MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 16, 1998 FROM ROMANS 3:27-31

 

          Paul in Romans 3:21-26 has presented the heart of the gospel.  The past three weeks, we have examined the work of Christ and the glorious blessings which are ours as a result of this.  In order to appreciate the next section, we must first very briefly review Paul’s treatment of what Christ has done for us in the gospel.  Paul says we have been “freely justified.”  That is, we have been forgiven of all our sins, past, present and future.  No charge of guilt can be laid to us because we stand forgiven in Christ.  In chapter eight, Paul will say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  But justification does not leave us only forgiven.  If the only work of justification was to pardon us of our sins, then we would be morally neutral in God’s sight.  He would have no reason to embrace us as his children.  He could just as easily turn us away.  But he does not because the gospel proclaims that those who are in Christ have a positive status before God.  That is, we have been declared righteous in His sight.  The perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ which he displayed as a man on earth--that perfect righteousness has been transferred to our spiritual resume.  We have the very righteousness of Christ and are, in this respect esteemed by the Father as He esteems His own dear Son.

          The work of Christ in the gospel has also liberated us.  Before Christ, we were totally bound by the tyrannical reign of sin.  Sin shackled us through its guilt, its defilement and its power to control.  Through Christ, we have been set free from the guilt of sin which held us fast, liberated from the defilement of sin which rotted our souls and we have been emancipated from the control of sin which cruelly dictated what we would desire and what we would do.  Now, we have been set free to be and to do what God created us to do--to obey Him and worship Him.  We have, through the gospel a future as bright as heaven itself.  We are, through Christ, saints of the most high God-- holding an esteemed position which even the angels of God can not claim.  That is the portion of our “spiritual resume” which Paul has revealed thus far and it is impressive.  It is also exclusive.  Only those who know Jesus Christ can claim those special privileges.

          Paul knows that what Christ has done has placed the believer in an exalted position and he knows that pride can easily fill that context and pollute it.  So, he acts immediately to stifle any impulse we might have for spiritual pride or boasting in who we are in Christ by reminding us of who did all the work and who deserves all the credit.  Let’s read 3:27-31.  Paul writes, “”Where, then, is boasting?  It is excluded.  On what principle?   On that of observing the law?  No, on that of faith.  For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.  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 by faith the uncircumcised through that same faith.  Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?  Not at al!  Rather, we uphold the law.” 

          Paul works to cut off our  impulse to be proud over the exalted status we have through the gospel.  He makes clear that our position in Christ is through faith alone, not anything we have done or ever could do to satisfy God’s lofty requirements of the law.  If that were the case, then only the Jews, who had the law could be saved and God would be God only of them and not the Gentiles too.  The main point of the text is simply this:  As those who have been justified by faith, we have no right to boast of anything except in God and things which point to God.”  Its important to see that this  concern about people boasting only about God is not limited to our salvation or to this letter.  All of Scripture says that our boasting, our pride is to be only in God. 

          Let’s look at just a few texts to see that this message is part of a much larger biblical message.  In Psalm 20:7 the great military leader David writes, “Some boast in chariots, and some in horses;  But we will boast in the name of the LORD, or God.”    He separates himself from those who would boast in their military might by claiming that he will boast only in the name of the LORD.  In Psalm 34:2 he says, “My soul shall make its boast in the LORD.;”   In Jeremiah 9:23-24 the prophet says, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not the rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understand and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for I delight in these things, declares the LORD.”   While the world takes delights in the gifts of God and boasts in wisdom, might and riches, the people of God are to boast in God and knowing Him for who He is. 

          Paul himself quotes this text in 2 Corinthians 10:17 where he says, “Let he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.”   When Paul boasted about himself, he was careful to boast only about that which pointed to Christ.  He says in 2 Corinthians 11:30 and then restates it in chapter 12 that, “If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.”  Paul boasted in his weaknesses because it was in those areas where he was weak in himself that Christ could be most clearly seen.  In areas where he had no strength, there was no other possible explanation than that Christ was manifesting his power through Him. God desires that we boast only in Him and that which points to Him.

          It is not news to most of us that boasting is wrong and that all the credit for our salvation goes to God.  I know of few, if any evangelicals who would explicitly brag that they were Christians or that the reason God saved them was because they were better or more deserving than other people.  Most believers have enough basic understanding of grace than to do something that overtly arrogant.  Yet, Paul’s warning against boasting about things pertaining to our salvation is just as necessary to the church now as it was when the gospel was first being proclaimed.  This morning, I would like to look at three ways in which we can, perhaps unknowingly boast in our salvation.  The first way is this:  We boast every time we fail to understand that our  faith is just as much of a gift as our redemption. 

          This is such a common element of boasting in the church today.  The gospel is often pictured this way:  God has done his share in sending Jesus to the cross and paying our sin penalty, our part is to place our faith in Christ and we can exercise this faith independent from God by the power of our will.  Choosing Christ through faith is often made the equivalent of choosing the right car or the right house.  You, with little or no assistance from God exercise your free will and the question of whether or not you are saved is ultimately dependent upon whether you made the right choice.  Faith is totally reduced to the level of a free will choice.  God is left out of the picture in the minds of much of evangelicalism.

