Copyright © 2011, John W. (Jack) Carter. All
Up to this point in his letter to the Christian fellowship in Rome, Paul has indicated quite vividly the unrighteousness of man and his desperate need for forgiveness. He reminds us that God has revealed Himself, and His attribute of holiness, to every man, both through the person and testimony of Jesus, the person and testimony of the Holy Spirit, through creation, through circumstances, and in other ways. He has also created us with an innate understanding of our own unholiness. When left to our own choice, we always and without exception, fall short of perfection because of our inability to live a life that is without sin. The knowledge of good and evil, given to man and illustrated through the Genesis narrative concerning Adam and Eve, lifts us beyond the innocence of other created beings who cannot know God. Bereft of innocence, we are responsible for our choices, and we all stand guilty when those choices do not stand up to Godís model of perfection. Consequently, we simply do not have the capacity within ourselves to lead a sinless life, and only a sinless life will stand without condemnation under the judgment of a perfect, eternal, and holy God. Without the intervention of God, Himself, all of mankind is without any hope of an eternity that is free from torment, forever separated from Godís love and influence.
However, the good news, the gospel, is that there is hope. Paul introduces Godís plan, an effective and permanent remedy for the condemnation that accompanies all acts of sin. This concept, even in itself alone, was an extremely difficult and controversial doctrine for the Jew. When we observe the sacrificial system of the Old Testament we come away with one simple truth: the rites of sacrifice were applied to atone only for sins of error. This type of sin is sometimes referred to as ďmissing the mark,Ē in the Greek, hamartia, hamartia, ham-arí-tee-ah. The idea is that the individual is sincerely and intentionally aiming for the target of righteousness, but simply misses the goal, much like one would miss the bullís eye on a dart-board. However, Paul uses a different word to refer to a different type of sin: sins of choice. There was no ancient sacrificial rite of atonement for any sin of simple rebellion: choosing to ignore Godís Word and do as one wishes. Using the dart-board metaphor, this might be understood as failure to even aim at the target, purposefully and willfully shooting the dart in a direction of our own choosing. To the Jew there was no effective sacrifice for hamartema, hamartema, ham-ar'-tay-mah: a sin of choice. This is why Jesus created so much controversy by stating to the lame man, ďYour sins are forgiven,Ē when He used the word for sins of choice. The Jews believed that once a person was defiled by such sin there was no possible atoning sacrifice. The sinner relied entirely on the forgiveness of God, alone. The Jews understood that only God could forgive such sins. At least in this regard, their doctrine was correct.
The message of the gospel is that God has provided a means for forgiveness that cannot be attained through any sacrifice that man can offer. God has promised to simply forgive those who place their faith and trust fully in Him. When this form of faith is exercised by an individual, God becomes their Savior and LORD. He is their Savior because He has saved them from eternal condemnation, and His is their LORD because faith and trust takes place only when one fully submits to Him as LORD. Though satan and his minions believe the truth about the nature and character of Jesus, they do not hold Jesus as either Savior or LORD. The sacrifice that would atone for all sins, both missing the mark and sins of choice, was paid by God, Himself, when Jesus bore those sins on the Cross of Calvary.
RIGHTEOUSNESS: NOT BY THE LAW.
Romans 3:27-38. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Without a concept of grace, the Jew could not understand the concept of righteousness outside of the Law of Moses. The only hope for a Jew was to be found righteous through the keeping of the Law, and many Jews fully believed that by keeping some of the primary or selected tenets of the Law they stood proudly, fully righteous before God and man. However there was a frustrating hypocrisy that accompanied this belief: the Jews, including those who strutted with self-righteous pride, knew that any infraction of any small part of the law was considered breaking the whole law, and would deem them as unrighteous and unacceptable to God. Consequently, all Jews, claiming righteousness under the Mosaic Law, truly knew in their heart that could never keep all of the Law. Even people today who honestly consider their own attitudes and actions, considering themselves better than others, will confess that they are imperfect and are stained by sin.
