Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Potter’s House: Law and Grace; Romans Chapter 4

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on September 5, 2014

Potters House logo 2  Originally published January 2, 2013

We now come to chapter four in our study of Romans. Thus far, Paul has emphasized that all men, whether Jew or Gentile, are saved by faith alone. This salvation is a revelation of God’s righteousness, and is imputed to us when we believe in Jesus Christ. We have learned that the gospel is the full counsel of God which of course includes the death burial, and resurrection of Christ. We have learned that Paul was very concerned with a spiritual caste system that would render the Gentiles as second-class citizens in the church. Though the church is uniquely Jewish, God shows no partiality in regard to race and gives the various gifts of salvation to all men freely.

What we have in the book of Romans is a radical dichotomy between justification and sanctification; or said another way, salvation and its imputed righteousness set against the Christian life as kingdom citizens living on earth as aliens and ambassadors. However, there is NO dichotomy between law and gospel. Why? Because both are the full counsel of God. In the Bible, “law,” “truth,” “gospel,” “Scriptures,” “holy writ,” “the law and the prophets,” and other terms are used interchangeably to speak of the closed canon of God’s full counsel for life and godliness. Christ as well as Paul made it absolutely clear: man lives by every word that proceeds from God and ALL Scripture is profitable to make the servant of God complete in every good work.

Now listen: though the life application of some Scripture changes with time and circumstances, it still remains that all Scripture informs us in regard to our walk with God in the way we pray, think, and act. We do not stone rebellious children in our day. Nay, when we have a rebellious teen in the church, we do not gather the congregation together and stone him/her to death. With that said, does the fact that God at one time instructed the Jews to do so inform us in regard to many applications for teen rebellion in our day? Absolutely. Oh my, the contemporary applications in our day are almost endless. Not only that, Old Testament ritual and symbolism offers a built-in protective hermeneutic for the Scriptures as a whole. What do I mean by that? Well, you can mess with words, but symbolism is very difficult to mess with. If it’s a lampstand, it’s hard to change that to a Honda Civic. Right?

Paul delves into a paramount truth for Christians in the book of Romans: The relationship of the law to the unsaved verses the saved. And here it is: the lost are UNDER the law, and the saved are UNDER grace, but informed by the law. Let me repeat that: the lost are UNDER the law, and the saved are UNDER grace, but informed by the law. And we can see this right in the same neighborhood of the text that we are in.

Romans 3:21—But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—

That verse pretty much says it all. We are justified apart from the law, and as we will see, Paul means totally apart from the law. But we are informed by it. Paul states in Romans 3:28:

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Now note what he states after a few verses following in Romans 4:3,

For what does the Scripture say?

Paul strives to make the point in this letter that law is not even on the radar screen in regard to justification. And this is extremely important to know in our day for many teach that law is on the justification radar screen and therefore Christ must keep the law for us in order to maintain our justification. Not so, there is no law to keep in regard to justification—a righteousness APART from the law, the very righteousness of God has been imputed to our account in full. Paul even writes (and this is very radical) that Christians are sinless in regard to justification because there is no law in justification to judge us:

Romans 7:1—Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?

Romans 7:6—But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive….(v.8) Apart from the law, sin lies dead.

Now, the law can judge our sin in our Christian life, but that can’t touch the fact that we are “washed.” Therefore, in sanctification, we only need to wash our feet to maintain a healthy family relationship with our Father God and Brother, the Lord Jesus Christ. Turn with me and let’s look at this in John 13:1-11:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Clearly, “washing” refers to salvation, and differs from needing the lesser washing of the feet. The example is set against the unregenerate betrayer among them. Note that Jesus said that even though we needed to wash our feet, we are still “completely clean.” My, my, what a strong contrast to much of the teachings in our day; i.e., the idea of “deep repentance” that is the same repentance that saved us and keeps us saved—as long as we are in a Reformed church where such forgiveness is available.

Secondly, this passage shows that the gratuitous pardon of sins is given us not only once, but that it is a benefit perpetually residing in the Church, and daily offered to the faithful. For the Apostle here addresses the faithful; as doubtless no man has ever been, nor ever will be, who can otherwise please God, since all are guilty before him; for however strong a desire there may be in us of acting rightly, we always go haltingly to God. Yet what is half done obtains no approval with God. In the meantime, by new sins we continually separate ourselves, as far as we can, from the grace of God. Thus it is, that all the saints have need of the daily forgiveness of sins; for this alone keeps us in the family of God (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 45: Catholic Epistles).