          If that were true and faith is not as much of a gift as redemption, then we would have something to boast about.  If a person’s salvation depended ultimately upon their own personal choice, the difference between those in heaven and those in hell would be whether a sinner chose rightly or wrongly and not upon what God has done.  If this faith decision ultimately rests on our shoulders, then everyone in heaven will be able to look into hell and say, “The reason I am up here and you are down there is because I made the right choice and you didn’t.” Its ironic that anyone could believe that making a right faith decision was to their credit when this text, which mentions faith five times, is written for the purpose of pulling the rug out from under any temptation to boast. 

          Numerous texts argue that faith is a gift from God and therefore can never be a cause for boasting.  Romans 12:3 says, “For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”  God is the one who give people faith.  Its not a purely intellectual decision.  It involves the intellect, but it is ultimately a gift from God, not a product of superior reasoning or wisdom.  In Ephesians 2:8,  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;”  Salvation which includes faith is a gift of God.   Philip. 1:29For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,” To believe on Christ--to place your faith in Him has to be granted to a person.  It is a gift of God. 

          Jesus says in John 6:44 “No one comes to me [i.e. exercises faith] unless the Father  who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”  Here, faith is related, NOT to the decision of the sinner, but to the drawing (lit. dragging) work of the Father.  God has to drag sinners to himself.  To think that a sinner would, without God dragging them, simply choose to believe is extremely arrogant in light of the testimony of Scripture.  Both faith and repentance are gifts of God.  Whenever we see our salvation resting ultimately upon our decision to believe rather that God’s gracious gift of faith, we are boasting.  And Paul says here that God has engineered salvation in such a way that “boasting is excluded.”  It can in no way be part of this process.

          There are other ways in which we boast before God.  As we said, we would never overtly proclaim that our salvation is partly our doing, but we boast before God each time we have any number of attitudes many of us have frequently.  We boast each time we look down at another person in sin and cluck our tongues in judgment at them.  Every time we look down on another person, God hears that as boasting before Him.  Let me explain.  We SAY that “every good and perfect gift comes from God.”  But when we get behind someone in traffic who is driving a rusty old car that needs a muffle and which is coughing out smelly, blue smoke in your face.  They have two bumper stickers on the back of the car, both of which are obscene and they are throwing half smoked cigarettes and candy bar wrappers out their window in front of you. You look down on them in disgust and wonder what is wrong with them.  You think, “If they would stop being so lazy, they would earn enough money to get that thing fixed and behave like civilized humans.”  What you are saying is, if they just had some drive, some ambition to be responsible--like YOU have, they would not live the way they do.  That attitude implies that things like personal drive and ambition are not gifts from God and that means that “every good and perfect gift [except drive and personal ambition] comes from God.”  And therefore you are justified in looking down at them.

          You walk into the grocery store and stand in the express line behind someone who has seven more items than the sign says they are supposed to have.  You look at what they are buying and you see all sorts of expensive, foreign foods and cuts of meat that you only can afford once a year.  They pay for it with food stamps.  They do, however pay cash for the six pack of imported beer.  The three kids they have with them are barefoot and filthy--they haven’t been bathed in a week.  Their clothes are in tatters to the point of indecency.  You think, “What a crazy, mixed up value system those people have.”  You say, “But I got those values from my parents--they would never let me live that way.”  Who gave you your parents?  Are they gifts of grace-what did you do to earn good parents?  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:7 “What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”  Everything we have is a gift from God.  The truth is, apart from the grace of God, we would be driving a rusty old car which belched out smelly blue smoke too and letting our kids dress like urchins while we sucked down imported beer.  And it wouldn’t matter any more to us than it does to the person in front of us in the store.  So, why do we look down on those person?

          We SAY, “apart from Christ I can do nothing  but every time we look down on someone, we are REALLY saying is that what we are doing we do because of something in us and what’s wrong with that person who doesn’t have what we have?  Does this mean that we are not to hold people accountable to behave responsibility when we are in positions of authority over them?  Are we supposed to simply write off their irresponsibility as a symptom of a lack of grace?  Of course not.  The correction we bring into their lives may be the conduit through which God will give them the grace to change.  Correction and constructive criticism can be a means of God’s grace.  What this teaching means is simply that we are not to look down on them--we are not to judge them. Instead, we are to take the opportunity to thank God for the grace He has given us to be responsible (or whatever) and to pray, asking God to give that other person(s) the same grace in their lives that God has placed into our lives.  Walking that line between bringing correction (when we are responsible to do that) and not judging the person is very difficult--it requires much grace!