The Jew knew, just like us, that he/she did not live up to the purity and righteousness that God demands. Consequently, those of Jewish heritage probably felt very frustrated. The Law condemned him and he had no recourse. Consequently, Paul's message in these verses is quite important to the Jew: God had set forth a plan for righteousness apart from the Law: faith.
If salvation is found through faith and not through works of the flesh, there is no mechanism for boasting. If one were saved by works, one could attain great pride in their accomplishment. However, God did the work of salvation on the Cross of Calvary. All man has to do to be found righteous before God is turn to Him in sincere faith. A powerless child can turn to God in faith. A man/woman of great wealth and power can turn to God in faith. Faith nullifies the opportunity to boast.
Some Christians today use an extreme version of the doctrine of election and try to side-step the requirement of faith by claiming that they were ďchosenĒ by God, apart from faith. Its adherents can stand and proudly say, ďI was chosen!Ē and despise those who they deem as unchosen. This misunderstanding of 2 Thessalonians 2:13 stands in disagreement of the message of faith that permeates the entire biblical text. Likewise, many of the Jews believed that as Godís ďchosen people,Ē they had exclusive access to righteousness, leaving them to despise the Gentile as unclean. Godís plan of salvation was always by faith, as He demonstrated through the faith of Abel, Noah, and Abraham, who predate the Law.
Romans 3:29-31. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: 30Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. 31Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
If salvation is found apart from the Law, Jewish heritage and practice are not a necessity for salvation. It is no surprise that the Jews would have a great amount of difficulty embracing such a doctrine. However, it may be instructive to understand that Godís plan of salvation was always based upon faith. The purpose of the Law was to expose sin, to show the people the character of a life that seeks after God in faith. It was the Jewish leadership and culture that gave their own purpose to the Law, regarding it as the authority in their lives rather than God. By doing so, they reduced faith in God to a an-made system requiring adherence to religious rites and practices. They replaced faith in oneís heart with works of the flesh as the means of finding righteousness.
Faith does not do away with the Law when we remember the Mosaic Lawís intended purpose. Salvation by faith fulfills the purpose of the Law. To those who reject Godís offer of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, the Law exposes them as law-breakers and subject to Godís ultimate judgment. To those who have placed their faith in Him, the Law has become in a broader sense the basis for Godís Word that He has placed in their hearts. The written Law describes faith. The indwelling Law gives meaning and direction to faith. A Christian can listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to discern Godís purpose and plan in all events of life, making it unnecessary to search the Mosaic Law to determine what constituted godliness in ancient times and attempt to apply it to a vastly changed world. The experience of salvation fulfills the purpose of the Law for both the Jew and Gentile.
A Jew might be relieved to know the charade is over. He knows he is a sinner, his sin is finally exposed and can do something about it. We are all familiar with:
Romans 3:23. For all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God.
This should be a toolbox verse, familiar to every Christian. We should all know it, since it can be the starting point for sharing our faith. One cannot convince another of their need for Jesus if they are unaware of their lost, unrighteous, state. What do you say to the person who says, "I've led a pretty good life. When God weighs my good against my bad, the good will win out, and God will accept me."? We may compare ourselves to others, but since all have sinned, there is no person to compare ourselves to. God does not compare us to others. God compares us to the purity of the sinless Son of God, and against His standard of perfection we all fail.
When one comes to the LORD in faith, they are justified freely by His work of grace. To be justified is to be accepted by God as if one had never sinned. This one verse describes in considerable detail and accuracy what God has done for us. He, because He loved us, provided a way where He would forgive our sins in a way that we cannot purchase through any price, sacrifice, or effort of labor. Solely because God chose to do so, He provided redemption (buying back from sin) for those who place their faith in Him. If we could work our way to acceptance by God we would do so, engendering the pride we could build by becoming successful in the endeavor. Consequently, there is no place for pride when salvation comes without effort, because we have not done anything that cannot also be done by every living person on this planet. Another toolbox verse is Ephesians 2:8-9:
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Paul does not teach that salvation replaces or nullifies the Law. Salvation illuminates the meaning of the Law that then lives within each Christian as a dynamic paraclete, speaking to us continually, illuminating all of our circumstances with the word and wisdom of God. The imbedded Law abides within us. James referred to the law in this form as the "Law of Liberty," a gospel truth that sets the Christian free from the Mosaic Lawís condemnation.
