Righteous by Faith

Romans 3:27-4:3

Some might asked, “How can I be confident I am going to heaven? Sometimes I feel like I am going to heaven, at other times I don’t!”

One day a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus answered, “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” Now the Lord knew when He said it that it was impossible for the young man to do what He was being told to do. The purpose of setting the task before him was to reveal to him his need, so that he would see the folly of his question.

Jesus dropped a bomb on the young man—“there is only One who is good.” In other words, the young man is bad and not qualified for eternal life.

The young man in his blindness, however, asked which of the commandments he had to keep. This was, of course, a revelation of his ignorance, for he should have known at once that he should love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and his neighbor as himself—which is impossible!

The young man, however, looks back over his artificial concept of the Law, knows that he has never actually put poison in anyone’s drink, has never actually committed adultery, has never actually stolen anyone’s property, and he thinks that is enough. Therefore, he asks, “What do I still lack?”

It is necessary at this point to reveal to him that he is on lost ground, that his heart is a human heart, a heart of selfishness, a heart of pride of possession, a heart filled with covetousness, not righteousness. He, therefore, says to the young man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. The disciples were amazed: if a rich man can’t be saved, then who can be saved? They were still under the Jewish idea that riches meant the blessing of God on your life.

What had Jesus asked the rich young man to do? Obey Him and Follow Him! In other words, Jesus asked the rich young ruler to place his FAITH in Him. It was the same faith God asked of the OT saints. For instance, Hebrews 11:7 records—

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

It had never rained on the earth before, but Noah believed God. He was so confident and sure it would rain that he spent 120 years building the Ark.


ASSENT and TRUST in God and His Word that Noah had. If we place our confidence of eternal life in ourselves and not God and His Word, we’ll be like the rich young ruler who went away sad.

Noah could have reasoned: “There is a large mountain over there. If and when it rains, I’ll climb it—I’ll save myself.” If Noah would have placed confidence in himself, he would have drowned with the rest of the world.

Today’s passage from Romans tells us to place no confidence in ourselves.  It elaborates one key element in the great theological summary of Romans 3:21-26—FAITH as the only means of justification. The apostle Paul unveiled this key element back in Romans 1:17—


For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”


This righteousness of God comes from God apart from the Law through faith in Jesus Christ. Literally, it is out of faith into faith. The faith of Christ, then the faith of those who believe in Him. We have faith in the One who always keeps faith with us.


In one decisive act of redemption, God MAKES RIGHT all those who believe in Christ. Some might question whether this righteousness is rational and justified. So Paul offers in Romans 3:27-31 three vindications of RIGHTEOUSNESS BY FAITH:


It excludes boasting. It includes all men.

It establishes the Law.




Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith.

Suppose God were to take people to heaven on the basis of human merit. Human nature, being what it is, the saved person would soon be boasting heaven. One person would parade some great deed he had done or some tremendous sacrifice he had made. Another would have all men listen to a list of his virtues. Imagine Noah walking up to you in heaven and saying, “I saved the human race by building an ark, what did you do to get here?”


Boasting is the outward, verbal expression of pride and pride was the original sin, the sin of Satan described in Isaiah 14:12-14—


How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.


The reemergence in heaven of pride in the form of boasting would call for action on the part of God similar to that taken before. The boaster would be cast out of heaven. God has eliminated such a possibility, for he levels human pride to the dust and denies the possibility of salvation by works.


The whole plan of redemption, from beginning to end, was completely worked out in the mind of God. Man had absolutely nothing to do with it. Hence, no one can boast! It is all God’s wonderful doing. No one can find fault with God’s great plan and program of redemption. Because we have had no part in it, we cannot boast concerning what we have done.


Certainly, no person can put God is his or her debt! There is no place for self help in salvation. We cannot pick yourself up by the bootstraps and be saved!

A grandfather came to visit his family. During the visit his five year old grandson refused to eat breakfast. One day the grandfather challenged the little boy to pick himself off the floor by his shoe strings. The boy tried and tried but could not lift himself from the floor. The grandfather told him that he would never be strong enough if he didn’t eat his meals. So the little boy began to eat his breakfast and kept trying to lift himself by his shoe strings.


We smile at the ignorance of the little boy. He isn’t aware that the law of gravity is pulling downward with greater force than he can exercise upward. But many are guilty of greater folly than that of the boy. They take hold of their life and pull and strain and tug and lift. The veins in their neck and forehead stand out with the energy of their effort. They even turn purple! And when asked, “What are you doing?” They reply, “I am working my way to heaven!”


