We oftentimes talk about the fact that God’s ways are not our ways. There is hardly a more glaring example of this than the Scripture that we will take a look at this morning. Let’s read our Scripture from Romans 3:27-31 and then we will see what we can learn.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:27-31 NIV)
In our Scripture for today Paul addresses three questions: First of all, he asks, “What room is there for boasting?” The second question Paul raises is, “Is God the God of the Jews only?” The last question that he raises is, “Does salvation by grace nullify the Law?”
To understand these questions, and the context of the questions, we have to remember what we have covered in our last lesson. The verses that we will study today are transitional verses that will take us from what we have just learned into what we are about to learn in the coming weeks.
In Romans 3:21-26 we learned that God’s plan for the salvation of those who are lost, which, if you will remember, includes all of us, is a righteousness that comes solely, exclusively from God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Salvation, the restoration of our lives to God, is not dependent upon our good actions, our standing in society, our moral superiority over others, or anything else that we might deem to be praiseworthy by God.
In response to this Paul asks, “Where, then, is boasting?” What is it that you and I can brag about in relation to our relationship with God if our salvation has come about solely because of what God has done? That is a tough pill for us to swallow isn’t it? We like to brag. We like to find some thing, some way, to elevate ourselves above those around us don’t we? Our entire society is based upon finding a competitive edge on our “opponents.” And who are our opponents? Those around us that we are trying to look better than of course!
We see it all the time on the field of competition. In the world of athletics the aim of the game is to be better than everyone else. Truth is, it’s not just the world of athletics that lends itself to this kind of talk. We find all kinds of ways to make sure the world knows that we are superior in one way or another. “My money is bigger than your money.” “My beauty is more stunning than your beauty.” “My I.Q. is higher than your I.Q.” We need to make sure somebody knows that we are special, that we are better, that we’ve got what it takes to stand head-and-shoulders above the crowd. C.S. Lewis once wrote,
There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others. The vice I am talking about is Pride. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1958, p. 94.)
There is one area of boasting that I’ve not addressed yet, but which must be talked about, especially among this crowd this morning. Those who are followers of Jesus Christ have forgotten the lessons of Scripture and fallen into the same trap that the rest of our society has fallen into. We may not boast that we are bigger, faster, stronger, smarter, or richer, but boy do we make sure that everyone around us knows that we are more righteous than the average Joe or Jane. We go to church. We say our prayers. We read our Bible. We may even tithe. We don’t watch “R” rated movies. We only watch Christian television and listen to Christian radio. We don’t go to the clubs on Friday night. We do all of this while our neighbors sleep in on Sunday morning, cuss like sailors, drink like fish, smoke like trains, and spend all of their money on themselves. God must be proud of us don’t you think? This is the same mindset that Jesus condemned in Luke 18 in the parable that He told about the Pharisee, the religious leader, and the despised tax collector. Jesus said,
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men– robbers, evildoers, adulterers– or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14 NIV)
If we really understood the lessons that Paul has been teaching us about God’s grace and mercy then we would recognize that we do not have one thing to boast about. Paul certainly understood this fact. In Philippians 3, Paul wrote about the fact that if anybody had reason to put confidence in themselves then he certainly did. He then went on to list his credentials and they were impressive. He was of the right pedigree, he had all of the degrees that a person could ever hope to have, he had achieved more than any of his peers, and yet he wrote,
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:7-9 NIV)
Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus and his life was changed. What he was, what he prided himself in, was no longer of any concern to Him. Paul’s passion was single-minded from that day forwarded. He wanted to know the Lord. He hungered for more and more of Jesus. He recognized that what God had done in his life had nothing to do with Paul’s potential, but it had everything to do with God’s grace. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:27-31.
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things– and the things that are not– to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God– that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-31 NIV)
This mindset permeated Paul’s thinking. That is why he wrote about what God had done in his life over and over again. In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul wrote,
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)
“Where, then, is boasting?” I hope that by now you have come to the conclusion that there is no room for boasting, no room for bragging, and no place for trying to draw attention to ourselves at all. If you are a follower of Jesus, if God has opened your eyes to the wonder of His grace and mercy, if you have turned from living life on your terms and are now seeking to live for His glory, then you must recognize that it is His work that is going on in you. What a mighty, gracious God we serve!