RIGHTEOUSNESS: NOT BY WORKS.
Romans 4:1-8. What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 6Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
James was speaking here to those who were familiar with Jewish history, and through the example of Abraham provides one of the best defenses for the impotency of the Law to save ever given. Jewish tradition held that Abraham was righteous, and yet his life predated the Mosaic law. It was almost 400 years from the time that Abraham was given the covenant, to when Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt into the promised land, providing them with the Law during the journey. James quotes from Genesis 15:6Ö
Genesis 15:6. Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
If the Jew considered the Law to be the way to righteousness, how could he argue the point when faced with this truth? Hebrews, Chapter 11, often referred to as the Hall of Fame of Faith, reiterates this same argument, mentioning many in the history of Israel who's righteousness was very obviously demonstrated by their faith apart from the Law. James also quotes Genesis 15:6, stating that Abrahamís faith was counted as righteousness rather than any work of the flesh.
If this is true, salvation by faith in God first become available to Adam & Eve... the first persons who God breathed the breath of life, a spirit, into. It was their sin of rebellion against God that separated them from Him. Neither Adam or Eve had faith in God when they were cast from the Garden of Eden. Able demonstrated faith in God whereas his brother, Cain rebelled against God and killed his faithful brother. Godís plan of righteousness dates from when He breathed life into Adam and Eve.
Likewise, David was a man of faith: a man who found forgiveness for his sins of choice, not through the Law, and not through sacrifice, but through his faith relationship with God.
RIGHTEOUSNESS: NOT BY CIRCUMCISION
Romans 4:9-12. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. 10How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. 11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: 12And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
The Jew, following a strict interpretation of the Mosaic Law, held to the necessity of circumcision as a primary work of righteousness. The Jew was so adamant of this requirement that one faced the death penalty for entering the Temple uncircumcised. The testimony of Genesis 15:6, declaring the righteousness of Abraham, took place before the command for circumcision was given. Paul notes that Abraham was not deemed righteous by virtue of circumcision, but rather, circumcision was simply a symbol for the faith he already had. Consequently, Paul also denies that circumcision is required for salvation, and by so doing opens the door of salvation to the non-Jew, declaring that the LORD never intended His plan of salvation be given only to the Jew. In fact, God had intended that the Jews would have served him as a nation of priests who declare His goodness to the whole world, clearly identifying Godís original purpose of salvation for both Jew and non-Jew alike.
The doctrine that people who lived prior to the crucifixion of Jesus were saved by the Law is equally ignorant. People were always saved by faith in God through the power of the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit that moved over the face of the waters at creation; the same Spirit that David begged God not to remove from him when he sinned against Bathsheba and her husband when he understood that no sacrifice could atone for his sin of choice.
RIGHTEOUSNESS: BY FAITH ALONE.
Romans 4:13-16. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: 15Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. 16Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.
Paul reminds the Jews that the law did not exist when Abraham demonstrated his faith in God and was blessed for it. Consequently, when God promised that Abraham would be the father of a great nation and through that nation the world will be blessed, He was not referring to an inheritance based upon the law. Godís promise to Abraham is not intended for the faithless, even if they are blood descendents of Abraham. Godís promise was not given to Abraham based upon his keeping of a law that would not be written for another 400 years. The promise was given to Abraham and those who would follow his example of faith.
Paul also notes the inefficacy of the law as a basis for Godís blessing. If being defined as an heir of Abraham is based upon the law, then there would be no need for faith. Since no person can keep the law, there would be no hope for anyone since the law would serve only to convict everyone of their unrighteousness. In this truth we find the true purpose of the Law: to point to the need for faith.
