Just and Justifier
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known...” (NIV, 1984)
How can a person be right or righteous without obeying the rules?
People who do not obey the rules go to jail. Of course, since you and I are not in jail, we are obviously rule keepers. We are okay. As a matter of fact, we are good people. We pay our taxes, are faithful to our spouses, go to work every day and even go to church on Sundays. Surely, we are better than those paying for their crimes by spending time in jail. It would be unjust to lock you or me up since we have not committed any crimes. In addition, it would be unjust to let a murderer or a rapist off without consequences. Neither of these would be right.
So, how is it that God, who is supposed to be just, can let people off without penalty who have sinned and admit they have sinned?
First, to answer this question, we must consider the nature of sin. Romans 1:18 through Romans 3:20 discusses the nature of sin. Sin is discussed in view of the question, “How can a person be right with God.” The answer is “...no one will be declared righteous by observing the law...” In other words, no one keeps the rules so perfectly as to avoid the penalty. Romans 3:23 states quite plainly:
We all have sinned, and God says the penalty of sin is death. Romans 3:18 explains the problem of sin as being a basic problem in the heart when it says:
Therefore, rule keeping is not the answer.
Isaiah 40:21-23 describes God by saying:
Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. ()
At the beginning of his ministry, Isaiah had a vision of God. This is what he says about what he saw:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" ()
To sin is to offend this holy, great God. It is not enough to say, "God is great." Words cannot capture nor can our minds hold the splendor of His majesty. Psalms 145:3 tells us that no one can fathom God’s greatness. He is too great for us to truly understand.
How is it then that “There is no fear of God before their eyes?”
Let’s consider this question for just a moment.
In the Garden of Eden, when the serpent tempted the woman he started by telling her she would become “like God.” This desire to be “like God” still resides in the heart of men and women. Pride is a heart problem that no one can be free from apart from Jesus Christ. Our desire to be like God somehow blinds us to the greatness of God. How ridiculous to imagine that we could ever be like God!
The statement "...by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight," is offensive to our pride. (Romans 3:20 ESV) After all, we are good people.
Let’s consider the example of the best people law could produce, the consummate rule keepers.
The Pharisees were experts in the Law of Moses. Their purpose was to be justified by the law. Paul, a Pharisee, said of himself, “as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” () This was how the Pharisees viewed themselves, blameless. In addition, they considered themselves to be guides to the blind, (Romans 2:19) and instructors to the foolish. (Romans 2:20) In other words, they were proud of the righteousness they were able to gain through keeping the law. However, as we said, the Scriptures make it clear, “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight...”
In Matthew chapter 15, Jesus confronts the hypocrisy of the Pharisees saying:
"'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" ()
Jesus’ disciples warned him, asking, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” (Matthew 15:12 ESV) Part of Jesus’ response was:
They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch. ()
Jesus offended the Pharisees because the Pharisees were proud. They were proud of the righteousness they had, and in their pride, Jesus says they were blind. The rule keeping of the Pharisees fed their pride, so they boasted in their righteousness. In actuality, their pride made them blind.
In explaining how the gospel works, the book of Romans strips away every means of righteousness by works and says:
But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. ()
Because of our pride and our desire to be “like God,” this simple truth of being made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ is a stumbling block to many. This stumbling block is explained in verse 27, which says:
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. ()
What is this “law of faith” that excludes any boasting? It is covered in the preceding verses. These verses clearly tell the heart of the gospel, and in so doing these verses show how God can be both just and the justifier of those who have broken the rules. Romans 3:23-26 says:
...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and 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. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. ()
Several things stand out about the law of faith as stated in these verses.
First, we are justified as a gift. It is by grace. It is not anything that we have done. Boasting is excluded because we are not justified by any works of righteousness that we have done. No one is justified by the works of the law, no one.
Second, it is received by faith. We must believe, and we must trust. That is all. There is no room for pride because this righteousness does not depend on anything we do. Strangely enough, we find there are those who are proud of their great faith. However, this only shows that they do not understand. Our justification is entirely a work that God has done. It shows His greatness not ours.
Third, the law of faith shows God’s great love. In Romans 3:23-26, the Scriptures say that God put forward Jesus Christ to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. In other words, Jesus paid the price for our sins. This was not the appeasing of an angry deity but rather the paying of the legal penalty for sin. In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam, “In the day you eat thereof you shall surely die.” The Bible consistently teaches that the legal penalty for sin is death. Jesus paid that penalty.
Fourth, the law of faith shows God’s justice. Romans 3:26 says, “...so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” God passed over a lot of injustice and wrongdoing before Jesus died on the cross, and He continues to pass over sins of all kinds. God forgives my sins and your sins because Jesus paid for those sins. It would be unjust for God to require payment for sins that have already been paid for. This is why John 3:18 says:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. ()
Not believing in Jesus means that His payment of the penalty of sin is not applied to the unbeliever's account. This is the law of faith that says we are justified freely by His grace through faith in His blood.
There are two enemies of this law of faith.
One enemy is the devil. He roams about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. We have no fear of him. He is defeated. The Bible tells us to be alert and ready but we are not ignorant of his schemes. By guarding our hearts and minds with faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we are safe.
The second enemy of this law of faith is pride. Yes, believer, we can fall prey to the devil because of the pride in our hearts, any one of us can. This is why the Apostle Paul says:
We are going to study and learn more about the law as we go through Romans, but so far, we have learned that through the law we become conscious of sin and the law of faith upholds the law. In admitting that we have not perfectly kept the law, we admit that the law is holy and righteous and good, and we acknowledge that Jesus has satisfied the righteous requirements of the law.
The grace by which God saves us teaches us not to be proud but:
...to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. ()