Romans 3:21-26 ESV
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
I believe personally that this subject of law and grace or law and faith is one of the most confusing subjects in the New Testament, which then definitely contributes to many different interpretations of these Scriptures which are then largely taught out of context and therefore are often misinterpreted. And a lot of that has to do with the usage of these words “law” and “works,” which aren’t always clear to us who were not Jews at that time in history.
So, I want to caution here against teaching this subject unless you teach it in the context of the whole of this book of Romans, for one, and in the context of the whole of the teachings on faith, grace, works, and law in the New Testament. Not doing that is like listening to one side of a debate or one side of a story without ever listening to the other side. From that often people walk away with wrong ideas about things, and they can come to wrong conclusions and even end up with false judgments of people.
So, “the Law” being spoken of here in the beginning is the Law of Moses, which included many liturgical, ceremonial, sacrificial, and purification laws that the Jews of old had to follow, but were not required of Christians, including of believing Jews. The Law also included the 10 Commandments, 9 of which are repeated for us under the New Covenant and which we are still required to obey today. But Jesus and our salvation are now our Sabbath.
So, when this says that the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, i.e. the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe, it means we are no longer under the Law of Moses and that our salvation does not come through us following all those old ceremonial and sacrificial laws, etc. But the Jews of old were not saved by keeping the law, either, because they couldn’t keep the law perfectly. They were also saved by faith, but that faith was evidenced by their obedience. Same today.
To me the big difference between being under the law and under grace is that the Jews of old had to perform all those old sacrificial, ceremonial, liturgical, and purification laws and rites and customs as part of their obedient faith in God, looking forward to when their Messiah would come to save them from their sins. Now the Messiah has come, and he became our offering for our sins so we don’t have to perform all those rituals anymore.
But we are not to be lawless. We are still required to obey the Lord, and if we don’t obey the Lord, we do not have salvation from sin nor eternal life with God. This is taught all throughout the book of Romans and all throughout the New Testament writings. And with regard to works, the works of our flesh cannot save us, but our salvation is not absent of works. It is just that they are the works of God (of the Spirit) which God prepared in advance that we should walk in them. Works are still required under the New Covenant.
[Eph 2:8-10; 1 Co 15:58; 2 Co 9:8; Gal 5:6; Php 2:12-13; Col 1:9-14; 2 Thess 1:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:21; Tit 2:11-14; Jn 15:1-11; Tit 3:8; Jas 2:17; Lu 9:23-26; Gal 5:16-21; Gal 6:7-8; Rom 1:28-32; Rom 2:6-8; 1 Co 6:9-10; 2 Co 5:10; Eph 5:3-6; Col 1:21-23; Col 3:5-11; Rom 6:16; Rom 8:3-14; 1 Jn 1:5-9; 1 Jn 2:3-6; 1 Jn 3:4-10; Heb 10:26-31; 1 Pet 1:17-21; Jn 15:1-11; Rev. 2-3; Rev 18:1-6; Rev 21:8,27; Rev 22:14-15; Matt 7:21-23]
Also, yes, we are justified by God’s grace, through God-given faith, and this is a free gift from God. But “free” does not mean we are free to live however we want now that we are under grace and not under the Law of Moses. The Scriptures make that quite clear, especially in Romans 6. “Free” just means that Jesus paid the price for our sins so that we can be set free from our slavery to sin and so we can now be slaves of God and of his righteousness. So, if we remain living as slaves to sin, we have not received his free gift.
And regarding faith, well that faith comes from God, it is of God, and therefore it will submit to God and to his will for our lives. The Scriptures teach that God, in the Old Testament, regarded faith as obedience, and disobedience as unbelief, and then we are taught in the New Testament that he still sees faith in the same way. And the New Testament teaches that our faith is evidenced by what we do in obedience to our Lord.
[Eph 2:8-10; Heb 12:1-2; Jn 6:44; 2 Pet 1:1; 1 Co 10:1-22; Heb 3:1-19; Heb 4:1-13; Jn 8:51; Jn 14:15-24; Jn 15:10; Matt 7:21-23; 1 Jn 2:3-6,15-17; 1 Jn 3:4-10,24; 1 Jn 5:2-3; 2 Jn 1:6; Rom 6:16; Heb 5:9; 1 Pet 1:1-2; Jas 1:21-25]
Romans 3:27-31 ESV
“Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
So, we are not saved by our own good works. There is nothing we can do in the flesh to be approved by or to be acceptable to God. So, Jesus died on that cross to deliver us out of our slavery to sin, something we could not do in our own flesh, so that we would now, by his grace, become slaves of God and of his righteousness. We can’t do it! But God does it through us who are surrendered to him, who have died with him to sin, and who are now living through him and to him and to his righteousness, by his grace.
So, there is no boasting on our part. And that is because we can’t walk the Christian walk apart from God and apart from his grace and strength and power to live godly and holy lives, pleasing to him. It is only because of what Jesus did for us on that cross and through his resurrection that any of us can have salvation from sin and eternal life with God. But God’s promises have stipulations. They have requirements we must follow, but in his strength and power and under submission to him as Lord.
Okay, so here is the bottom line in all of this. We don’t become lawless now that we live by faith in Jesus Christ. By our lives, as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, we uphold God’s moral laws. We uphold the two greatest commandments to love God with our whole beings and to love our neighbors as ourselves. So, we don’t live in sin any longer. We don’t willfully do harm to others in the name of freedom and God’s grace. For if we do, the Scriptures teach we will not inherit eternal life with God.
So, if this is still confusing to you, or if you are now more confused than you were before, start reading in Romans verse by verse and then compare verse with verse, because in Romans 6 and 8, in particular, and in Romans 2, also, it is very clear that obedience to our Lord is required and that if we choose to walk in sin, according to the flesh, and we don’t walk according to the Spirit, in righteousness and holiness, then we will not have salvation from sin and eternal life with God.
So, just read the New Testament Scriptures in context and you will begin to see the big picture and not just fragments of it here and there.
Alfred H. Ackley
I serve a risen Saviour,
He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living,
Whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy,
I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him
He’s always near.
In all the world around me
I see His loving care,
And though my heart grows weary
I never will despair;
I know that He is leading
Thro’ all the stormy blast,
The day of His appearing
Will come at last.
Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian,
Lift up your voice and sing
To Jesus Christ the King!
The hope of all who seek Him,
The help of all who find,
None other is so loving,
So good and kind.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and He talks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives:
He lives within my heart.
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On the subject of the Sabbath: https://runwithit.blog/2020/03/21/our-sabbath-rest/