Justification by Faith Establishes the Law
From Gospel Translations
Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. 31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.
Nullifying an Important Truth?
Our focus today is on verse 31, "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law." Where did this question come from: "Do we then nullify the Law?" Why did he ask this? Someone must have been thinking that Paul was doing this - nullifying the Law.
O, how many times this happens in serious theological discussion! You take a stand on some truth and someone says, "Oh, but if you believe that, then you can't believe this. You are nullifying this truth to hold that other truth." Someone has been taught, perhaps, that if you believe in the sovereignty of God in conversion, then you must nullify human accountability to believe. So they say, "You are nullifying human accountability." Or, if you say you believe in the providence of God over all things - from the turning of hairs white or black to the fall of every bird from the sky - someone will say, "Then you are nullifying prayer - why pray if God rules all things so completely?"
But just because someone cannot see how two truths can fit together doesn't mean they may not fit together. So it is here in this text. Someone is saying, "Paul you are nullifying the Law. What you teach is abolishing the Law of God." Paul does not agree with this. But before we see why, we need to ask, What causes the question to come up? Why would anyone accuse Paul of nullifying the Law?
Why Might it Seem that Paul is Nullifying God's Law?
That is not hard to see. Let's just go back, say, to Romans 3:20 and collect a few of his statements that would possibly lead someone to this conclusion. In verse 20 he says, "By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." So he says that no one will be justified by doing the commandments of the Law like, "Be circumcised" and "Do no work on the Sabbath" and "Don't steal or kill or lie or commit adultery." No sinner can get right with God by doing the "works of the Law."
Then in verse 21 Paul says, "Now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested." God's righteousness is given to us "freely by grace" (verse 24) through Christ apart from the law of commandments. Commandment-keeping is not how we gain a right standing with God.
Then look at verse 27, "Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a Law of faith." So again the "law of works" seems to Paul to be negative. It can't get rid of boasting. Only a "Law of faith" can get rid of boasting. So what positive role is left for the Law?
Then notice verse 28, "We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." There it is again. Paul is not satisfied to say the positive - "a man is justified by faith" - he insists on saying the negative also - "apart from works of the Law." This is what is getting his critics upset. He says the Law can't set us right with God. We get right with God by faith "apart from works of the Law."
Now, with that kind of context, when we get to verse 31 and he asks, "Do we then nullify the Law through faith?", we really are not surprised that someone pressed this question on Paul. "Paul, you keep saying that a person gets right with God - gets justified - by faith apart from 'works of the Law,' and that the 'law of works' can't overcome boasting. So it seems to us that you are virtually nullifying the Law. You are saying that all those commandments in the moral law of God have no authority and may be safely ignored by God's people. You are, it seems, calling for a lawless people."
May it Never Be!
That is what Paul is responding to here. Is it true? Paul answers, "May it never be!" Absolutely not. That is not what I am doing. You may think that, but you must think more. Don't jump to conclusions. Follow me to the end of the argument. Don't press your assumptions on my argument without hearing me out. I am not nullifying the Law when I preach justification by faith alone apart from works of the Law.
In fact, he goes on and says, "On the contrary, we establish the Law." This is remarkable. He turns the table on his critics. He says, "Not only do we not nullify the Law when we teach justification by faith alone apart from works of the Law, but we establish the Law when we teach this. Justification by faith alone, apart from works of the Law, does not knock the Law down, it stands the Law up. Getting right with God by faith, not works, establishes the Law.
Now what does that mean? I think it means that what the moral law of God requires of us, we will do, if we pursue it by faith, as those who are already justified, and not by works, in order to be justified. If we get right with God first by faith alone, and then live in that freedom of love and acceptance and justification, we will be changed from the inside out and will begin to love the very things the moral law requires so that they become established in our lives - not as works of merit, but as the fruit of faith (I Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11) and the fruit of the Spirit.
Ascend the Tracks of the Roller Coaster
Now before I show you why I think this is what it means, let me put it in a picture for you. Children, you listen closely here, because you know about roller coasters better than I do. Suppose that you are standing on the tracks of a roller coaster at the very bottom of one of the deepest dips with a three-hundred-foot tall incline in front of you, almost straight up. At the top you see the roller coaster cars perched and ready to go down the other side of the incline. And suppose someone - call him Mr. Moses - says, "Ascend those tracks. Go up to the top of this roller coaster hill on these tracks." And suppose he says, "If you get in the roller coaster at the top, you will ride all afternoon with all the momentum you need to keep you going."
So you start to climb the tracks, hand over hand, plank by plank, between the rails, when suddenly you hear another man - call him Mr. Paul - saying, "Wait, don't do that. These tracks and planks aren't made for climbing like that. Come over here on the ground and listen to my advice." Now at this point, certain bystanders might interrupt and say, "Hey, Mr. Moses said they must 'ascend these tracks' - that's his law. He said, 'Go up to the top of this roller coaster hill on these tracks.' Now here you are telling them to get off the tracks and come to you on the ground. You are going to ruin their afternoon. You are nullifying Mr. Moses' law."
Be Lifted to the Top
But Mr. Paul says, "No, no. That's not what is happening. Come I will show you. We are not canceling Mr. Moses' law, we are fulfilling it - the only way it can be fulfilled." Then he points you to a crane with a long cable and a harness at the end of the cable. And he points to a man sitting way up in the cab of this crane probably 400 feet in the air. He waves and smiles. And Mr. Paul says, "Let me put this harness on you. And if you will trust the man in the cab and the cable and the harness, he will lift you all the way up and put you in the roller coaster car. I promise you it is much safer this way."
