The Implication of Justification - Romans 3:27-31

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man 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 indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law (Romans 3:27-31).

 

The book of Romans is the fifth epistle that Paul wrote, but it is placed first among the epistles because it is of first importance. It is Paul’s magnum opus. Romans is of the most primary importance because it is all about the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his other letters, Paul is correcting something that is wrong in a local church. But the majority of the book is an explanation of salvation. Romans is all about expounding the gospel of God.

 

Paul wrote Romans while in Corinth, either at the end of 56 AD or the beginning of 57 AD. At the end of Paul’s first missionary journey, he wrote one letter - Galatians. During the second missionary journey, he wrote two letters – 1 and 2 Thessalonians. And during the third missionary journey, he wrote three letters –1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans. One on the first, two on the second, and three on the third. The apostle Paul had never been to Rome, nor met the people to whom he is writing. But he is burdened that the church there be firmly established in the truth of the gospel.

 

I am going to give you eight words that will summarize the entire book of Romans. First is the introduction in Romans 1:1-17. Then condemnation in 1:18-3:20. Then justification from 3:21 to the end of chapter 5. Then sanctification in chapters 7 and 8. Next is glorification at the end of chapter 8. Then election in chapters 9-11. Next is transformation in chapter 12-16. Then, finally, at the end of chapter 16 is the conclusion. Those eight words – introduction, condemnation, justification, sanctification, glorification, election, transformation, and conclusion – outline the book of Romans.

 

The Implications of Justification

We find ourselves in the third section, which focuses upon the doctrine of justification. It immediately follows the section on condemnation, because justification is the reversal of condemnation. Paul began with the bad news of condemnation, and now he comes to the good news of justification. In Romans 3:21-26, we noted that Paul gave us the basic instruction for justification – what it is, how it was secured, and how it is received. We learned that justification is (1) apart from the Law, (2) witnessed by the Old Testament, (3) provided by God, (4) received by faith, (5) needed by all, (6) declared by God, (7) given as a gift, (8) purchased by Jesus, and (9) designed by God. In this lesson, we will look at the implications of justification as found in Romans 3:27-31. In the next study, we will look at the illustrations of justification with Abraham and David in Romans 4. Paul is methodical as he makes his airtight case for the gospel.

 

As we come to verse 27, we come to the implications of justification. What is an implication? It is a logical consequence that is drawn from something else that is true. In other words, if A is true, then B, C, and D must be true. In this section, verses 21-26 are A, and verses 27-31 are B, C, and D. In other words, based upon the truths stated in verses 21-26, what is stated in verses 27-31 must be true. Here is the necessary outcome of what Paul has taught about justification. This is the reasonable deduction of justification by faith alone. Paul gives three implications drawn from the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The first implication is in verses 27-28, the second in verses 29-30, and the third in verse 31.

 

As Paul presents these implications, he is so systematic and orderly. There are three parts to each of the three implications. He makes it easy to follow his train of thought, because he lays this out with first a question, then an answer, followed by an explanation. This didactic approach is much like the question and answer format in a catechism. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is provided: “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” This is how Paul will teach in this section with the following supporting explanation. This is how Paul is operating. There are three implications, and each implication is framed with a question, answer, and explanation.

 

I. All Boasting is Excluded (3:27-28)

 

The first implication of justification by faith is that, unquestionably, all boasting is excluded. Lest any believer assume a smug attitude because he is justified and others are not – or that there is something good about him that makes him better than someone else who is not justified, lest we look down our long nose at others from a self-exalting position – Paul reminds us that this truth of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone ought to make him unspeakably humble. This truth of the grace of God in justification by faith alone as a free gift ought to drop him to his knees and remove all pride.

 

The Questions (3:27a)

Paul begins this section by asking a question, “Where then is boasting?” (verse 27). Boasting is self-exaltation pridefully bragging on oneself, in self-merit, rather than in God and His grace. Boasting is looking in the mirror and exalting in self. It is pride and self-boasting. When Paul asks the question, “where then is boasting?,” it is in relationship to the free grace of God in justification by faith alone. If this is true, then there should not be one drop of boasting in any heart or that ever comes out of any mouth. If justification by faith alone is true, then we ought to be walking in lowly humility. There should be no boasting, no self-elevation, or no self-exaltation.

 

The Answer (3:27a)

Next, Paul gives the emphatic answer. He says, “It is excluded” (verse 27). All boasting is excluded. “Excluded” (ekkleio) is a vivid, graphic word that means ‘to shut out something or someone.’ It is the idea of slamming shut a door, preventing someone from gaining entrance into a house. When Paul says, “it is excluded,” he is closing the door on any boasting about our part in salvation. There can be no pulling up ourselves above others. Boasting is completely excluded when salvation is purely by grace. There is no room for any boasting by any believer because of this truth of justification by faith alone.