Finally, Paul insists that the seed of Abraham is, therefore, those who have placed their faith in God, both Jew and Gentile, alike. Consequently, the church, the body of the faithful, are the true sons and daughters of Abraham.
RIGHTEOUSNESS: AVAILABLE TO ALL PEOPLE.
Romans 4:17-22. (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. 18Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. 19And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarahís womb: 20He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
In this segment of verses, Paul first quotes from Gen 17:5. Godís promise was that Abraham was to be the father of many nations, a promise that clearly was a part of Jewish teaching. However, the entire community of the Jews only represent a single nation, Israel. Godís promise to Abraham would never be fulfilled if He had intended the blessing to only be handed down to Israel. Godís intention was that the blessing start in Israel and spread from there to many nations. Jesusí command to the disciples before He ascended was to spread the good news to all nations.
Abraham's life was one big oxymoron, and such a form is used in the beginning of verse 18. The name ďAbrahamĒ literally means, ďExalted father.Ē God referred to Abraham as exalted Father when he actually had no children. How could he be the father of many nations when he had no children, and had no seeming possibility of having any? It must have seemed impossible to Abraham that God would fulfill his promise, yet he fully believed and had confidence that God would do as He promised.
Abraham received the fruit of the promise in a more complete way than He could ever imagine, for he has the eternal knowledge that he, indeed, was the father of many nations; and also the father of the very Messiah through whom the entire world would be blessed. Though Abraham made poor choices, and tried to take shortcuts for God (c.f. Ishmael & Hagar) at the bidding of his wife, Sarah, he maintained his faith in God through this difficult time. He was always persuaded that God had the power to do what he promised.
RIGHTEOUSNESS: FOUND THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST.
Romans 4:23-25. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
According to these verses, then, Abraham was considered righteous, that is, acceptable to God, by virtue of his faith in God. Again, that word for righteous refers to one who's sins have been forgiven and is found perfect in the eyes of God. Paul then clearly states that the same plan of salvation that was promised to Abraham is promised to all who place their faith and trust in God, a God whose plan included sending His Son to (1) present His plan of salvation, (2) serve as the sacrificial Lamb of God on the Cross of Calvary to atone for the sins of the faithful, (3) and be visibly resurrected to show us the truth of the Gospel that through Him, and only Him, forgiveness is found.
Mat 7:21. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."
People all around the world have created their own definitions of their preferred deities, gods, and philosophers. Many give lordship to their deities who go by many names including ďGod.Ē However, Godís will is that people will place their faith and trust in Him, on His terms: terms that include His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. There is simply no other way to find forgiveness for our unrighteousness. One could accurately say that every religion and world philosophy will bring its people to God. Paul states this to the church in Philippi:
Philippians 2:10-11. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Though all religions will bring its people to the throne of God, only those who have been covered by the shed blood of Jesus Christ will find themselves standing before God forgiven of their unrighteousness.
This study has made it very evident that God has given us the opportunity to be forgiven if we will just respond in faith to Him. He provided this forgiveness through the atoning death of Messiah Jesus on the Cross who, in dying, paid the penalty for our sin if we will put our faith and trust in Him.
How do we put our faith in Jesus? We must go beyond simply believing everything about Jesus is true. Satan knows all truth. We must place our trust in Him, looking to Him as our sole true authority, our LORD. Once we make that choice, God will fulfill His promise, sealed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Our lives will never be the same again. Eternity will be forever sealed.
 Luke 5:20, Matthew 9:2, Mark 2:5, and again of the woman in Luke 7:48.
 James 2:19.
 James 2:23. See also Galatians 3:6.
 Paulís Roman imprisonment was directly related to an accusation brought upon him by the Jerusalem Jews, charging him with bringing an uncircumcised man (Timothy, who actually was circumcised) into the temple.
 Exodus 19:6.
 Acts 1:9, ff.
 James 2:19.