We can never lift ourselves to the righteous demands of God’s Law—no matter how hard we try will never get off the ground!


Jesus associated with the outcasts of His society because the boastful and proud religious leaders thought that they had lifted themselves up. They had built up an artificial idea of the Law with man-made rules and traditions and were living up to its counterfeit concept.  They thought that because they satisfied their own low requirements, they would also satisfy God. They had not learned that boasting was excluded.


They were attached to system of law-works and had not even the remotest concept of salvation by grace apart from the deeds of the Law. Jesus declared in the Sermon on the Mount—


For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).


This must have been one of the most astounding phrases the people of Israel had ever heard. Christ informs His hearers that they must have a better righteousness than these men had, if ever they expected to enter into the kingdom of heaven.


There will be no admission into heaven without righteousness. It was the loss of righteousness which removed Adam out of his earthly paradise; and it is not agreeable to the justice of God, to admit man into His heavenly paradise without it. A “pharisaical” righteousness will never bring a person into that place; nor will any righteousness of man’s, be it what it will, because the best is imperfect; it must be a righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.


What kind of righteousness is needed? Jesus said, “Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. This righteousness of God come through faith in Jesus Christ and gives title to eternal glory; and without it no person will be admitted into that glorious state. Verse 28—


For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

JUSTIFICATION is pronouncing one to be JUST or RIGHT, that is conformable to God’s standard of holiness and righteousness revealed in the OT Law, especially the Ten Commandments. The OT tells us what is required to BE RIGHT with God, yet no one is able to fully obey its standards. Therefore, no one is justified by observing the Law.

The hymn writer has caught the true meaning of Romans 3:28— My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.


Without Christ, man is hopeless! We cannot do anything to clean up ourselves so that we might stand before a Righteous God.


Turn to Job 9:29-35. Here the suffering Job cries out to God—


Since I am already found guilty, why should I struggle in vain? Even if I washed myself with soap and my hands with washing soda, you would plunge me into a slime pit so that even my clothes would detest me.


He is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.


No matter how much Job washed himself—symbolic of attempting to make oneself righteous and pure— he remained unrighteous and filthy before God—deserving to be cast into a slime pit as a filthy, guilty sinner. Therefore, he could not enter into God’s court and represent himself before God the Prosecutor and Judge—He needed an arbitrator to effect reconciliation—one who could appease God’s wrath and remove the terror of standing before Him.


Job’s cry was heard in heaven. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 tells us how it was answered—


For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.


THE MEDIATOR, THE ARBITRATOR, Job desired is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ lays His hand on us and on God the Father. Jesus took the rod of God’s wrath on our behalf on the Cross. Isaiah 53:4 says—


Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.


Everyone without Christ will stand before the terrifying God in His court of judgment in fear with their mouths   shut—unrepresented—defenseless.


Everyone in Christ, however, will be able to speak without fear to God. We’ll stand in God’s court JUSTIFIED because we have an Arbitrator who has laid His hand on God and us.




Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.

Paul captures the attention of the Jew by mentioning the fact that THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD.  The

Jews of Rome were surrounded by pagan idolatry, yet they clung to their monotheistic confession— Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one (Deuteronomy 6:4).

Logically, if God is one, if He alone is God, then we can expect Him to employ only one method to bring humanity to Himself. Faith is the condition for receiving salvation on the part of Jew and Gentile alike.


The Jews did not question that God is the God of all men in the sense of being their Creator and Ruler and Judge. But it was difficult for the Jew to accept the fact that God could be the God of the Gentiles too!


The rite of circumcision may appear strange and even repulsive, but for the Jew it had great significance and importance. It was a token of the covenant God had made with Abraham, separating him and his seed from the Gentiles. Later, circumcision was incorporated into the Mosaic Law. Any uncircumcised male among the Abraham’s seed was to be cut off from his people.


The Jew looked at the OT and saw the Law, obedience to Law, works, circumcision, and descent from Abraham. The Apostle Paul looked again and looked deeper, and saw PROMISE, not works but FAITH—of which circumcision is only the seal; not literal descent from Abraham but spiritual descent.


No nation or people or church or denomination has a monopoly on God. The Jew, indeed, by virtue of God’s special promises to Abraham and David, occupies a unique position, but it is a mistake to think that God reserves His love for one nation alone.


