Meditations in Romans : 42: Upholding the Law
Rom 3:29-31 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law
Romans is a steady flow of Paul’s thoughts, but nevertheless there are distinct junction points where that flow seems to move up a notch, and so as we come to the end of chapter 3 and get ready to move into chapter 4 we must recognise a change. So far in the last chapter Paul has been creating a level playing field for Jew and Gentile. All are lost and need God’s salvation that comes through Jesus. In chapter 4 Paul starts using Abraham as an illustration of saving faith and will move on to open up the theme of justification by faith which he has only briefly mentioned so far. So we are going to draw this particular set of meditations to a close at this point which is fitting.
Because it is a continuous flow of thought we need to remind ourselves what has just gone: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (v.28). That’s where his previous arguing had come to. But he wants to emphasise something else now. So he asks this simple question: “Is God the God of the Jews only?” It is something you might think is so, if you casually read the Old Testament, for it is certainly the story about Israel (yet the truth is that they were to be a light to the rest of the world and that comes through literally dozens of times in the Old Testament.) Oh no, comes Paul with a rhetorical question, “Is he not the God of the Gentiles too?” We may think this is a minor matter but in fact it is a crucial matter. God isn’t only concerned with the Jews; He is concerned with the whole world.
That had been Peter’s stumbling block that we read about in Acts 10 when the Lord gave him a vision about eating unclean animals in preparation for going to a Gentile family. When Jesus had said to the apostles, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” (Acts 1:8) they must have thought he meant to the Jews all over the world. It had come as a real shock to Peter, and most of his fellow Jewish believers, that the Gospel included the Gentiles, the rest of the world! This is important in what is coming, for Paul is soon going to be using the illustration of Abraham and that could have made his Jewish readers think even more it is all about the Jews. But no, this is an inclusive Gospel. The fact that the Gentiles had not had the Law is neither here nor there, for “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the Law.”
Then he answers his own question: “Yes, of Gentiles too,”and then he adds, “since there is only one God.” There is not one God for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. No, the Lord is one and He “will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.”Yes, the Jews, the circumcised are justified by faith, not by keeping the Law. We’ve seen a number of times how futile it is in relying upon your observance of the Law because we all fail to keep it perfectly. No, and this might have come as a shock to the Jewish readers, they are justified (accepted by God) by faith, just as the Gentiles are justified by faith. That is the devastating news that Paul is going to open up on in the coming chapters – justification by faith. Everything about our salvation is by faith. It is all about responding to what God has said about His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one against whom all our responses are measured. It’s how we respond to Jesus Christ that determines whether we are saved or not. That is the uncompromising message of the New Testament.
Paul then envisages his Jewish readers coming up with another question: “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?” i.e. does faith render the Law meaningless? Does it mean that the Law is pointless? Then comes his answer: “Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” Faith upholds the Law? Yes, later in the letter Paul will illustrate this. We have already seen in the preceding verses; it is Law that makes us realise that we are sinners in need of salvation and so, when we respond to the Gospel by faith, we are showing that the Law did its work and was effective in driving us into God’s arms. What Paul is saying is that by coming to God, by faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ, we are supporting or upholding the role of the Law. Yes it was there as a means of providing guidance and direction for Israel, but as a means of measuring our righteousness it was a failure. It’s role, it turns out, is to show us our sinful tendency and our inability to keep the rules, and therefore our need of God’s help. In the next set of meditations we will see how this justification by faith is worked out. For the time being, we conclude with the message that has come over loud and strong from these last two chapters: we NEED Jesus to save us because nothing else can!