          Another way we boast before God is: when we feel more confident in our relationship with God during those times when we are most faithful in performing the spiritual disciplines.  Jerry Bridges, in his wonderful book “Transforming Grace” discusses this point in depth.   How many of us do this?  We gauge our relationship with God, his love for us, his willingness to use us NOT on the basis of what He has done for us in Christ, but on the basis of what we have “done for Him.”  We assume that God’s love for us goes up and down on the scale based on what we have done for him.  “I’ve had a quiet time every day this week, God really loves me.”  Or conversely, “I haven’t had a quiet time in days, God must not like me very much.” If God’s love for us is measured by what we do, then we have a reason to boast.  “God loves me because I hardly ever miss Wednesday night prayer meeting.”  That is what the Pharisees did.  They made up a bunch of phony rules which they could keep and made them the measure of God’s approval of them.  They were arrogant boasters.

          The truths we have looked at in 3:21-26 make clear that God’s love for us is not rooted in what we do or who we are.  Its rooted in His grace.  He says, “I am faithful even when you are faithless.”  His faithfulness to love us and to bless us is not rooted in our faithfulness.  If it were, then all of us would be totally without blessing.  We can be guilty of the same attitude with respect to how we view why God uses us to minister.  That neighbor we have been praying to be saved comes and knocks on our door and wants to have a cup of coffee.  She starts talking about spiritual things and leaves a door wide open for you to share the gospel with her.  This is a divine appointment if there ever was one.  But you sit there gripped with feelings of inadequacy because you haven’t had a quiet time in three days and your prayer life has been as dry as the Sahara Desert.  You sit there and let this perhaps “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity pass by without saying a word because your devotional life is mediocre.

          Do you know what you are saying to God?  You are saying, “My effectiveness in ministry rests ultimately, not on your grace, but on my faithfulness within my devotional life.”  Its up to ME!  Ultimately, this is an arrogant form of boasting before God.  Now, I’m not advocating a mediocre devotional life. God funnels his grace to us through those times, but his grace is never dependent upon our performance.  The way that scenario should have played out is this.  The woman knocks at the door and is invited in for coffee.  As the hostess is setting out the coffee she is praying, “God, I have been praying for this person for months and now she’s here.  I’m sorry I haven’t been more faithful to you, but if her salvation was dependent on my faithfulness, she’d never get saved.  God, thank you for giving me this opportunity, I’m trusting in your grace to empower this unfaithful vessel.”  She shares the gospel and the neighbor repents of her sins and received Christ at her kitchen table.  After the neighbor leaves, the woman goes into her bedroom and collapses in tears and says, “God, thank you that you work in spite of me and not because of me--You are faithful even when I am faithless.”  Then, in a worshipful response to her faithful God who has revealed again his power through her, she recommits herself to fall more deeply in love with him through a consistent devotional life.

          This same boastful attitude is seen when we feel we deserve an answer to prayer because we have worked so hard in the kingdom.  Its as if all our hard work was piling up redeemable prayer coupons in heaven that we could draw on when we really needed them.  Or, conversely, when we are sure God wont answer a prayer because we haven’t done enough Christian service.  By making God’s answer to prayer dependent upon our faithfulness, we are, in effect boasting of our service as that which effectively compels God to grant our requests.  Listen, God answers prayer because He is a God of grace who delights in answering the prayers of His children.  He will not honor selfish prayers, but He loves to answer prayer when we have been just rotten to Him so that He can powerfully show us his kindness and then, in our sense of shame and unworthiness before Him, He can bring us to repentance.  To think otherwise of God is to boast  before Him and boasting is excluded.

       In verse 31 Paul says, “Do we then, nullify the law by this faith?  Not at all!  Rather, we uphold the law.”  Paul again moves quickly here to correct a possible misunderstanding of his teaching on justification through faith, not works.  What he is anticipating is the response, “Well, if my salvation and the blessing of God is not dependent upon my living up to some standard, but on faith, then does that mean that the standard is irrelevant?” Paul responds by saying, “Faith does not make the standard irrelevant, it enables us to fulfill the standard.”  He doesn’t go into detail here as to what he means, but he has alluded to it in 1:5 where he says that he has been commissioned to call people “to the obedience that comes from faith.”  The only way people can fulfill the law is by faith.  A works mentality where a person works to try to get God’s approval can never bring about the obedience the law requires.  Only the faith of a person already brought into relationship with God by grace will allow for the law to be upheld.  Paul goes into more detail as to how this works in chapter eight, verse four.  There he says, “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

            When Paul rejects works in favor of faith, He is not saying that the moral requirements of the law should not be fulfilled.  He is saying that the ONLY way to fulfill the law is through faith by the Spirit and the obedience which come from faith, not works.  In chapter 7:6 he says, “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”  This does not contradict Paul’s word about boasting because there can be no boasting because the power to fulfill the law comes through faith BY THE SPIRIT, not by human works.

          Boasting.  Whether its in the form of overtly thinking we are better than others because we are saved or whether it takes a more subtle form of thinking God loves us more when we read the Bible or cannot use us unless we are walking closely with Him, Paul says boasting is excluded.  We are saved by grace through faith and that is a gift from God.  Everything we have is a gift from God.  May God give us the grace to live as people under grace who owe everything we have to a gracious God.

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