 

The Explanation (3:27b-28)

Then, Paul gives the explanation for what he has just asserted. He says “By what kind of law? Of works?” (verse 27). The “law” in verse 27 is not referring to the Mosaic Law, but rather to a governing principle. By what operative rule does God justify us? In other words, how is it that God has justified us? He then asks the next question, “Of works?” (verse 27). Was it by your human effort that God justified you? Paul comes down hard and responds, “No, but by a law of faith” (verse 27). This “law of faith” is talking about the principle by which God operates in saving sinners. In this instance, law again means a governing principle or the basis of His operation. God operates in salvation not by a works basis, but exclusively by His grace. If it is by faith alone, which means that we had nothing to do with earning or meriting a position of acceptance with God. It is all on the basis of Someone else’s works.

 

We are, in reality, saved by works. But it is not by our works. It is by the works of Another, namely those of Jesus Christ. It is by His sinless life and substitutionary death that we are saved from the wrath of God. “All our righteousness deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6). It is by the perfect works of Jesus Christ that are imputed to us by faith alone in Christ alone that we are justified by God.

 

Luther’s “By Faith Alone”

How can we boast about what we received as a free gift? In verse 28 Paul will continue the explanation by saying, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith” (verse 28). This verse reminds us that the Reformation of the sixteenth century brought a recovered understanding of what it means. On October 31, 1517, the German professor of Bible at the University of Wittenberg, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses to the front door of the church in Wittenberg. He was converted two years later (1519) in the tower of the Castle Church in the same city. Two years subsequently (1521), he was summoned to the Diet of Worms, where he stood trial for heresy. With his books on a table in the middle of the room, he was asked,  “Martin Luther, are these your books? And will you recant?” The next day, Luther gave his great confession, “How can I recant of my books, they are filled with the word of God. To recant my books would be to recant the word of God itself.” He concluded, “My conscious is bound by the word of God. I can do no other. Here I stand, God help me.”

 

With that bold declaration, the death sentence was issued on Luther’s head. He was given six weeks to put his affairs in order. As he left Worms in route for Wittenberg, Luther was kidnapped by his friends. They put a bag over his head and took him to the Wartburg Castle, where no one would suspect him to be. There, the government officials could not find him and kill him. As Luther sat in the Wartburg Castle, he decided to translate the New Testament into the German language, which is a monumental achievement. Luther’s German New Testament, called the September Bible, was published in September 1522.

 

Luther was meticulous in his translation. When he came to this verse, Romans 3:28, he added a word that was not in the original text. He did so to make it clear for the German-speaking people concerning what Paul is saying. He added the word “alone” – “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith alone.” “Alone” is not in the original text, but the truth of it is obviously clear. Paul continued by saying “apart from works of the law” (verse 28). If justification is apart from the works of the law, it must be by faith alone.

 

The teaching of sola fide is one of the five solas that came from the Reformation known as the material principle. It means that a right standing before God is ‘by faith alone.’ This sola became shorthand for justification by faith alone. It is the very heart founded in this very verse. Justification by faith alone is taught in multiple places in the Bible, for example Romans 1:16-17 and Galatians 3. But this was the defining text for Luther as he translated the Bible into the German language.

 

One of the hallmarks of the Reformation was the mission to produce a Bible in the language of the people. Previous to this, the priests preached in Latin. The problem was, the people did not know Latin, so they went to a church service that might as well as have been in Swahili, as they do not even know what was being said. Luther gave this gift to the German-speaking people while he was sitting in the castle with nothing else to do. Sometimes God uses trials to bring about our most productive work.

 

Faith is a Gift From God

Because salvation it is apart from works and is all by faith, how could there be any boasting? Paul writes elsewhere “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). There is nothing good in their lives except what God has supplied, and that began with the gift of saving faith. God was at work in their life, imparting to them the faith to believe in Jesus Christ. Even the faith to believe was bestowed by God. It was not that God contributed the grace, and they contributed the faith. Even their ability to believe in Jesus Christ was a gift from God, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9).

 

The whole package of salvation, not only the provision of redemption at the cross, but repentance and faith is an unmerited gift from God. So how could we ever have any pride in ourselves? The flesh is still operating within us and wants to take credit for what God has done. Paul reminds the church in Romans, and he reminds us today, that everything good we have has been received from God is an undeserved gift. Therefore, we ought to be the lowly of mind, the humble of heart, and the self-denying. This doctrine of justification by faith should not puff us up, but bring us low in our walk with God.

 

“He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease”

As John the Baptist was watching Jesus begin His public ministry, the Messiah’s ministry was increasing, his ministry was decreasing. That was a bitter pill for any preacher to swallow. John’s disciples came to him and said that there are more disciples following Jesus than there are with us. What do we do about this? John the Baptist gave the right answer. He said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven” (John 3:27). Even the ministry we have is a gift from God. Even the fruit that would come from our labor as we serve the Lord is the gift of God. Where then is boasting? There is no room for boasting, because justification is by faith, and even that faith must be given by God.

