Sunday 7th June 2015 – Romans 3:19-31 “The law of works vs the law of faith”


Last week we looked at God’s glory being emphasized by ‘evil’, that the contrast of ‘evil’ with ‘good’ makes ‘good’ stand out even more so. But ‘evil’ doesn’t only make ‘good’ stand out; ‘good’ also makes ‘evil’ stand out.

John 3:20For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.


Those practising evil do not like the truth because it exposes their lies. Anything that opposes the truth logically has to be a lie. For instance, calvinists hate too much scrutiny of their beliefs because it reveals too much inconsistency in their thinking. Therefore those who consider themselves to be the protectors of the calvinist truth will often, when questioned, either say that it is a mystery of God not revealed to us, or else they ‘know’ the answers and we who question such are more ignorant than they. (How is it that calvinists ‘know’ more, yet have more ‘mysteries’?) It’s a far cry from Paul who openly encouraged those with questions to seek answers in the Scriptures for themselves. Far too often we find those with lies in their doctrines will vigorously seek to suppress anything that exposes their lies.


And it’s not only calvinists who do this; it even includes those who feel that the truth exposes too much for them to deal with, so they would rather cover up the truth and remain comfortable. As the saying goes, “Ignorance is bliss!”


Today’s message focuses upon the condemnation of the law being on all people, not just the Jews. All are guilty, both Jew and Gentile. Usually the key verse of this passage is taken to be 3:23 where all have sinned, but leaving out the next verse which says that all (the same ‘all’ as in Vs 23) have been freely justified by God’s grace through Jesus Christ. So, while the law of condemnation is upon all, the law is established by faith (Vs 31). All people are condemned alike, but also all people may partake of God’s grace by faith to remove that condemnation, as noted in

Romans 8:1[There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.


Romans 3:19Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.


Firstly, the law applies to all those who are under the law. Vs 3:9 says that all (both Jew and Gentile) are under the condemnation of sin. In 3:10-18 we see that man is totally condemned by his absolute unwillingness to seek after God, that God has to intervene in some way before man can see enough truth to be able to seek, that the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ has to shine into that man’s life before he can see some of the truth that he will then be asked to have faith in (Romans 10:17). So, if all are subject to the law, then what the law says will be applied to all. And how is the law applied to all. Following on from Vs 10-18, it is clear that all are condemned by the law, that no-one has any reasonable answer to give to God’s demand for righteousness according to the law.


Note Job’s reply when God challenged him concerning His (God’s) right to proclaim judgment as He (God) alone should choose.

Job 40:1-5 1 Moreover the Lord answered Job, and said, 2Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct [him]? he that reproveth God, let him answer it. 3Then Job answered the Lord, and said, 4Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. 5Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further.

In other words, Job is saying that he has already said too much, and from now on he’ll just shut his mouth and listen as he should have in the first place. He was subject to God’s law just like everyone else.


In God’s presence, all unclean mouths are stopped, and all must keep quiet and listen to the One who has all authority. Isaiah in his vision of God on the throne noted that, when he came face-to-face with Almighty God, he was immediately challenged with an inability to defend himself in any way. He was guilty and he knew it.

Isaiah 6:5Then said I, Woe [is] me! for I am undone; because I [am] a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.


He was unable to excuse anything in his life as holy, and was also to say that nothing in his life was worth anything at all before a holy God.

Isaiah 64:6aBut we are all as an unclean [thing], and all our righteousnesses [are] as filthy rags;


And Paul echoed this when he said in Philippians 3 that he counted all things as rubbish or dung that he might gain Christ. Also note the effect on the tax collector in Jesus’ parable coming face-to-face with a holy God.

Luke 18:13And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as [his] eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.  


All the world is guilty before a holy God and one day all the world will be judged. Some in faith will believe in their salvation in Jesus Christ, but many more will trust in their works which will be insufficient to save them (see Romans 4:4-5). All the world will surely become guilty before God (that is, subject to God’s punishment), and those without salvation in Jesus Christ will stand condemned to hell for eternity.


So, in order to apply guilt, there must be (a) a law, and (b) a violation of that law, and in this case, (c) a lack of pardon through salvation in Christ per God’s grace.

guilty – applied to a person who has been unable to justify his acquittal by any means, and therefore is subject to the punishment. Barnes says – It is never used to denote simply an obligation to punishment, but with reference to the fact that the punishment is personally deserved.


Romans 3:20Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law [is] the knowledge of sin.


No-one can hope to be judged ‘not guilty’ if they desire to defend themselves based on their own righteousness. God as judge will justify absolutely no-one who demands justice according to the law.