So, Paul in chapter four, in his endeavor to get this into the heads of Christians, approaches it from another angle: the life of Abraham, the father of faith. This is so powerful. Again, you can fiddle with words in translation, but rearranging the order of Abraham’s biography would be a difficult endeavor and the order of his life from the Old Testament account solidifies what Paul is teaching here about justification:

Romans 4:1-8—What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.

We had a fellowship last night and a brother pointed out a common problem among Christians; they often don’t know when something should be simply applied and not figured out. And this is one—faith declares us completely righteous and no sin will be counted against us. Justification is a gift. Righteousness is a gift. If the gift is righteousness and God says so, that is the end of the discussion. Unlike a gift, any kind of work in justification equals a wage that is due. Paul then deals with the issue of justification through circumcision (something we do):

9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

What Paul is saying is that God deliberately waited to have Abraham circumcised so that he would be the father of the uncircumcised as well as the circumcised. Also, to make the point that no ritual saves us whether circumcision or baptism, and followed by an attitude that we are justified accordingly by the ritual alone, and can hence live anyway we want to. As we have discussed previously in this study, an attitude of obedience is part and parcel with saving faith. Obedience and saving faith are two sides of the same coin. This is NOT so-called “lordship salvation,” but a statement regarding the fact that saving faith is not accompanied by a libertine attitude towards God’s full counsel, but rather a love for the truth. No obedience saves anybody, but saving faith is also endowed with a love for the truth with natural results following. However, as we will see later in this same book, the flesh is weak and faith alone does not carry the day in sanctification like it does in justification; so, many other factors come to bear in sanctification. This is where the sanctification by justification rave of our day is most unfortunate.

This is not the only place in Scripture where Paul uses the chronology of Abraham’s life to argue for righteousness completely separate from the law:

Galatians 3:15—To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

This is the foolishness of any idea that the law is still a standard for our justification and the law must be maintained by Christ in our sanctification, or that Christ’s life was for the purpose of imputing his obedience to our sanctification. The promise of justification by faith alone was ratified before the law ever came through Moses—430 years before. Why would Christ have to maintain a perfect keeping of a law that had nothing to do with the promise whatsoever? Hence, look at the perfect fit we have in Romans 4:13-15:

13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Again, no law, no transgression. Transgression is not absent in justification because Christ maintains the law for us in sanctification—there is no transgression to be counted against our justification because there is no law in justification period. It’s based on promise—not law. Christ came to die in order to fulfill the promise that was given 430 years before the law. And this brings us to a previous point. As some know, because of the focus of the particular ministry I am in, I use the ESV translation of the Bible. The ESV is a contemporary translation by New Calvinists and is their Bible of choice. Now note how Romans 4:16 is translated in the ESV:

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—….

“Depends” is a very interesting choice of words here. Actually, there is no merit at all for the use of that word in Romans 4:16. The word, or even that idea doesn’t appear in any interlinear, expanded translation, or manuscript such as the Received text, Majority text, or Critical text. But it does have merit in regard to the Reformed view of justification; i.e., maintaining our just standing requires a continuance of faith alone in sanctification. Our justification “depends” on that. “Depends” also hints of an ongoing or continual dependence.

Paul then concludes with a definition of this saving faith:

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Herein we have a definition of saving faith: it has a stubborn trust in the promises of God regardless of life circumstances. It hopes in God regardless of the hopeless motif continually posited by the world. And, Abraham grew in faith as he gave glory to God. What’s that mean? We have a clue from Matthew 5:14-16;

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

We are all saved and justified with an initial faith that varies according to the grace of God (Romans 12:3), but certainly, our faith in sanctification grows as we exercise it through obedience while giving glory to God. Obedience demonstrates trust. Applying God’s truth to our life demonstrates that we believe that He knows best and blessings will result. Peter said that we should be diligent to “add to our faith” (2Peter 1:5-11). Faith is a gift that justifies us once, and for all time with the very righteousness of God. But we participate in the growth of our faith through application of the full counsel of God. This is what the book of James is about (see James 1:25), and only one example among many in holy writ.

Of course, the life of Christ was very awesome for many reasons, but His life was not for the purpose of obeying the law perfectly so that His obedience to the law could be imputed to us in sanctification for the purpose of maintaining our just standing. The law is not the standard for maintaining justification; it is finished. Christ was the only Man ever born into the world under the law who could be the perfect sacrifice required by God. All others born under law are under its curse and provoked to sin by it. But note the last verse here in chapter four:

23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Paul states that our justification came through Christ’s resurrection, not His life. The Reformed construct of Christ living for our sanctification and dying for our justification is simply nowhere to be found in Scripture, and if it is, as with a myriad of other textual examples, Paul fails to mention such a crucial fact in these last verses.

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