Exposition of Romans 3:29-31, One God for all by faith

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that Jesus did not come merely to save people like us. If we find it easy to be self-absorbed about such things, how much more reason would the Jews have for thinking God cared far more for them than any others. All such exclusivist thinking is wrong!

God’s solution for sin sweeps every shore on which sin may be found.

(ESV) Romans 3:29-31

Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one — who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Paul continues his argument in the style of a theological discussion between himself and a hypothetical Jewish opponent. In context, Paul has just concluded that justification before God is a matter of faith in Jesus Christ and has no relationship to the Law of Moses. Next he argues what the alternative idea entails.

The alternative to what Paul has previously said is introduced by or (3:29). Paul says if you do not believe that justification is by faith apart from the law (3:28), then you must subscribe to the idea that God is the God of Jews only (3:29). That alternative would not resonate with Jews.

Douglas Moo explains: “To be sure, Jews also believed that God was God of the whole world. . . . [However,] in Judaism, God was God of the Gentiles only by virtue of his creative work, while only the Jews enjoy a meaningful relationship with God.”[1]

Because God is one (Deut. 6:4; Rom. 3:30), a fundamental tenet of Jewish faith, he must be God of both the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul asserts that monotheism is an argument in his favor.

Paul deals with a key objection in 3:31: does his doctrine invalidate the law? After an emphatic denial, Paul says that his doctrine validates the law. How? Paul shows the value of the law in many ways: instruction (2:18), demonstration of universal accountability to God (3:19), awareness of sin (3:20), and awareness of righteousness by faith (3:21). He will expand this list later in the letter.

Of course, Paul and Jesus agree. Jesus said: “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” (Matt. 5:17).

Faith is the one rule for all

Faith is not something vague; the faith that saves has as its object Jesus Christ, the resurrected Son of God.

1. What leads some people to think they are God's special favorites? How do those factors relate to you?

2. In what ways do Christians sometimes tend to cluster into like-minded groups, perhaps by social status, nationality or other factors, in defiance of the idea that there is one God for all by faith?

Speaking of Jesus, Peter told the rulers, elders and scribes of Israel, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 251.

Exposition of Romans 3:27-28, Doing something differs from receiving something

One of the biggest barriers to fully accepting God’s way of saving us is that it does not involve the performance of actions over which we have control. Both in Jewish and Christian history, there has been a persistent tendency to create systems of works related to salvation. For example, some Christian groups make water baptism or attendance at mass into requirements that must be met to attain salvation.

But God has rejected salvation by works and replaced it with salvation by his gracious gift, which we may receive through faith in Jesus Christ. By this means, even the thief nailed to the cross next to Jesus was able to receive salvation through his faith apart from works (Luke 23:39-43).

(ESV) Romans 3:27-28

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Thomas Schreiner explains the meaning of these two verses: “Since righteousness is based on faith in what God has accomplished in Christ (verses 21-26) and not human works, boasting is ruled out.”[1]

Consider the NETs translation of Rom. 3:27: “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded!” The initial word where expresses the Greek adverb pou, an adverb of place. The same adverb occurs in Matt. 2:2 when the wise men from the east asked King Herod, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” They were asking for a place.

This spatial language inspires a model of what Paul is saying. Imagine a sphere whose interior volume represents faith in Jesus Christ as the means of receiving righteousness from God. Any boasting about human effort belongs outside that sphere; human works and their associated boasting have nothing to do with righteousness from God. They are excluded from the sphere of salvation by faith.

Many of us have seen an analogy of this in Sumo wrestling, a sport popular in Japan. The sumo match takes place within a ring 15 feet in diameter. The match is won when one wrestler forces the other out of the ring. In the same way, faith pushes boasting and works right out of the circle of the gospel.

Paul is certainly not attacking the Law of Moses (see 3:31). Instead, he is restating his teaching that righteousness from God is “by faith from first to last” (Rom. 1:17, NIV).