In the beginning of chapter 3 of Romans, Paul proved that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. Therefore, both must come by the same faith! Together they should sing:


Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to your cross I cling.




Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

The Law of God is immutable—incapable of changing or being changed. Its precepts are always binding, and its penalty of death must be inflicted either on the sinner or a Substitute. Hence, Christ bore the penalty of the Law on the Cross for us.


There are some who feel that somehow the doctrine of justification by faith alone undermines the authority of the Law and divine authority too. Paul write-offs that notion.


The sinner establishes the Law and honors it by confessing his guilt, and acknowledging that by the Law he is justly condemned. Except for Jesus, there was no one who ever kept all the Law, all the time, always perfectly.  This could only mean that any salvation based on the works of the Law was a violation of the Law. But the atonement of Jesus satisfied the full demands of the Law once and for all.


Christ, on the the sinner’s behalf, established the Law by enduring its penalty—death! Since the death of Christ met the stipulation of God’s righteousness, this means that the demands of the Law have not been set aside in God’s plan of salvation. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18—


Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.


Christ did not come to bring a new way of righteousness and salvation into the world, but indeed to fulfill that which was summoned by the Law. He delivers men through grace from the curse of the Law.


Before Christ, God did not save people by keeping the Law; the covering of sin was always by man’s faith in the blood of spotless animal sacrifice he offered to God—pointing to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.


The New Covenant does not replace the Old: for this would be a contradiction of the Old Testament itself. No; the law abides in all its details; and therefore in all the limits it imposes on itself, and for all the purposes for which it was given.


A person who has truly seen the seriousness of his own sin and the significance of his redemption is not going to presume upon the the grace of God. He realizes he is saved from sin, not saved to sin— something Paul will discuss at length later in this letter.


The Law (all Law and any kind of Law) was only an elaborate machinery for producing right action, there too Christianity stepped in and accomplished, with the power of the Holy Spirit, all that the Law strove to do without success.


Instead of invalidating the Law, the Gospel upholds the Law. Yet, the Law never saved anyone that’s Paul point in Romans 4:1-2—


What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.

The OT teaches that Abraham was justified freely by faith. To begin with, Abraham was born and lived and died over four hundred years before the Law was given by God at Mt. Sinai. Abraham did not live on the basis of the Mosaic Law since it was not yet given in his day. God saved him on a different basis, which is BY FAITH.


The Rabbis, however, taught that Abraham had a surplus of merit from his works that was available to his descendants. Assuming that Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about. But, Paul has already proven in this chapter that it’s impossible to obtain righteous in God’s sight by human effort. Therefore, Abraham could never boast of his own righteousness in God’s presence.


Since Abraham could not be made righteous by works, how was he justified? Where does one find the answer? For the answer, Paul turns to the ultimate authority. Verse 3—


What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

WHAT DOES THE SCRIPTURE SAY?  Now that’s music to my ears!  The basis for what we believe is to come from the Scripture. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6.


Because Abraham believed, God imputed righteousness to his account.  CREDITED is an accounting term. Abraham is neither righteous nor good! He is no different than any member of the human race. He needs righteousness credited to him!

Abraham could not say, “I am saved and will be in the Heaven of God because I have been able to do something which has put me in the place of blessing. I have achieved a righteousness which is acceptable to God, and thus I am accepted in my works.”


Abraham’s works did not save him. God did not credit righteousness to him because he did certain things. On the other hand, the evidence of his faith was his works. Turn to Chapter 2 of James. James 2:14-24 quotes Genesis 15:6 to show the connection between faith and works—


What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?


In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?


Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.


James is not contradicting Paul. He is explaining that a saved person proves his salvation by what he does. People have no right to believe that they are saved if they do not see a change in their life. A sinner is saved by faith, without works, but true saving faith leads to works. Being a Christian is not a matter of what we say with the lips; it involves what we do with our life.


James said in 2:18—“Show me your faith without your works!” This is impossible to do! The only way faith can be expressed in the Christian’s life is by practical loving obedience to the Word of God. Abraham proved his faith by his works. His obedience to the Word of God was evidence of his faith in God.


If the rich young man would have obeyed Christ, sold his possessions and given the money to the poor, and followed Jesus, he would have been confident of eternal life.


Why? He would have obeyed God and His faith would have been credited to him as righteousness. By his actions, he would have confirmed his faith.  Instead, he refused to do what Jesus commanded, thereby showing what he really lacked was FAITH. The very thing he needed to inherit eternal life!

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