 

By way of application, this is a call for humility. Let us be reminded that “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Do you want a greater grace as this verse promises? God gives grace to only one person. He gives it to the humble. On the other hand, God is opposed to the proud and resists him. God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. Where then is boasting?

 

II. All Distinctions are Removed (3:29-30)

 

Back to Romans 3, we see in verse 29 the second implication, that all distinctions are removed. If justification by faith alone is true, then there can be no classes or levels of believers. All who are justified are equally justified. No one is more justified than another. All believers are imputed with the same righteousness of Jesus Christ. Therefore, there are no distinctions between those who put their trust in Him.

 

The Questions (3:29a)

In verse 29, Paul begins with a question, “Or is God the God of Jews only?” This question is asking, “Is God dealing only with the Jews? Is God saving only the Jews? Is God justifying only the Jews? Is He only the God of the Jews?

 

The Answer (3:29b)

Paul answered the question with a second question, “Is He not the God of Gentiles also?” That is a rhetorical question, the answer of which is “Yes, indeed, God is the God of the Gentiles also.” For Him to be the God of the Gentiles means that He is also dealing with Gentiles in the same way in justification. God is also justifying Gentiles just as He is justifying Jews.

 

In fact, the reason why God saved Jews was for them to go to the Gentiles with the same gospel message with which they were made right with Him. This clearly demonstrates that there was to be no distinction between Jews and Gentiles in matters of salvation. The Jews were to be the great evangelists to the world and to carry the gospel to the corners of the earth to bring the Gentiles to faith in God through Jesus Christ. But the Jews hoarded it. They kept to themselves this message, that sinners can be justified by faith alone.

 

Hoarding the Gospel for Yourself

One specific instance in which God commanded that the saving gospel entrusted to the Jews be taken to the Gentiles was in the case of Jonah and Ninevah. God said to Jonah, “I want you to go to Nineveh and preach the gospel to the Gentiles there,” Jonah went in the opposite direction. He got on a ship and went to Tarshish. That is like being in Dallas and being told to go to New York, but you get on a plane in the total other direction to Los Angeles. Jonah tried to run as far away from the Gentiles as he possibly could. So God had to send a fierce storm and a great fish, and reroute Jonah back to Nineveh. When Jonah brought God’s message, the greatest evangelistic revival to ever occur takes place in Ninevah.

 

What does Jonah then do in response to the Gentile converts? He pouted about it because he did not want Israel’s enemies to be in the kingdom of God. How boastful and prideful he was. Jonah sat under a tree and sulked and pouted, because the Ninevites repented and were converted. He wanted to keep salvation within the Jews. He wanted the holy huddle to remain the holy huddle.

 

However, one of the chief implications of justification is not just Jews being saved, but Gentiles. God has a heart for the world, He desires to reach the world with the saving message of justification by faith alone. There are no more distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. God is not only the God of the Jews, but also the God of Gentiles.

 

The Explanation (3:30)

In verse 30 is Paul’s explanation. He does more than merely answer in the affirmative. Like any good teacher, he gives the explanation for his answer. Paul begins, “Since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith” (verse 30). This is referring to Jews who have been circumcised. “The circumcised” is just a way to name those of the nation Israel. How is a Jew saved? Paul makes it clear that he is justified by faith alone in Christ alone. He then adds, “and the uncircumcised through faith” (verse 30). This refers to non-Jews, which are the Gentiles or the rest of the world. They also are justified by faith alone in Christ alone. Here, again, is another supporting text that there is only one way of salvation. There is not one way for a Jew to be saved and a different way for a Gentile to be justified. Both are saved by faith alone in Christ alone.

 

At the very end of verse 30, Paul reaffirms the exclusivity of the gospel, “since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.” What Paul is saying, is God is one. This is a restatement of Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” The point Paul is making is that because there is only one God, there is only one way by which this one God is justifying sinners. God is not divided within Himself. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). This is the solidarity and unity of God. “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Because there is only one God, there is, therefore, only one way of salvation.

 

One Body of Christ

Therefore, all distinctions are removed. Jew and Gentile are one in Christ. At the cross, Jesus tore down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14-16). There is now only one body of Christ. There is not a Jewish body of Christ and a Gentile body of Christ. Neither is there a Baptist body, a Presbyterian body, an Independent body, a Charismatic body, and a Methodist body. There is only one body of Christ, and it is comprised of those who are justified by faith alone in Christ alone. This is the second implication of justification by faith. There is no other way of salvation, and there is no division between those who come to Christ.

