STUDIES IN ROMANS

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002

STUDY EIGHT: JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH - HOW IT IMPACTS OUR VIEW OF OURSELVES - ROMANS 3:21-31

[1] We are all equally accepted by God (3:22): Paul states 'This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference . The only distinction between people we are permitted to make in the light of Gospel righteousness is the distinction between 'all who believe' and those who don't believe, and even that distinction has to be qualified as we will soon see.

Among the 'all who believe' Paul states clearly 'there is no difference'. He means by this that all who believe in Jesus Christ are equally justified, equally 'righteous', equally acquitted, because their legal standing in the presence of God, their legal right to stand before him and not be condemned, their legal right to stand guilt-free in his presence, has nothing to do with their actual human merit, and has nothing to do with their performance of law.

This statement of Paul's outlaws that line of evangelical teaching which makes distinctions between believers on the basis of performance; it outlaws all teaching that allows, and even encourages, Christians to view themselves and their relationship with God on a performance basis. All who believe in Jesus Christ have the same level of legal acquittal before the Judge of all the earth, and it is a denial of both the necessity and the effectiveness of the cross-work of Jesus Christ, to maintain that anyone is more accepted by God than another because of some element of human effort.

For your study: identify things that have been said to you by Christians, or that you have read in Christian books, that have made you feel less accepted by God than another Christian, and/or that have made you feel unsure of your salvation.

[2] For all have sinned (past tense) and fall (present tense) short of the glory of God (3:23). Paul here begins to explain why there is no difference in the 'righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe'. The first reason is that we have all sinned and all continue to sin. As he has argued from 1:18 to 3:20, no one can escape the wrath, judgement and condemnation of God: we have all sinned against the truth he has revealed to us, irrespective of our national or religious background. Even those who had the laws and standards of God spelled out for them precisely, did not keep those laws. This 'all have sinned and fall short' is one of the basic assumptions behind the cross. As Paul will point out in Romans 7, the law cannot save us because we cannot keep it. In Galatians 3:21 he states 'For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. Both before our conversion to Christ and after our conversion to Christ, we are sinners who sin. We have sinned, and we continue to sin. All of us. Without exception. Those who deny this deceive themselves and call God a liar (1 John 1:8,10). Never has there been a moment, nor is there a moment right now, nor will there ever be a moment, when we do not sin. And never has, is or will there be a moment when we perfectly reflect the glory of God, living up to his glorious standard exemplified in Jesus Christ.

If we do not grasp the significance of what Paul is emphasizing here we will make shipwreck of our understanding of Romans when we come to chapters 6 to 8. We human beings like to classify and rank ourselves; we like to place ourselves somewhere on a ladder of achievement, to see ourselves as better than ' but not quite as good as . This is how we automatically operate. We live with a performance mindset. We view ourselves this way; we view others this way, and we view our relationship with God this way. Those of us who see ourselves as further up the ladder do not like to be told that 'there is no difference'; we want to hold on to our 'claim to fame' no matter how small it is. In other words, we want, to a greater or lesser degree, to justify ourselves. 'There is no difference' Paul says, 'for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God'.

Is there such a thing as a human action which will make one human more acceptable to God than another?

Is there such a thing as a human action which will guarantee one human a greater degree of certainty of salvation than another?

Is there such a thing as a human being who is able to improve on the cross-work of Christ for him/her by adding to it even one moment of perfect personal obedience?

No. There is no difference. All have sinned. All fall short of the glory.

[3] All are right with God only through the cross-work of Jesus Christ (3:24). Here is the logical and necessary complement of what Paul has just said. If we are all disqualified by our past and present sin, if there is no difference between us in our sinfulness, if everything everyone of us does falls short of imaging the glory of God as Jesus did, and as we were created to do, then, if we are going to be accepted by God, and continue to be accepted by God, it has to be on some other basis than what we ourselves can contribute. And if our contribution has nothing to do with our salvation, then we are all equally saved at this present moment by something quite apart from ourselves. As Paul clearly states: 'There is no difference, for all ' are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus' (3:22b-24). As we have seen in Study 6, gospel justification, this declaration of legal acquittal that the gospel announces, is free and by his grace and through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. Nothing in us achieved it. Neither in the past nor in the present. Nor will anything in our future achieve or contribute to it. We do not earn, merit or deserve it. Nor can any demerit or cause in us lessen or undo it. We did not gain it, nor do we maintain it, by our own efforts. God never has owed it to us. He doesn't now owe it to us. Nor will he ever owe it to us. We have no personal credit balance with him. We cannot even pay our own debt. Salvation is free. That is the meaning of grace. That is the significance of the cross. The tit-for-tat performance mentality is outlawed by the gospel of grace.

For your devotions: Talk with the Lord about the times you have despised his cross by thinking that you yourself contributed some merit to your on-going salvation; talk with him also about the times you have despised his cross by wallowing in the guilt of your sin instead of thanking him for the complete and perfect salvation he in his grace has given you as a free gift in Jesus Christ your Lord.

[4] Therefore no one has any cause or right to boast (3:27). Because everyone is personally disqualified from life with God by past and present sin, and because the only way for anyone to be qualified for life with God is through the free gift of the cross-work of Jesus Christ, God's word here tells us that boasting is excluded. This is God's statement about all of our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions which express the mentality that we are more acceptable to God than the next bloke because of something that we are, something we possess, or something we have done or are doing. The Jewish Christians Paul was addressing in Rome bragged about their nationality (3:29), their circumcision (3:30) and the Law (3:28). What do we (audibly or mentally) brag about in the presence of God or others, that we think makes us more acceptable to God than we perceive others to be? Our particular Christian heritage? Our obedience to God's word? Our degree of piety or commitment? Our adherence to the expectations of our local church or Christian group about what makes a 'good' Christian? Our having been baptised or confirmed? The number of 'souls' we have 'saved Our Christian service? Our hatred of false teaching?

The moment we ever so subtly perceive ourselves in some way, no matter how small, to merit some favour with God, then we are guilty of boasting. Even if it gets no further than our own minds. And the moment we boast of our own perceived merit we are minimizing the work of the cross, we are robbing ourselves of our assurance of salvation, and we are making a distinction between believers where God makes no distinction. God has ceased to relate to us on the basis of performance and he prohibits us from relating to him and to others on the basis of performance.

For discussion: [1] Identify issues which today's Christians and churches perceive to make a contribution to gaining or maintaining salvation/relationship with God. In other words, what issues are seen to make a person more acceptable to God than another person? Do not discuss this question merely on a truth basis, (deep down we all know, I hope, that we are justified only by Christ); discuss it on a practical level, the level where truth is lost in the way we think about and act towards ourselves and others. For example: some groups have the perception that a true believer will have a great passion to 'save souls', and the absence of such a passion becomes a criterion for judgement.

[2] If 'boasting' is excluded by the gospel revelation of a righteousness from God, what are the implications of this for the apparent opposite of boasting ' for that despairing, fearful, negative, guilt-ridden mentality which lives with the reality of one's sinfulness and inability and disqualification, and has no assurance of salvation whatever, even though it believes that Jesus died for our sins? Is this mentality also operating in the performance paradigm just as much as the boasting mentality? Is it close cousin to boasting, perhaps 'inside-out-boasting', coming from a negative personality type rather than a positive one? Both are self-focused: one sees self as undermining salvation, the other sees self as firming up salvation. Both are wrong. Identify ways in which you have indulged in 'inside-out-boasting'.