What does justify mean? To be able to back up your claims in a legal sense. If I am asked to justify my statement to a court of law, I need to back it up such that I can convince the judge of its truthfulness or accuracy. I need certain proofs. Or, if I send an account for work done and it asks for more money than might be considered reasonable, I might be asked to justify why I should ask for so much more. James says our faith is justified by our works – that is, the realness of our faith is supported by the works that demonstrate such faith.


Even a lack of knowledge of the law is no defence against the guilt of the gentile. They are still considered by Paul to have the law written in their hearts in spite of not knowing the written law given to the Jews. The Jews were supposed to be God’s priesthood to the nations by teaching them the law, but they failed. Nevertheless, this can never be used as an excuse by the Gentiles claiming that they couldn’t have known. Paul has concluded already that they do know enough law to accuse or excuse them.

Romans 2:14-15 14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and [their] thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

And because all are considered to have a knowledge of the law, both Jew and gentile, then all by that law have a knowledge of sin sufficient to convict them. In other words, the law cannot save anyone from condemnation. Man’s works when judged by the law will always declare him guilty, never innocent!


Romans 3:21But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;


Until now Paul has demonstrated that no-one, neither Jew nor gentile, can be justified by the law. That’s very definitely a dead-end street. No-one can be saved by works of the law, end of story! Unless another way can be found, all mankind is doomed without a hope. So Paul now having demonstrated that there is no hope for mankind, announces that God has revealed a righteousness independent of the law, that even the law and prophets (Old Testament) bore witness to this.


Jesus said:-

John 5:39Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

The Scriptures that they had at that time, the Old Testament, testified of Jesus.

without the law – (or “apart from the law”) This doesn’t mean that the law is thrown away, abandoned by God. It simply means that this new righteousness is the fulfillment of the law.

Matthew 5:17-18 17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.


Romans 3:22Even the righteousness of God [which is] by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:


the righteousness of God – This doesn’t refer to God’s righteousness but to the righteousness which God can bestow upon those who claim it through faith in Jesus Christ. God’s own righteousness is never under any question. God is holy!

No-one can be justified by the law, because there is no way anyone can provide proof of righteousness using the law (that is, cannot be justified). All the law can do is condemn us.


Paul tells us that the righteousness of God that is apart from the law (Vs 21), that is witnessed by the law and the prophets, is by faith in Jesus Christ. It is available for all who believe, not just the Jew but also for the Gentile, for there is no difference. Paul is connecting this argument to his original statement of argument in Romans 1.

Romans 1:16-17 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.


Romans 3:23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;


For as a result of the law which condemns all mankind, and especially noted in Romans 3, all have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God. How can sin increase the glory of God when sinning causes man to fall short of God’s glory?

sinned – missed the mark – old English terminology, your arrow misses the target.

allpas = all men, everyone, each, every, any, all, the whole, all things, everything.


Romans 3:24-25 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;


Note – It is very important to note that the ones being discussed in Vs 24 are the same group that were discussed in Vs 23 – all men, everyone etc. The ones who are justified freely (Vs 24) through Jesus Christ’s redemption are the same ones who have sinned and come short of the glory of God in Vs 23. If only a limited atonement requires that only a limited number are justified freely, then by logic, only that same limited number could have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Justification was provided for all who were sinners! Justification is available for all who call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13). If all sin, all are able to be justified! All who sin have access to the justification in Jesus Christ. The penalty was paid in full for all people; it only awaits each person’s acceptance of such. (But calvinists refuse to allow their God to permit man to have free will in this matter!)

justified freely – the cost (for all) has already been paid on the cross. Thus it is a gift of God as per Romans 6:23. A gift must be paid for in full before it may be offered.

his grace – being saved by grace is the gift of God in –

Ephesians 2:8-9 8 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.

redemptionthe action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt. The debt was paid when Jesus cried out, “It is finished!”


The payment was made for the whole world….

1 John 2:2And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.

……allowing all those who would believe to be justified by their faith in Jesus Christ.

propitiationthat by which God is rendered propitious, i.e., by which it becomes consistent with his character and government to pardon and bless the sinner. The propitiation does not procure his love or make him loving; it only renders it consistent for him to exercise his love towards sinners. In Romans 3:25 and Hebrews 9:5 (A.V., "mercy-seat") the Greek word hilasterion is used. It is the word (relating to) the Hebrew kapporeth , which means "covering," and is used of the lid of the ark of the covenant ( Exodus 25:21 ; 30:6 ). This Greek word (hilasterion) came to denote not only the mercy-seat or lid of the ark, but also propitation or reconciliation by blood. On the great day of atonement the high priest carried the blood of the sacrifice he offered for all the people within the veil and sprinkled with it the "mercy-seat," and so made propitiation. (Eastons Bible Dictionary)


It was the blood of Jesus that made propitiation for our sins and thus redeemed us (bought us back, regained us by the payment of the debt).

set forth – placed in public view, making a public statement concerning this propitiation, thus demonstrating His righteousness (Vs 25).

through faith – the offering (thus the payment) has been made for all but it will not be applied to anyone except through the faith of that person in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. That is, all can be justified, but only those who claim by faith the gift of salvation offered to them will have that justification applied to them.

forbearance – God could have punished for sin committed when it happened, but has been patient and not immediately punished, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).


