“This (redemption through Christ’s sacrifice) 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. 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. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:25-31 ESV)
Accidents. Things that just happen. Are they truly accidents or just unintentional consequences. I’ve often used the words, “I didn’t mean to.” Usually, those words are meant to convey a sense that my actions were unintentional when, in reality, they probably meant that the results were not what I wanted or expected. For example, my story from a few weeks ago about the used car lot next door to my childhood home and how my older brother and I snuck in and took each set of keys and hid them. That was certainly not an accident, but the consequences or results of my actions were not what I wanted or expected at that young, immature and foolish age of five. So, my actions were not an accident but rather a foolish and immature choice that resulted in undesired and unintended consequences.
Does God make mistakes? I don’t think so, otherwise He could not be God (at least not a God worthy of praise, honor, love and worship) but would just be another flawed, mistake prone being like you and me. While I don’t have time today to go into a lengthy treatise on the character of God, if He is capable of creating the Universe then His power, knowledge, and understanding are far, far beyond yours and mine. If what we know about ourselves, our creativity, our ability to reason, choose, distinguish good from bad and even love someone else then it tells us our Creator’s character traits in these same areas must be far greater than our own. Why is this important? Because God’s plan of redemption through Christ was no accident. Jesus wasn’t Plan B when God’s Plan A, justification through obedience to the law, failed.
In today’s focal passage, I went back and picked up the last verse or two of last week’s passage. It is necessary to look back at those verses to get a grasp on Paul’s teaching for this week’s passage. In verse 27, Paul asks “what becomes of our boasting?” Boasting about what? About our attempts at “looking good” in front of God. The Jews tried to impress God and win His favor by their strict observance of the Jewish traditions and ritual laws. We try and impress God in a similar way with our moral goodness and social involvement. But Paul has left no doubt that we all stand condemned before a holy God because we continue to “miss the mark” (see v. 23). Need more evidence? If the greatest command of God is to “love God with ALL of your heart, soul, mind and strength” and the second greatest is to “love your neighbor in the same manner that you love yourself”, how do you measure up? To put it gently, I continue to make a big mess of my life with my failed attempts at complete obedience to those commands. BIG mess. COMPLETE failure.
But God’s plan for man’s redemption was NEVER about man’s ability to be absolutely obedient to the law. It isn’t now and it wasn’t then. Those last two verses from last week’s focal passage state it clearly: Jesus’ death demonstrates God’s righteousness because His divine patience (or forbearance) did not immediately judge but “passed over former sins. And it shows His righteousness in the present, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Former sins and present sins are covered and cleansed by Jesus’ blood. What does that mean? It means that all of those goats, bulls, lambs and other sacrifices offered on the altar were simply a means of getting people to see that their sacrifices were insufficient for sin. But God had a plan to offer Himself as the complete and absolute fulfillment of the Old Testament or Mosaic Law’s demands. Jesus didn’t come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it’s demands – once, for all time.
To bring a sacrifice to the altar of God it must be the best you had to offer. God knows our hearts. He knows our tendency is to bring our leftovers to God and keep the best for ourselves. No really, that’s what we do. Oh, I need to bring a sacrifice to the altar? Well, I’ll bring this calf that I was going to destroy because it is weak and sick. No! God knows our hearts and He said that only the best, the first born, the first fruits, could be offered as a sacrifice? Why? Because He deserves it. After all, He IS God. But, don’t miss this, He did the same for you and me. He offered His best on the altar for us, the Lamb of God – His beloved Son. That’s one of the things I really want you to get this week, God offered His best on the sacrificial altar for you and for me. Why? Because LOVE demands it! Because LOVE deserves that! Because you and I are NOT cosmic accidents but the loving creation of a holy God.
It is important that you grasp the importance of this. God’s sacrifice of Jesus was not Plan B on His list, it was ALWAYS the only plan. He didn’t give the Mosaic law with the hope that man might be morally good enough, might get enough of it right to justify himself by following and adhering to the laws demands. Oh great, they went and messed it all up and now I have to come up with something better. I gave them good instructions, lots of details. All they had to do was follow a simple plan. What can I do now? Wait, I know! I’ll send Jesus to fix this mess. What? No! God knew when He created us that we would fail, we would choose to rebel and sin. So, God’s redemption plan has always been “salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.” Every part of the Old Testament story points forward to Jesus.