So you consider, and then you trust him and he lifts you in the harness all the way up and puts you in the roller coaster. Then the roller coaster starts to roll. As it builds speed on the descent, you feel not only the force of gravity, but a tremendous surge of power kick in on the ascent. You go all the way around the roller coaster circuit and then you come down into the dip where you had been standing and where you had started to climb. You hit the bottom of that dip doing about eighty miles an hour and surge up the very rails you thought you had to climb. And you keep on going.
You look down and you see Mr. Moses and Mr. Paul with their arms on each other's shoulders like the best of friends, smiling as if there never had been any tension at all.
The Law is a Track, not a Ladder
Now what's the point? The point is that when Mr. Moses said, "Ascend these tracks . . . Go up to the top of this roller coaster hill on these tracks," he meant what he said. That's what the Law requires. But it wasn't his idea that you would try to climb them hand over hand, plank by plank. That's not what the planks are for. This is not a ladder with railings to climb. This is track for power to ride. So it is with the moral law in the Old Testament. It isn't meant to give a ladder for climbing, but a track for riding in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So when Mr. Paul came along and said, "Don't climb those tracks to the top. Come over here to this harness," some thought he was saying, "Leave the law of Mr. Moses; nullify the path of the commandments." But that is not what he was doing. He was not nullifying the commandments; he was establishing them. The commandment was, "Ascend these tracks. Go up to the top of this roller coaster hill on these tracks." And that is exactly what happened when you trusted the man in the cab to lift you to the car and set you to rolling with a power not your own. You came around and you did "ascend those tracks." And you did "go up to the top of this roller coaster hill." Mr. Paul's message about getting to the top by faith alone without climbing (apart from works of the Law) did not nullify the commandments of Mr. Moses. In fact, that message of faith established the commandments.
Same Idea Elsewhere in Romans
Okay, you say, nice picture. But is that what the book of Romans means? Let me try to show you why I think it is. Keep in mind that this whole issue -whether the doctrine of justification by faith alone, apart from works of the law, nullifies the Law and produces disobedient, lawless Christians or whether it produces obedient, loving Christians - is dealt with in chapters 6-8 in great detail. Here Paul just deflects the criticism to hold off the opponent till he gets there. So I only have time to point you to the places where I get the answer.
First look at Romans 6:1-2, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!" You can see that the issue here is very similar to Romans 3:31. You teach justification by grace through faith alone, apart from works of the Law. So what you're really saying is that sinning doesn't matter and that the more we sin the more grace will be shone and the more glory God will get in forgiving it. Paul emphatically rejects this.
You get a taste of his argument from Romans 6:14-15, "Sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!" No, he says, the gospel of justification by grace through faith alone does not produce sinning. It produces love. When you trust the car controller, and the cable and the harness, and you sit in the roller coaster with the energy of grace driving the linkage, you don't come to the bottom of that 300-foot hill called Law and stop. You are under the power and control of grace, and it does not nullify the Law. It establishes the Law.
Now look at the most important parallel passage, Romans 8:2-4. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh . .." Stop. The law of this 300-foot incline was not bad. It was perfect. Two rails, solid planks well fastened. Strong girders. Well, how then was it weak? It was "weak through the flesh." It wasn't made to be climbed hand over hand, plank by plank. Nor was your flesh (what you are apart from the Holy Spirit) ever designed by God to attempt such a thing. These rails were made for guiding a roller-coaster car, not for your flesh to climb. Now continue .. . "What the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."
God sent Christ to execute sin so that we might be justified by faith alone, apart from works of the Law, and so that "the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us." In us! This is real life transformation. That is confirmed by the next phrase: ". . . who walk not according the flesh but according to the Spirit." Walking by the Spirit means being empowered in the roller coaster with a power not your own. That is how the moral law is fulfilled and established. We are justified by faith alone, apart from works of the Law, and the Holy Spirit is given to us and by his power we fulfil the Law - that is, we love.
For time's sake, I am passing over Romans 9:30-32*, which makes the same point. And I come finally to Romans 13:8-10, "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law. For this, 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law."
Love Fulfills the Law
In other words, love fulfills or establishes the Law. And where does love come from? It is a fruit of the Spirit in our lives. And is this Spirit supplied to us by works of the law or by hearing with faith (Galatians 3:5)? Does He come with his power to take us up the roller coaster hill of love because we work to show ourselves worthy, or because we are justified by faith alone?
I think Paul answers in Romans 7:6, "But now we have been released from the Law . . ." You walk away from that 300-foot hill. You die to it. You receive the harness of grace by faith. And you ride up (through faith) to the peak of justification and are put in the car of the Spirit's power. Now read the rest of Romans 7:6, "And having died to that by which we were bound [the Law], so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter."
We serve. We love. But not the old way. Not hand over hand, plank by plank in the power of the flesh, which is so weak. But, because we are justified by faith alone, apart from works of the Law, we serve by the power of the Spirit, whose fruit is love. And love fulfills the Law. And therefore Paul can say, "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law."
Do you want to get right with God, and live for his glory? Don't climb the roller coaster hill called "works of the Law." Trust the harness called "justification by faith alone."