Romans 3:28 plays an important role in Christian history. Martin Luther (1483-1546 AD) was expelled from the Roman Catholic Church in part for his stand in defense of justification before God by faith alone (Latin sola fide). When Luther translated the New Testament into German, he rendered 3:28 with the phrase “faith alone,” and that became one of the rally-slogans for the Protestant Reformation. There were others: “Christ alone” and “grace alone,” for example.

Insofar as these Reformation slogans highlight Christ and faith and grace because of the emphasis the Bible places on them, they serve a constructive spiritual purpose. However, slogans forged in religious conflict can distort the biblical picture as well. It does not take much thought to realize that faith cannot truly be alone without slighting both Christ and grace.

There is another danger: the potential for overemphasis on faith that discourages both love and kindness. Schreiner supports Schlatter who says, “The effect of the glorification of faith, the sola, was disastrous if it meant the truncation of life that separates action from it [i.e. from faith] and leaves behind nothing but faith.”[2] This is exactly the kind of abstract, loveless faith that the apostle James spoke against in James 2:14-26.

But such potential problems pale in comparison to the advances made by the Reformation in helping the people understand God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Historian Stephen Osment describes those the Reformation attempted to enlighten: “Full, unconditional forgiveness of sin and assurance of salvation were utterly foreign concepts to medieval theology and religious practice.”[3]

Paul has reached his conclusion (“we hold” 3:28). Doing something, even actions compliant with the Law of Moses, may result in empty boasting, because no one keeps the law or puts God under obligation. Only by receiving God’s grace — his merciful gift — through faith in Jesus Christ may a person be declared righteous in God’s sight.

Grace and works are different

The idea of working for salvation easily crosses over into other abuses. Martin Luther fought against the sale of indulgences, a paper making a spiritual promise issued in exchange for financial compensation. Luther (Thesis 27) objected to one sales pitch which claimed, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” But God’s blessing, mercy and justice are not for sale!

1. How do we get confused about working to make a grade or get a paycheck and believe similar work is needed to earn salvation? How does this blur the line between cultural ideas and biblical truth?

2. Perhaps the opposite of working for salvation is the complete disregard of salvation either by faith or by works. Who among your non-Christian friends employs such a strategy? What can be done about it?

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9, ESV).

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 200.

[2] Schreiner, Romans, 203, footnote 5, citing A. Schlatter, Romans, Trans. S.S. Schatzmann (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1995) 104.

[3] Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform: 1250-1550 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980) 216.

Exposition of Romans 3:23-25a, God freely gives what we need

Most of us have never been in a physical situation that was both dangerous and impossible to escape. One reason is that most people who got into such situations are no longer with us! Those who are with us were rescued.

Yet the Bible makes clear that all of humanity has been in a lethal spiritual situation that was impossible to escape. Only God could craft a way for us to get out, and forging that way took the death of Jesus. If you have the faith to use that way, you will live. If not, you will learn what wrath really means.

(ESV) Romans 3:23-25a

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

Romans 3:23 is familiar to many evangelical Christians as a frequent reference to the universal sinfulness of humanity, and that evaluation also covered all Christians prior to their believing in Jesus Christ (3:22). However, the clarity of the front half of the verse runs headlong into the obscurity of the second half. Thomas Schreiner says concerning the second half, “The phrase . . . (doxa tou theou, the glory of God) is ambiguous.”[1]

Though he prefers a different idea, C.E.B. Cranfield reluctantly admits, “Taken by itself, [the Greek phrase] he doxa tou theou could, of course, mean the approbation [approval] of God, as it does in John 12:43 (cf. John 5:44), and it is so understood here by some.”[2] I join John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, who said, “The glory of God I take to mean the approbation of God, as in John 12:43, where it is said, that they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God.”[3] Before we may share God’s glory, we must receive his approval, and Paul will shortly explain that must come through faith in Jesus Christ. The translation “approval of God” also works in Romans 5:2 as recognized by the standard Greek lexicon.[4]

In a way, humanity’s lack of approval by God is the mirror image of the lack of approval of God by men cited by Paul in Romans 1:21. Paul has already explained that the consequence of that rejection was that God gave them over to a mind incapable of making sound choices (1:28).

