Justification and the Law
Introduction: After we learned last week that keeping the law has nothing to do with our salvation, Paul announced that this did not "nullify the law." Instead, we read that by this doctrine "we uphold the law."( Romans 3:31) On the face of it, that seems completely wrong. If the law has nothing to do with salvation, how does that uphold it? A mother says, "Son, your father had nothing to do with your birth or your upbringing." If you were the father would you think that "upheld" you? Of course not! Yet Paul teaches us that grace upholds the law. Let's dive into our study of Romans to see if we can follow Paul's continuing line of argument about grace and law!
- The Abraham Example
- Read Romans 4:1-3. Of all of the heroes of the Old Testament, who would you think the greatest?
- Who do you think the Jews of Jesus' time would consider to be the greatest? (Abraham was considered to be the father of the Jewish race. We say "Be like Jesus." They no doubt said, "Be like Abraham.")
- Does Paul leave open the possibility that Abraham was justified by his works? (Yes. Paul says "If ... Abraham was justified by works.")
- Let's consider Abraham's life a minute. The first time we see Abraham is when God calls him to leave his home and family and go somewhere. Abraham does it. Genesis 12:1-4; Hebrews 11:8. Later God tells Abraham to kill his son and Abraham obeys. Genesis 22. Is Abraham's life an example of faith, or is it just plain old obedience?
- Look again at Romans 4:3. Was it the strength of Abraham's faith that merited his righteousness?
- Is faith another kind of works?
- For example, 1 Maccabees 2:52 says "Was not Abraham found faithful in temptation, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness?" (KJV) Have we been focusing on the wrong kinds of works? Is Paul teaching us that the work of faith is most important? (Maybe this is why most Bibles do not include Maccabees.)
- What does Paul mean in Romans 4:2 when he says Abraham had nothing to boast about before God? (Abraham might be a lot more righteous than I am, but he was not as good as God.)
- Do we have to be as good as God? (Recall our lesson two weeks ago when we learned from Romans 3:10-18 that we are all rotten. Paul is arguing that whatever the standard is, even a great saint like Abraham cannot meet it. No human can meet God's perfect standard.)
- What does this suggest about the idea of faith being another type of works? (Whatever the type of work that might be required of us, no one can meet the perfect standard - not even Abraham.)
- Read Romans 4:4-8. What does this suggest about the idea of our level of faith meriting our salvation? (Paul writes about the man "who trusts God" and says that he is the opposite of the man who earns his wages. This seems to eliminate the idea that faith is some sort of accomplishment. The phrase "whose sins are covered" suggests a person who needs help, not one who has merited anything.)
- Friend, would you like your sins covered?
- Faith and Law
- For just a little bit, let's turn to another letter from Paul. Read Galatians 3:21-22. Can the law give us life? (No.)
- What does the law make us? (Prisoners of sin.)
- Read Galatians 3:23-25. If Paul is right that the law has not been nullified, that it is upheld by faith, what role does the law have? (It leads us to Jesus.)
- How do you explain this?
- While I was writing the prior section of this lesson, a member of the faculty talked to me about my reports about how I drive my car. He told me that my stories showed that I was not "turning the other cheek" in the way I drive. He confronted me and I was convicted of my sins! This is the role of the law.
- Look again at Galatians 3:25. If the role of the law is to confront us, what does Paul mean when he says "we are no longer under the supervision of the law?" (A supervisor rewards or punished those under him. For believers, the law does not determine the penalty for our sins. We have a way to cover our sins and have them forgiven outside of the law. That way is through faith in Jesus.)
- Faith Before Sinai
- Read Romans 4:13-15. When were the Ten Commandments given? (Exodus 19 and 20 show us that they were given during the Exodus from Egypt at Mount Sinai.)
- When did Abraham live? (Hundreds of years before the Exodus.)
- Read Genesis 12:1-3. Did the Ten Commandments exist at this time? (No.)
- What is Paul's point about the timing of the Ten Commandments and God's promise to Abraham? (God's promise to Abraham was not dependent upon Abraham keeping the Ten Commandments. God's promise was simply that - a promise. Abraham believed God's promise.)
- This is fine for Abraham. But, we live after the Ten Commandments have been given. Does God promise us salvation whether or not we keep the Ten Commandments?
- Read Romans 4:16-17. Are we Abraham's offspring? (Yes. We might say in some sense we are the "law" generation, although Paul was referring to Jews as being Abraham's descendants in the law.)
- What impact does that have on us regarding grace? (The promise of God came to Abraham by faith and it comes to us, Abraham's children, the same way. The fact that we live after the Ten Commandments were given does not alter the fact that we are saved by faith.)
- Read Romans 4:18-21. Would you say that Abraham did not weaken in his faith about the promise of a son? (Review Genesis 17:15-18. Paul gives a more positive spin to Abraham's faith that I would based on the Genesis account.)
- Read Romans 4:22-25. What does Paul say that Abraham's experience has to teach us? (Righteousness comes to us just as it came to Abraham - by faith. If we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that Jesus died for our sins, then we are righteous.)
- What should we conclude about the cracks that we see in Abraham's faith? (What a blessing that is. If God views my wavering faith with the same optimistic view as Abraham's faith, I am blessed!)
- Friend, the law condemns us. The law gives us death. Jesus died because of what the law would require of us. Thus, the great thing about the law is that it drives us to God. The great gulf between what the law requires and my sinful self convicts me that my only hope is grace. If you, too, are convicted, why not repent of your sins right now and ask Jesus to give you grace?
- Next week: Expounding the Faith.