The second question that Paul raises in our Scripture for today is, “Is God the God of the Jews only?” In Romans 3:29-30, Paul wrote,
29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. (Romans 3:29-30 NIV)
The thought that God might only be the God of the Jews seems preposterous to us today, but if you lived in the first century and were familiar with the Jewish people then you would better understand. Paul has already mentioned in his letter to the Romans that the Jews have a unique relationship to God. In Romans 3:1-2 he wrote,
1 What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2 Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. (Romans 3:1-2 NIV)
Was there an advantage in being a Jew? Paul says, “Yes!” What was the advantage? They were entrusted with the Word of God. Later, in Romans 9:4-5, Paul writes,
4 …Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (Romans 9:4-5 NIV)
The Jews are God’s chosen people. We’ve talked about that in weeks past as we’ve studied Romans, but God is not the God of the Jews only, He is God over all, and of all. He is the God of the Jews and the Gentiles. “Gentiles” covers everyone who is not a Jew.
In verse 30, Paul says that there is only one God and that He justifies both the circumcised (Jews) and the uncircumcised (Gentiles) through the same faith. One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the Jews in the ancient world was the fact that they believed in one God, they were monotheists. In Deuteronomy 6:4, what is known to the Jews as the “Shema,” we read, 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4 NIV) This belief in one God was far different than the beliefs of the Jew’s neighbors. James Montgomery Boice points out in his commentary on this passage that in Athens there were more gods than there were people in the city. It was not just the Greeks who had a myriad of gods. In Romans 2:22-23, Paul wrote about the Gentiles,
22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:22-23 NIV)
There is one God and that one God has provided one way of salvation for all of the people of the world, Jew and Gentile. This belief is an affront to the people of our society today. If you choose to openly share this belief with others then you had better prepare yourself to be called every name in the book. You will be called narrow-minded, self-righteous, bigoted, a fundamentalist, religious zealot, and closed-minded just to name a few.
I know why some people get so agitated and angry at this biblical teaching. We want to be able to believe whatever we want to believe. There are thousands of so-called gods that we can choose from in the buffet line of religion today. We have good friends who believe differently than we do and they are “good” people. We love them. We like to believe that we live in a more advanced society, a more tolerant society, a more accepting society than those societies that were in existence before we ever arrived on the planet. To try and make room for every belief system we have come up with an idea that embraces all faiths. Let me explain it to you as it was explained to me while I was in seminary. Here it goes. God is at the top of the mountain. There are many roads which can get you to the top of the mountain. There is Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and thousands of other lesser known religions. All of these religions are roads that you and I can travel to get us to the top of the mountain, or to God. You and I just have to make sure that we are true to the path that we are on.
Sounds good doesn’t it? This idea seems to make room for all of us regardless of which faith we embrace. The idea may sound good, but it is full of pot holes. The most glaring problem that I see in the analogy is that God alone is God. He alone determines which “road” leads to life and a right relationship with Himself. He does not leave “road construction” up to us. We can’t determine our path–He is the Road Builder.
The second problem that I see is that we assume all of the possible “roads” believe similar things. That assumption could not be further from the truth. Have you considered that Buddhism is not a theistic religion? Gautama Buddha didn’t found a religion, he developed a way of living which was essentially a practical guide to bring about ethical and meditative discipline in a person’s life. Did you know that Hinduism is not a monotheistic religion? There are many gods in Hinduism that you can choose to worship? Did you know that Islam considers Jesus as merely a prophet, and not even the best prophet that God ever provided for His people? Jesus was not born of a virgin, He did not rise from the grave, and He is not God to the Muslim. How can anyone in their right mind possibly consider that these diverse religious systems are all seeking the same thing? I’m also wondering which “road” an atheist would choose when they don’t want anything to do with God?
I would suggest to you that rather than being narrow-minded or bigoted, God’s way of salvation is the most all-encompassing and inclusive of all possibilities. Paul says that there is one God who justifies the Jew and the Gentile, the Jew and all of the rest of the people of the world. One God, one way, for all people! The man who lives in Great Britain, Guatemala, or Guthrie, the woman who is living in Iraq, Indonesia, or Idabel, the little boy who is living in squalor, and the little girl who is living in the lap of luxury–there is one way, and only one way for each and every one of them to come to God and it is through faith in Jesus. There are no short-cuts for the privileged. There are no quota systems. There are no exemptions. There is one way to God and His name is Jesus. The way of salvation is open to those who will trust in Jesus, all of those who will trust in Jesus. The way is wide open for the Muslim to come to God, but it isn’t through Mohammed, it is through Jesus. The way is open for the Buddhist to come to God, but it isn’t through seeking Nirvana, it is through Jesus. The way is open for the rich to come to God, but it isn’t through writing a check, it is having your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. The way is open for the poor to come to God, but it isn’t through a government program, it is through Jesus. The way is open for all people–will you come to Jesus? God told Abram that He would bless Him and that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3) All of the peoples of the earth have been blessed as God has sent His Son, but we must come to Jesus.
