel, there’s no special boasting to make with regard to our relationship with God. Grace shuts off our pride. It should humble us. It’s not about us. It’s about Christ! And so God in Christ gets the glory.
Well, then Paul turns to apply this to the Jews specifically. This is verse 29 and 30. Verse 29 transitions to this by asking, “Or is he the God of the Jews only?” You see, boasting was a problem with many of the Jews at that time. Many of them boasted quite a lot. They boasted of their special relationship with God as God’s chosen people. Many of them had a national and religious prejudice between them and the Gentiles. Think of some of the things the Jews might have boasted in, in comparison to the Gentiles. It seems they boasted in the law. They had the law, with all its many statutes and ordinances. Many of these statutes were ceremonial laws – things like the kosher food laws. Such laws would have visibly distinguished them from the Jews in many ways. The Gentiles liked in a way that was ceremonially unclean, and so the Jews would have distanced themselves from this. And so, the ceremonial laws would have separated them in a very visible way. But it seems that many Jews then took this law as a reason to boast over the Gentiles. They had this law, the Gentiles did not.
Another point of Jewish boasting was over circumcision. This is intimately related to their boasting in the law, of course. Circumcision was something the law required for the Jews. Their circumcision reflected that special covenant that God had made with them. Accordingly, you could understand how some Jews would take pride in this. It would fuel their boasting over the Gentiles. The Gentiles were the uncircumcised heathen.
Yet another point of Jewish boasting over the Gentiles would have been a theological one. Their belief in monotheism – one God – was something that some of them used in a prideful way over the Gentiles. They would boast the confession of Deuteronomy 6:4 – that the Lord their God, he is one! That of course would contrast with the many Gentile pagans who believed in many gods – false gods of course.
And so the law, circumcision, and monotheism would all be reasons a Jew might boast. And yet those are things Paul addresses here. We find Paul challenging such boasting here. Boasting in the law, in general, has already been thrown out. That was the point of verse 28. But he applies that specifically to this Jew—Gentile tension in verse 30. Jews are justified by faith, and so are Gentiles. In other words, neither are justified by deeds of the law. Yes, Gentiles aren’t justified by works of the law. But neither are Jews. So that can’t be a reason for a Jew to boast.
In the same way, he brings in the circumcision boast. When he refers to the Gentiles in verse 30, he switches from a Jew/Gentile contrast to a circumcised/uncircumcised contrast. In other words, the old covenant sacrament is not going to justify someone before God. It’s not the basis of anyone’s relationship with God, or their standing before God. Again, Paul says it comes back to justification. This is why this doctrine is so important and so foundational in Christianity. The circumcised and the uncircumcised can only be right before God through faith in Christ. In other words, being circumcised doesn’t make you right before God. Thus, it’s not a reason for a Jew to boast. Circumcision doesn’t supply you something to boast about.
With regards to Jewish monotheism, Paul even hits the Jew on that boast even! His logic is searing and undeniable here. He grants the monotheism claim – of course, there is only one God. So in verse 30 he acknowledges this. There is only one God. And yet he says that means that God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles – verse 29. Since there is only one God, as the Jews rightly boast, then that means their God is the God of the Gentiles too! Paul makes this point in verse 29. Yes, he says! God is the God of the Gentiles too! Of course, Paul’s not making anything new up. The Jewish Scriptures have said that over and over again. Psalm 24:1, for example: “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein.” And so Paul’s logic is pretty simple. This one God is God over all, and he has one plan of salvation. He doesn’t save the Jews in one special way that would give them reason for personal boasting, and then give some humbling way for Gentiles to be saved. The one God saves both Jew and Gentile in the same way. This is what he promised Father Abraham all the way back in Genesis 12 – through Abraham’s offspring all the families in the earth shall be blessed. That came to fulfillment with Abraham’s greater son – the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so the point here is simple – there is no special boasting a Jew can personally make about his relationship with God. He didn’t do some praiseworthy thing to earn a right standing before God. Well, if this is true for the Jew, then it is true for all Christians. Again, we come back to the overall point here. Apply this then today to the Christian. If our salvation is by faith alone, then we have no reason for personal boasting. We can’t boast in the law, as if we are great law keepers. We can’t boast in our baptism – it’s not our baptism that saves us, but the appeal to God in faith for a clean conscience. We can’t appeal to even the fact that we have been revealed the Word or certain doctrines. Those doctrines teach us the humility that comes from grace. I think that the Reformed Christian can take a special application here. The Reformed can have a tendency to pride in our theological understanding. We can boast in the five points of Calvinism, for example, in looking down on others. And yet it’s the very five points of Calvinism that should humble us. They teach us God’s gracious sovereignty in brining someone to truth.
And so our boasting is that we don’t boast. We have no grounds for personal boasting. Rather, we do what Paul did. He boasted in some things. Paul boasted in the cross of Jesus – Galatians 6:14. He boasted in his weaknesses that showed off God’s grace – 2 Corinthians 12:9. And quoting Psalm 34:2, Paul said, let him who boasts, boast in the Lord, 1 Corinthians 1:31. The gospel should humble the pride of man. And yet we can find our glory in the work of the Lord in our life. That is our pride! We take pride in God’s works. Again, not a reason for personal boasting. A reason to glorify God. Soli deo Gloria! Glory to God alone!