Romans 3:26To declare, [I say], at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.


at this time – or “at the present time”; now is the time for salvation according to Paul.

2 Corinthians 6:2bbehold, now [is] the accepted time; behold, now [is] the day of salvation.


God is just in that He will not forgive sinners without any atonement for their sins. God as the justifier of the one who believes in Jesus means simply that in doing so, God violated no law, didn’t push sin to one side, but dealt with it all on the cross.

Thus God is just, righteous, absolutely holy, and remains so, even though all sinners in the world might be forgiven if they all had faith in Jesus. God didn’t disregard His law; He fulfilled the law and all its requirements on our behalf. (Matthew 5:17-18)


Romans 3:27Where [is] boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.


Because not one is justified by his/her obedience to the law, because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, then no boasting in self can be accepted. As per Ephesians 2:9Not of works, lest any man should boast.

If they could obey the law, they could indeed boast, though not one would succeed. The law of works didn’t forbid them from boasting; it prevented them entirely. But the law of faith which could save them also forbade them from boasting concerning their salvation. Salvation by faith was entirely separated from any works of merit. Thus accepting salvation by faith also required that the person be required to not boast of anything of their goodness (rather, their lack of it!) in the transaction.


Romans 3:28Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.


The law cannot justify any man (because it cannot be completely obeyed by any man). So the argument continues that the only means by which we might be justified is by faith in Jesus Christ. The deeds of the law cannot help us at all.


Romans 3:29[Is he] the God of the Jews only? [is he] not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:


And this not only applies to those whom God has called His people, the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. For He is the God of the Jews as well as of the Gentiles. As Paul continues to note in his argument in Romans, there is no difference.


Romans 3:30Seeing [it is] one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.


The one God will justify both the circumcised and the uncircumcised but only on the grounds of faith in each case. Once again, we have the argument that there is no difference; God will treat all people the same when it comes to the judgment, too.


Romans 3:31Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.


So does faith render the law out of date or even of no use at all? Absolutely not. “God forbid.”

The law is established for the following reasons:-

1/. At no time did God break the law or show any relaxing of His holy requirements according to the law. Even in establishing salvation by faith in Jesus by His grace, He followed every requirement of the law in doing so. What mankind couldn’t do to satisfy the law, God caused His Son Jesus to satisfy it fully on our behalf.

2/. Jesus came to fulfil the law in every way, even its requirements for punishment, paying the full penalty Himself, demonstrating that God was determined to inflict the full amount of penalty required by the law.

Matthew 5:17-18 17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

3/. God’s demonstration of His just actions in fully acknowledging the right of the law to condemn, and His payment in full of those requirements, leads to an observance of the law. The sinner sees God’s respect for the law, and this establishes the right of the law in that sinner’s life to condemn him. Being justly condemned, the sinner is then free, through faith, to be subject to that law that God shows such respect for.

As Barnes says  The fact that Christ endured such sufferings to show the evil of violating the law, is one of the strongest motives prompting to obedience.

So the law is established through faith and all its just requirements are satisfied through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

However, once the law (of sin and its penalty) is established, through faith in Christ, we become dead to that law so that we may live for God.

Galatians 2:19For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.


A major problem of most churches today is that they do not preach the cross of Jesus. They preach spiritual manifestations, tongues, being of the elect, doing the works of salvation (not necessarily as a result of salvation), etc. Today we have a new generation of Christians who are so attuned to the world that they can readily communicate with those in the world. But they appear to have lost the desire to suffer for the sake of Jesus their Saviour. They want their creature comforts and cannot see why suffering has to be a part of their Christian walk. After all, we have matured as Christians these days. We can now pick and choose what we want to believe and what we feel uncomfortable with we can dismiss as being old-fashioned or unnecessary. But the Bible is uncompromising in its requirements for those who would be genuine Christians. These in general require a turning away from the world and a taking up of our crosses and following Jesus. The world behind me, the cross before me, as the song goes. But today we want the world before me and the cross somewhere perhaps not too obvious or else we might lose our acceptability with the world.

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