The last question that Paul raises in the Scripture that we are studying this morning is found in Romans 3:31. Take a look at it with me.
31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31 NIV)
A few weeks ago we talked about how Paul used a very popular method of dialogue used by philosophers in the ancient world. The method is called a “diatribe.” In using this method the speaker would raise the arguments that his listeners were forming in their minds and provide the answer himself before his opponents had time to speak. Paul uses the diatribe here in verse 31 when he asks the question, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”
You have to know that the Jewish listeners were taking in all that Paul had written and wondering if he was calling for the abolition of the law. Was Paul saying that it was ok to live a lawless life? Why would they have wondered these questions? Well, based upon what Paul had already written I can sure see why any law abiding Jew would wonder if this was what Paul was calling for. In Romans 3:20, Paul wrote,
20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:20 NIV)
Paul says that nobody will be declared righteous by God by keeping the law. We are not made right with God because we refrain from murder, adultery, or lying. Then, in the next verse, Paul writes,
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. (Romans 3:21 NIV)
Paul says that a righteousness apart from the law has been made known. He even goes so far as to say that the Jewish prophets and the Law itself testified to this fact. The Jews believed, like many people today believe, that we are made right with God by doing right. We, and they, have it all wrong. We are made right with God by God’s grace alone.
The Jews of Paul’s day jumped to the conclusion that Paul was calling for the abolition of righteous living when in fact Paul was saying that we will only be able to live the life that God has called us to live once we have been made right with God.
Paul answers his question, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?” with the statement, “Not at all!” Paul is emphatic in making it crystal clear that we uphold the law. What then is the purpose of the law? Paul will write later in Romans that the law makes us aware that we are sinners. Paul writes,
7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” (Romans 7:7 NIV)
How would you know that you are speeding if there weren’t a sign on the side of the road that read, “Speed Limit 35?” The law makes us aware of sin, it shows us that we cannot keep the law in all of its requirements no matter how hard we try. The law shows us that we are desperately in need of a Savior who can impart His righteousness to us and empower us by His Spirit to live a godly life. Paul wrote to the Galatians and said,
24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24 NIV)
The law, when taken seriously, will lead you and me to a desperate place where we know that we can’t do it, that we are doomed unless God does something to remedy our situation. The good news is that once we come to that desperate place the Lord will open our eyes to what He has already done for us in Jesus.
Paul says that he “upholds” the law. What does this mean? As we have already discussed the law has its purpose and its purpose remains to this day. There is another aspect of this upholding the law that we need to recognize this morning. In Matthew 22 we read that “an expert in the law” came to Jesus and asked a question.
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40 NIV)
Now there were Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Jews took those Ten Commandments and broke them down into 613 laws. Jesus says that all of these laws are fulfilled in two commands–love the Lord with all of your heart and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Jesus has a way of simplifying things doesn’t He? Yet, we can’t even keep those two commands on our own. We can’t, but Christ living in us can produce within us what we can’t produce in and of ourselves. Paul wrote to the Galatians and told them that the byproduct of having the Spirit at work in our lives is…
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)
Can you see that apart from Jesus living in us we will never embody any of these qualities of a godly life on a consistent basis. God gives us His Spirit to indwell us and begin His work of sanctification. He is changing us. You and I may not be the people that God has called us to be, but He is working on us. I see how the Lord is working in your life and I pray that you see how the Lord is working in my life. I want to know the peace that surpasses all understanding. I want others to see the agape love of God at work in my life for my friends and my enemies. I want to see the kindness of God at work in your life as you trust Jesus more and more each day. I want the world to see the faithfulness of God embodied in our lives as we serve the Lord from day to day. I’ve lived long enough to know that these things are impossible for me to cultivate in my life, but they are available to me if I will only surrender my life on a daily basis to the Lord.
I want to encourage you this morning to surrender your life, surrender your prejudices, lay aside your pride, your preconceived notions, and place your faith in Jesus. He is God’s provision for you and me. He alone can lead you to the righteous life that God desires for you to live. Won’t you invite Jesus into your life today?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 6, 2013