Paul then brings up the typical question at this point. Verse 31, do we then make void the law of God? This leads us to the second half our message for today – to see how the law is established through all of this. You see the question that comes is one of antinomianism – or in English, “against the law.” Does this teaching, do away with God’s law? Does it mean that we have no use or value for the law now? That’s the question of antinomianism. He’ll address this more in chapter 6 in greater detail. But we’ll consider it to a degree now.
And so when asked the question, Paul makes another one of his bold negations. Is the law void through faith? Certainly not! The law is certainly not voided because of this principle of faith. Yes, the principle of faith supplants the principle of works, in terms of our justification. But that doesn’t get rid of the law’s value. Rather, Paul’s conclusion is that it actually upholds the law. It actually establishes the law. Well, we might rightly ask, how? How is it that the law is established and upheld by this teaching of justification apart from works of the law but by faith in Christ?
We’ll, the connection is actually pretty straight forward. There are actually several interrelated senses in which we uphold the law by this teaching of justification by faith. First, the law is upheld and its goodness affirmed by the cross of Christ. Remember, justification by faith, is faith in Christ. Specifically in the propitiation that he made by his shed blood. Last week we said that God was shown just in justifying us through Christ’s propitiation. You see, this upholds the law by taking seriously its curse and the demands of righteousness. If justification by faith didn’t uphold the law, then God hypothetically could have just passed over our sins without requiring the cross. But in God’s justice, he agreed with the laws’ demand. The curse and condemnation of sin had to be administered. Thus, the cross upholds and establishes the goodness of the law.
Second, consider how Paul calls the law a pedagogue to Christ in Galatians 3:24. Simply put, the law leads us to Christ. In giving us the knowledge of sin, it tells us that we have not met its standards. It leaves us condemned and enslaved. It leaves us looking for another way to be justified. That way comes in Christ. But the reason it comes in Christ, is because Christ met all the law’s requirements. Not only did he take on the curses of the law, but he obeyed it perfect, fulfilling it on our behalf. We then affirm the law’s goodness and validity when we affirm the gospel’s way of salvation.
Third, we affirm the law when we turn in repentance to Christ. When we confess our sins and look to turn from them unto new obedience, we acknowledge that the law is true and good. We look at our sins in comparison to the law. We see that we have transgressed the law. Our confession and repentance upholds the law in its affirmation. It’s the standard for how we fell short. And then when we live a life of repentance, we have to have a standard for how we will now seek to live. That standard is again the law! The law becomes the rule for how a Christian looks to now live. God even says that as part of his sanctifying work in our lives he’s going make us people who are zealous for good works. We’re going to grow in zeal for law keeping. Again, this establishes and upholds the law.
So, our Christian faith does establish the law. The opposite of course would be to reject the law’s demand on us. If we were truly looking to nullify the law as the question asks in verse 30, think of what that would look like. We’d say, “Forget the law!” I don’t need it. I don’t agree with it. God will have to accept me as I am, his law is not fair. Of course, we know many do say things like that. That’s an example of not upholding the law. Those who find justification by faith, however, uphold the law in their profession of faith.
And so realize then that this question on the law comes in the context of the question on boasting. They were not to boast in the law. But the law was still valid. You see, this shows the importance of a right perspective on the things of God. God’s people need to have a right perspective on his things. Things like the law, circumcision, baptism, monotheism, etc. Rightly understood alongside the concept of justification by faith, we can understand the place for these things among God’s people. We need the right perspective on these God ordained things. A wrong perspective can lend toward things like boasting or antinomianism. A right perspective can glorify God. And it can contribute toward a Godly humility in us, our sanctification, and our being built up in Christ.
Saints of God, I think of how important this is today. Back then, Jewish privilege should have resulted in them being a blessing to the nations around them. They could have been a witness to the nations of the one true God, and his holy law. Yet that Jew-Gentile divide that existed back then has an application for today. Today, Christians are divided from the rest of the world. We stand apart from them. Christians are those who have been cleansed by Christ. The world is spiritually speaking, unclean. A wrong perspective would lead us to arrogance. Sometimes the world even accuses us of that. They can say that Christians act so “holier than thou.” If someone accuses you of that, pause and examine yourself. If there is some truth to their accusation, then consider this passage. The Christian faith should not make us haughty and boastful in our own works.
Actually the opposite should be the case. Our response to the world is, yes, one of distinction. We are to be separate. And yet because we know that we’ve been saved by grace, through faith, this fuels our evangelism. We give the offer of the gospel to the world around us, because of the truth found in this passage. Jew and Gentile, circumcised, and uncircumcised, can be saved in Jesus Christ, and only in Jesus Christ. Our one God is the God of the whole world. He has sent his church to offer this gospel of salvation to the world. This gospel which we hold so dear – it is something they need. And it is something we are to humbly hold out to them.
As we come to the table again today, be refreshed in what grace is all about. Be humbled in it. Be lifted up in it. And be spurred on to share this with the world. Amen.
Copyright © 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.