 

It is good for us to hear this, because we have become so fractured in the body of Christ today. It seems that it would take some kind of national or global persecution to weld the different groups of believers back together again. The people of God are like 20,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean that are disconnected. To be sure, there are doctrinal distinctives to each part of the church, and we need to maintain our convictions in sound doctrine. But we also need to remember that we have brothers and sisters in Christ, in other parts of the body, who are one with us.

 

III. The Law is Established (3:31)

 

The third implication of justification by faith is that the Law is established, found in verse 31.

 

The Question (3:31a)

The apostle asks, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith?” (verse 31). If we are justified apart from the Law, as Paul said in verse 21, is the Law now nullified? In other words, he asks, “Is the Law of no effect? Is the Law of no good or purpose if we are justified apart from the Law?” Paul wants to head off this wrong conclusion before it can spread in the minds of those in Rome. He again gives question, answer, and explanation.

 

The Answer (3:31b)

Paul writes, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith?” (verse 31). “Nullify” (katargeo) means ‘to make of no effect’ or ‘to cause to cease.’ Have we made the moral Law to be cancelled and irrelevant if we are justified apart from the Law? Note Paul’s answer, “May it never be!” (verse 31). This is stated in two words in the Greek, me gnoito, which is the strongest, most emphatic negative that can be conveyed in the original language. It means ‘absolutely not.’ It is not just “no,” but ‘a thousand times no.’ Or ‘not now, not never.’

 

The Explanation (3:31c)

Justification does not nullify the proper use of the moral Law. Rather than giving us a full explanation, Paul, in reality, provides us with more of a confirmation. He states, “On the contrary, we establish the Law” (verse 31). This means it is the total opposite of thinking that justification nullifies the Law. “Establish” (histemi) is a strong Greek word that means ‘to cause something or someone to stand.’ It was used in Acts 2 when the other 11 apostles put Peter forward to preach on the day of Pentecost. They caused him to stand before the crowd. It also means ‘to make firm’ or ‘to cause a thing to keep its place.’ Thus, Paul asserts that his teaching on justification does not nullify the Law, but establishes it.

 

Uses of the Law

Let me say a couple things about the Law. In Romans 3, “the law” is used in four different ways, so you have to keep your eye on the ball. One, in verse 19, the law refers to the entire Old Testament. Two, in verse 21, the law refers to the first five books of the Old Testament, because it is distinguished from the prophets. Three, it is used as we saw in verses 27-28 as an operating principle. Four, law is used is to refer to the moral law, which is succinctly summarized in the Ten Commandments. That is how it is used in verses 20, 27, 28, and 31.

 

Obviously, the ceremonial law was fulfilled in the death of Jesus Christ and has passed away. We are no longer brining animal sacrifices to a priest to offer on our behalf on the Day of Atonement. That sacrificial system is over. The ceremonial law was fulfilled at the cross. The civil law was uniquely to govern Israel in the Promised Land. But the moral law of God is still in effect. We are still to have no other gods before us. We are still not to take God’s name in vain. We are still not to have a graven image of God. We are still to honor our father and our mother. We are still not to murder. We are still not to commit adultery. We are still not to steal. We are still not to bear false witness. We are still not to covet. The only commandment that requires some modification is the Sabbath. Granted, it is an in-house debate within Reformed circles as to how the Sabbath relates to the present moment. We will set that aside for another discussion. But here, when Paul says “we establish the Law,” he is referring to the moral law. Paul will continue to appeal to the moral law of God in Romans as a basis for his teaching.

 

The implication of justification by faith is that we are still obligated to obey the moral commands of God. Justification by faith is not a free pass so that you can live however you want. It does not mean you have liberty to do anything and everything that comes into your mind. We are still under the moral imperatives of the Ten Commandments. We are not antinomians, meaning against the law. We are not hyper-grace people, who can live however we want to live. The law of God is still binding upon our lives and we are accountable to Him to obey the commandments. In Romans 7:12, Paul says, “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” In verse 14, he says, “For we know that the Law is spiritual.”

 

These are the three implications that Paul establishes to follow his teaching on justification by faith. The fact that we are justified by faith alone should produce humility within us. This doctrine leaves no room for boasting. It should remove all barriers and all distinctions, because we are all justified in the same way and brought into the same kingdom.

Dr. Steven J. Lawson

Dr. Steven J. Lawson is President and founder of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to equip biblical expositors to bring about a new reformation in the church. Dr. Lawson hosts The Institute for Expository Preaching in cities around the world. Dr. Lawson is also a Teaching Fellow for Ligonier Ministries, where he serves on its board. Moreover, he is Professor of Preaching and oversees the Doctor of Ministry program at The Master’s Seminary, where he also serves on its board. Dr. Lawson is also Professor in Residence for Truth Remains, a work designed to promote and proclaim God’s written Word. Further, Dr. Lawson serves as the Executive Editor for Expositor Magazine published by OnePassion Ministries.