A. WHAT ADVANTAGE WAS THERE IN BEING A JEW? (3:1-8)
You may then argue cynically, saying: “But then to be a Jew or to be circumcised: what is the value of that then?” The reply is: “Of course there is much value in that: First of all, the Jew is a very privileged person to be entrusted with, to be the keeper of the scrolls of God’s Law.” It is like a person who has been entrusted with a Bible, having been presented with a Bible; indeed he is a very privileged person.
The fact that the Jew who had that Law or the Bible did not come to the point of having true faith in God which means a humbling of himself and accepting the grace of God unto salvation, does not take away from God’s faithfulness of having giving him the Scriptures. No, the fact that God had entrusted His Word to the Jew and to mankind will, in the day of judgement, prove that He had acted faithfully towards them, affording them the opportunity of knowing His will and be saved. The fact that man did not avail himself of this opportunity will count against man but will enhance the righteousness of God.
You may continue arguing cynically, saying : “Oh, but if my unrighteousness uplifts God, showing Him to be righteous, I am doing God a favour, a good deed. How can He then judge me if my unfaithfulness enhances His truthfulness and so increases His glory. Why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Well, that is typical human reasoning. Then you can just as well say as Christians are being slanderously quoted amongst the heathen as saying: “Let us do evil that good may result.” Well, such people deserve to be condemned.
B. NO-ONE IS RIGHTEOUS (3:9-19)
To what conclusion shall we then come: that Jews and Gentiles are equally sinful.
Paul then quotes excerpts from different portions of Old Testament Scripture to prove that this is not just his view, but had all along been God’s view of mankind (see verses 10-18). God said this so that “Every mouth may be silenced,” meaning that people will not be able to excuse themselves. No one will be declared righteousness in God’s sight by observing the Law. No-one will be able to say: “Look, I have kept the Law perfectly.” The Law actually exposes the sinfulness of every man’s heart. The Law is a light that reveals the sin hidden in the inner recesses of man’s heart.
C. JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH WITHOUT THE WORKS OF THE LAW (3:21-31)
Having proved conclusively that no man can stand before God, claiming that he has completely kept the will of God, Paul now comes to the question: “How then can man stand before a Holy, righteous God?”
The answer is given in verse 21: “The righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe”. Righteousness means the right standing before God and this comes by faith. God will declare man to be in the right relationship to Him, only when that man comes to Him in faith. That applies to all people; there is no distinction. All people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All people have transgressed the Law of God. There is not a single one that can stand before God without God pointing to thousands of things which this person did wrong, though he might have tried to do what was right.
But now: they are justified which means they are declared by God to be forgiven and to be standing in the right relationships to Him, freely – that means they do not have to pay in any way, but receive their standing by His grace alone. Grace is something that is given to the person who does not earn it. It is a free gift. This free gift is made possible because Jesus paid for it with His life, His blood. As He is hanging on the cross, with the blood pouring from Him, the Father says: “That is the way that you are going to receive forgiveness and come in right standing with Me; it is by believing that, that Lamb is now being slain for you.
God did this, to demonstrate His justice because sin cannot be forgiven unless it has been punished and thus paid for. He however left the sin of men unpunished and did not immediately commit them to hell, until Christ came and was punished for it.
The question then is: who can stand before God and boast of his own good life: no-one; neither Jew nor Gentile. No-one can stand on the principle of having kept the Law completely but only on the principle of having received forgiveness and a new nature by faith in that Lamb that was slain for him on the cross.
Is God then God of the Jews only because of the privileges they had received from Him? No He is the God of the Gentiles too. There is only one God and He will justify both the circumcised and the uncircumcised people in exactly the same way and that is by faith and not by works. That means both Jew and Gentile come to the cross, believe that Christ died for their sins and God replies: “Now that you believe, I say that you are justified.”
The Jew may now say: “But the Law is then worth nothing, for faith has taken its place rendering it useless?” This is not the case at all. By punishing sin so severely on the cross, God showed that He was honouring and obeying the Law which demanded rightful punishment for those that contravened it. God the Father, in Christ, fulfilled the Law. The Law got its justice; it got what it required. It got every drop of blood required to satisfy its demands.
Now God is free to forgive man’s sins and accept them by grace without them having to be punished for their sins or having to perform endless good works. Amen.
This principle is beautifully summarised in 3:23,24: for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
D. JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH AS SEEN IN THE LIFE OF ABRAHAM (4:1-25)
This chapter continues to explain how a person can be accepted by God simply by believing in Him and uses two old Testament characters well known to the Jewish nation, namely Abraham and King David as illustrations of this principle.
There is a vast difference between performing righteous deeds to be accepted by God on the one hand and simply believing in the God who justifies undeserving sinners by grace. This can be illustrated by the difference between a salary and a gift. When a person works for a salary, he can demand payment from his employer by the end of the week or month, because he is entitled to it. He can then boast with his bag of money because he acquired it by his own efforts.
However when a man has not worked at all, he cannot go to a rich man and demand a sum of money from him for he has not worked and the rich man has no obligation to him at all. So if such a man, being destitute and hungry, comes to the rich man, he can only beg for mercy and if he gives him something, it shall be called a gift for the receiver acquired it by grace.
King David, in Psalm 32: 1,2 confirms that this is the only basis on which a person can get right with God for he says; blessed are those people whose sins have been forgiven and covered by God so that those sins will never be counted against that person any more.
This then is indeed how the Jewish nation’s very first ancestor, Abraham, got right with God. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and number the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in Jehovah; and he reckoned it to him for righteousness. (Gen 15:5,6) If he had been accepted by God because of his good works, he would have had something to boast about, but he did not. Scripture says that Abraham believed in God and God accepted his faith and reckoned it to him as righteousness, which means that God said: “You are now right with Me because of your faith in Me.”
The question may now be asked: “This gift of getting right with God by faith and not by works, is it available only for circumcised people such as Abraham?” The answer is quite simple namely, that Abraham received this gift before he was circumcised which means that he did not receive it as a reward for having himself circumcised. In fact God himself gave Abraham circumcision as a sign in his flesh that he got to be right with God, simply by believing in Him.
Since he was the first man to get into the right standing with God simply by believing in Him, he is indeed the father of all the uncircumcised people that also get right with God simply by believing in Him. Then, of course, he is also the father of all the circumcised people (Jews) that are not only circumcised in the flesh but have come into the right relationship with God because of having put their trust in him. In this way Abraham became the father of many nations, both of the circumcised as well as of the uncircumcised.
All of God’s promises can become a reality in our lives by faith, which means that God gives them to us by His grace and not by our accomplishment. He is the God who gives life to those that are spiritually dead. For such people he creates things that do not yet exist and cause them to come to life.
Abraham’s was very real. It continued year after year and instead of getting weaker, it grew stronger as time went by. When he was almost 100 years old and his body had weakened and his wife Sarah could no longer bear children, he did not accept these facts as proof that he would die without an heir but rather continued clinging to the promise of God that he would become father of many nations. He was fully convinced that God would do what He had promised. The Lord saw this burning faith in the heart of Abraham and because of that faith, God decided that he would forgive Abraham’s sins and accept him as one of His very own. So Abraham’s faith in God was accredited him as righteousness.
These words were written not only for his sake but also for ours who trust in God the Father Who gave his Son, Jesus Christ, over to death for our sins and who raised Him to life in order that we may be put right with God. This act of God, declaring people to be right with Him on account of their faith, is called justification. (Just – as – if – they had never sinned.)
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