Most commentators advance a different idea about 3:23b. Douglas Moo expresses the general view taken by most: “Paul, then, is indicating that all people fail to exhibit that being-like-God for which they were created.”[5] According to this idea, Adam shared in divine glory before the fall (Genesis 3), although Genesis says nothing explicit about that.

(ESV) Rom. 2:24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

The second thing that is true of all (3:23) who put their faith in Jesus Christ (3:22b) is that they are justified (3:24), meaning declared righteous. That concept is qualified in two ways: (1) this justification occurs by his grace as a gift (3:24), and (2) this justification occurs through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (3:24). We will deal with these qualifications one at a time.

In the phrase “by his grace as a gift” (3:24), the italicized portion means that we received this freely. When Jesus sent out the twelve apostles, he told them, “Freely you received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8, NET). Paul has already said we all lacked God’s approval prior to trusting Christ, but God freely gave us a gift. Why? He did so by his grace, which is a favorable disposition toward us that results in an act of divine kindness. In fact, kindness is often a good synonym for grace. Moo says: “Grace is one of Paul’s most significant theological terms. He uses it typically not to describe a quality of God but the way in which God has acted in Christ.”[6]

Next we will consider the phrase through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (3:24), which is another qualification on the action of justification. The word translated “redemption” (Greek apolutrosis) means here, “release from a captive condition, release, redemption, deliverance.”[7] Schreiner tells us, “Secular Greek literature leaves no doubt that a price was involved for redemption.”[8] Since it is Christ who died for the sins of the world, it is clear why this deliverance is found in Christ Jesus (3:24) and nowhere else!

(ESV) Romans 3:25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

Romans 3:25 presents further information about Christ Jesus (3:24) by means of a relative clause introduced by whom. This clause says two things about Jesus: (1) God put him forward as a propitiation by his blood (3:25), and (2) this benefit from Christ’s blood sacrifice is received by faith (3:25).

The English word propitiation is not often heard these days outside of theological settings. The notes for the Holman Christian Standard Bible say: “The word propitiation has to do with the removal of divine wrath.” Jesus’ death is the means that turns God’s wrath from the sinner; see 2 Cor. 5:21. As we saw in Romans 1, some wrongly object to the idea of God’s wrath.

After saying that propitiation cannot be separated from divine wrath, Schreiner explains: “Romans 13 confirms this conclusion, for human sin provokes the revelation of God’s wrath (1:18), and the righteous judgment of God involves his wrath (2:5; 3:5-6). . . . God himself took the initiative to appease his own wrath.”[9] To appease God’s wrath, Jesus had to shed his blood in death for our sins (3:25).

As he does throughout Romans, Paul stresses our response to what God has done by saying it is to be received by faith (3:25).

The cost of grace

Those innocuous words “by his blood” (3:25) spell out the price of our deliverance: the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. Probably you have heard the old saying that salvation is free because Jesus already paid for it.

1. What do you think about the idea that God provided the means to resolve his own legitimate wrath against your sins?

2. How do you feel about having been redeemed from a spiritual trap you could never have escaped on your own?

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ by grace you are saved!” (Eph. 2:4-5, NET).

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 187.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 204.

[3] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Trans. R. Mackenzie (Edinburgh, publisher unknown, 1961) 74.

[4] BDAG-3, doxa, honor (meaning 3), q.v.

[5] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 226.

[6] Moo, Romans, 228.

[7] BDAG-3, apolutrosis, deliverance, q.v.

[8] Schreiner, Romans, 189.

[9] Schreiner, Romans, 191.