Soli Deo Gloria
Andrew Sveda | Monday, February 6, 2023
“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. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:27-28 ESV). These words boldly attack man’s achievements, unveil the scandal of the gospel of grace and exalt Jesus as the perfect, complete and sufficient Savior.
Let us first look at the context. These verses proceed from a discussion of the utter depravity of every single person (3:9-20) and the free gift of redemption in Jesus’ atoning death (3:21-26). It is not merely the case that people aren’t perfect. Man is naturally evil and opposed to God and His law (John 8:44, Romans 8:7). So deep is our wickedness that “no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12). All of our deeds, even our best ones, are stained by sin, for they proceed from an impure heart. No resumé of service hours or good deeds, no ritual, no amount of tears, no mystical experience can save you. Not even impeccable observance of Bible reading and prayer can put you in right relationship with God. Without Jesus, you are dead in sin and will be subject to God’s just and eternal wrath (Ephesians 2:1, John 3:36, 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
It is in this light that Christ is presented to us. We “are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-25). Because Christ “bore our sins” (1 Peter 2:24) and suffered God’s wrath in our place (Isaiah 53:4-6), God’s justice is satisfied (Romans 3:26) and we are reconciled to the Father and have peace with Him (Romans 5:1,11). We are cleansed from every sin (1 John 1:7), are forever under the loving gaze, care and protection of God (Romans 8:28-39, Luke 12:32) and will enter Heaven’s gates (John 14:2-3). It is a salvation completed wholly by God.
Hence the words “we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). It is not based at all on our moral record but is only through trusting in what Jesus has done for us. Nothing can be added to His completed and finished work (Hebrews 10:18). It can only be received by the beggar who, like Abraham, sees nothing in themself but trusts in the power and promise of God (Romans 4:16-25). To receive it any other way is to preserve some degree of self-righteousness but to reject the gospel. It is received by faith alone as a wretched sinner, a man who, if salvation required even one work without blemish or if Christ paid for all but one sin, would have no hope of Heaven.
Our hearts don’t enjoy this thought. A gospel that can save the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) seems too scandalously free. The Bible knows this is the natural inclination of our hearts, which is why justification by faith alone in Christ alone is called a “stumbling stone” (Romans 9:32) and “folly” (1 Corinthians 1:18). But to the one who knows their condition and comes to Jesus for grace, the gospel displays the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). The deadly ill patient who doesn’t believe they are ill scoffs at the offer of a doctor, but the one who knows their state will receive life-saving medicine with tremendous joy.
Yet even Christians can find themselves doubting or diminishing God’s glory displayed in salvation. One may wonder, for example, if the phrase “works of the law” in Romans 3:28 refers only to the Mosaic ceremonial law and not the moral law as well. But Paul’s argument does not seem to make any such distinction within the Law and the moral law is the primary focus of Paul’s discussion of the Law in his argument (2:14,21-23). Thus, Romans 3:28 is indeed stating that man is made right with God by faith alone and not by, in part or whole, our moral record or performance. God truly saves sinners and “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5).
Another may believe that we are saved by faith alone but that our performance afterward defines our standing with God. But remember Paul’s words: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3). While Christians are called to grow in holiness (Hebrews 12:14), our salvation is always on the basis of Jesus’ blood, not our works. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
Or one may believe our standing with God is always on the basis of Christ alone but that our perseverance is up to us. While we are called to persevere and must take action to not drift away (Hebrews 2:1-3), it is God who ultimately sustains us to the end (1 Corinthians 1:8, 1 Peter 1:5). Just as you were not saved by your own wisdom and abilities (1 Corinthians 1:26), you are kept by God’s wisdom and power (John 10:28).
Where then is boasting indeed! Through this, we are reminded, in the words of Paul Washer, that “[t]here’s only one Hero in this story…Jesus Christ. There are no great men of God…There are only tiny, weak, faithless men of a great and a merciful God who has given them grace.” Such a great salvation should not depress us. Rather, it frees us to worship God with joy, freedom and thankfulness, giving all glory to God alone, so that we look forward to the day when we will say with that great multitude, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10). Soli Deo Gloria!
Andrew Sveda is a senior at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science and theology. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.