So, Paul responds by saying that our boasting is pointless. It has been “excluded” by the law of faith. He says, “we hold that one is justified (declared just, innocent, clean or righteous) by faith apart from works of the law.” What’s so different about faith? Isn’t it just a different way of saying the same thing? If I do this thing (have faith) then I’ll be justified with God. How is that any different than sacrificing a bull, following the laws of Moses and trying to be morally good? Well, that’s that old thinking that’s broken by sin. We think that faith is something we conjure up, we develop through some religious process or discipline. If you think that, then you have faith turned around backward. Faith is not about the subject (you, me) but is about the object (God). When you have faith, it is faith in an object but that faith acts upon the subject.
The object of faith, the subject of faith… What do you mean? God is the object of faith, we are the subject of faith. We (the subject) aren’t saved by “our” faith or ability to believe but rather through our faith or trust in the one who is faithful (the object) and who (the object) is worthy of our trust and love. Let me see if I can illustrate this a bit… if I have faith that I can fly, my faith must never be based in my abilities, because I have no ability to fly. However, if my faith is based in an object that makes it possible for me to fly then my faith might be justified. So, let’s consider what would happen if my faith in flying was based upon a set of 12 foot, plastic wings (think Buzz Lightyear – here) strapped to my back as compared to a Boeing 777 aircraft flown by a qualified and trained pilot? So, would absolute faith in that set of wings make them capable of flight like the airplane? Of course, not! The amount of faith I have in the wings cannot overcome their likely failure and make them more capable or reliable than the Boeing aircraft and pilot. You see, it is not the “amount” of faith that makes it possible but the object of my faith that makes it possible. So, faith can guide me to an object worthy of faith and trust but it cannot overcome the inabilities of an unworthy object of trust.
But faith in the proper object, in this case – God, does have an affect on me. I am the subject of faith and He is the object of my faith. Faith is not coming to God with our hands full of obedience, but coming to Him with our hands empty, open, and with a willingness to trust His actions, His abilities, His goodness and receive His grace and respond with obedience. We don’t obey in order to receive grace, we obey out of gratitude for what we have received, grace. Then it produces the desire to love Him and obedience naturally flows out of our trust/faith in Him and in response to His love and goodness. We often get this reversed. We try and make faith something we do or believe and that makes “our faith” the object and Jesus “the subject” of faith. When that happens, we express OUR faith in Him and, in doing so, we’ve reversed the process. For faith to be real, it is not about WHO has the faith but in WHOM it is based. Remember, the wings and the plane?
Finally, I want to end this week by more closely examining Paul’s statement about whether God is the God of the Jews only, or also the God of the Gentiles. Now, I know that most of you who will read this post are probably not Jewish. So, you might be thinking, of course He’s the God of the Gentiles, too! Why do we need to spend any time on this subject? But, I want you to notice how Paul answers that rhetorical question, “Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one…” God is one. There simply are no other gods. Simple statement, HUGE implications. Only One God! Not just implications about this God we serve, but also about us. One God and one people made in His image. If you go back and read those words in Genesis, He made man by forming him from the dust and breathing into him the “breath/spirit of life” and man became a living being (see Gen. 2:7).
Paul began this section by saying, “boasting is excluded.” Why is that critical to our understanding of faith? You boast in those things that give you confidence or make you feel better about yourself. You boast in your achievements or your social status. Why? Because they make you feel more confident and better than those around you. But we don’t just boast to our brother-in-law, we boast before God. You know what removes your need to boast? A realistic understanding of your own heart and a firm grasp on God’s unconditional love and acceptance. Paul says we no longer need to boast before man or God, because God loves us the same and He loves us unconditionally. One God who made one type of man, a man who is like Himself and capable of unconditional love but who failed to live up to God’s demands. But this one God justifies all men the same way, through faith in Jesus Christ.
So, I want to ask you to consider something liberal. Yes, liberal. The word liberal means: given, used, or occurring in generous amounts. Let’s begin to see one another the same way God sees us, men and women in need of a liberal outpouring of His love and grace. Boasting excluded. Pushed aside. No longer a factor. We are all the same and all in need of a liberal amount of God’s love and grace. When you boast, you are focused on yourself. If you’re going to boast, boast in the abundant grace of an incredible God. God who loves you, not because of what you’ve achieved but because His image has been imprinted on your heart and mind. Now, He has called you to love others this same way. Love God more than anyone or anything else, but also love others like you love yourself.
I will close by reminding you that Jesus could have focused on cultural and governmental change, but He didn’t. He told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world. He didn’t come to be a political radical and unseat Caesar from his rule. He came to change the hearts and minds of people – one person at a time – from seeking their own self-interests to seeking God. How? Through a liberal dose of grace and unconditional love. Then He said, “Now, you go do the same!” What are you waiting for? There is no Plan B.