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Galatians 5:16-23 teaches that at any moment we are either walking by the Holy Spirit or according to the sin nature. Walking by the Spirit, enjoying fellowship with God, walking in the light are virtually synonymous. During these times, the Holy Spirit is working in us to illuminate our minds to the truth of Scripture and to challenge us to apply what we learn. But when we sin, we begin to live based on the sin nature. Our works do not count for eternity. The only way to recover is to confess (admit, acknowledge) our sin to God the Father and we are instantly forgiven, cleansed, and recover our spiritual walk (1 John 1:9). Please make sure you are walking by the Spirit before you begin your Bible study, so it will be spiritually profitable.

Romans 4:13-25 by Robert Dean
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 41 secs

Neither Ritual nor Moral Law Can Justify – Part 1
Romans 4:13–25
Romans Lesson #042
November 17, 2011
www.deanbibleministries.org

As we get started in Romans 4:13, I want to know if anybody here can tell me where the first time justification is mentioned in the Bible. I will give you a hint: it is in the oldest book in the Bible. Which one is that? It is in Job.

I was reading this morning. This is a verse that every school teacher ought to be put up on their bulletin board and over the door. It is Proverbs 12:1. There is a word in here that many parents have told their children never to use. God the Holy Spirit used the Hebrew version of it, and in almost every translation, they translate it the same way because that is what it means in Hebrew. “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” I thought that was a nice insight from Proverbs.

Job 9:1-2 “Then Job answered and said: “Truly I know it is so, but how can a man be righteous [justified] before God?” A couple of interesting things about this:  The context is that he is responding to one of his friends who has laid out a case for why he has gone through the suffering that he has. That is what he has responded to. The question he asks really gets to the heart of the matter: How can a creature that is a fallen creature be justified before God?

Just out of curiosity, I looked this up in the Jewish translation (JPS, Jewish Publication Society, 1917) to see how they handled the concept of justification in the Old Testament. The 1917 JPS translation is usually referred to as the Tanakh {TNK – Torah, Nevi'im, Ketuvim – 3 divisions of the Hebrew Scripture). They translated it very similarly—“Of a truth I know that it is so; and how can man be just with God?”

What is interesting is the 1985 Tanakh translation changes it. Over the history of Judaism, there have been little minor changes here and there on the way they translated some scriptures because they do not like the Christian implication in some passages. Job 9:2 and Genesis 15:6 really do emphasize this concept of justification—justification is by faith.

The 1985 Tanakh translated this verse “Indeed I know that it is so: Man cannot win a suit against God.” It is taking it within the context of a judicial setting, but it changes the thrust of the whole verse. The Hebrew word that is used here is the verb sadeq, and this means to be just or righteous. I put an annotation here from HALOT (The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament), which is the most recent, most scholarly and accepted Hebrew/Aramaic lexicon. It is not a Christian production; it is just a lexicon of Hebrew that anyone would use. It does not have theological orientation per se in terms of Christian or Jewish. HALOT says that sadeq in Job 9:2 means to be in the right or be right. That shows that the Tanakh translation massages the English text so that it loses the implication that is there in the original. I am not picking on the Jewish translation here. There are numerous English translations done by Christians who manage to massage the text so that it does not mean what the original language means at all.

In the Old Testament, the masculine sadeq occurs 118 times and the feminine sadeqa occurs 156 times. That is over 270 times that there is a reference to righteousness or justice because the word can mean either one depending upon the context. This is the most dominant word for righteousness or justice in the Old Testament. The two forms do not differ in meaning at all and both carry the same idea of conforming to an external norm or standard or external absolute. The word is frequently used in the context of a courtroom related to the operation of a judge, especially when it speaks of God as the supreme judge of the universe. This whole idea of righteousness and how a human being can obtain righteousness and righteous standing before God is foundational in the Old Testament.

When we come to the New Testament, we also see that justification is the predominant way in which our salvation is described. In Romans 3:25 we have reference to propitiation. Propitiation is only discussed four times in the entire New Testament, and that is an important doctrine. In Romans 5, we will get into reconciliation, and reconciliation is only covered in five passages in the New Testament. But justification is covered in many, many more. The adjective DIKAIOS is used 81 times in the New Testament. The noun DIKAIOSUNE for righteousness is used 92 times in the New Testament. The noun DIKAIOSIS for justification occurs 2 times. The verb DIKAIOO meaning to be declared righteous, to be righteous is used 39 times. The noun DIKAIOMA is used 10 times. The adverb DIKAIOS is used 5 times. This just shows you how pervasive this doctrine is in the New Testament. It is the foundational doctrine for understanding the application of the work of Christ on the Cross.

On the other side, there is another word that we have only seen once in Romans so far in relation to the work that Christ did on the cross, and that word is redemption. There are six or seven Greek words for redemption. Redemption relates to the payment of a price, so that has to do more with the objective work that Christ does on the cross in terms of paying a price; whereas, justification is the application of that to each individual when they believe or trust in Christ and accept Him as their Savior.

Looking at the Greek word, the one thing all of those six forms have in common is the first three letters DIK. Many scholars believe that the original root of the word that all of these forms are built on was the Greek word DIKE. They believe that the root meaning going back seven or eight centuries was probably something related to custom or right, and over time, these words gained a more precise meaning. By the time you get to the 1st century, the focus is on rightness or justice.

Leon Morris, who is a Calvinist and holds to a pretty much lordship salvation, wrote a classic work called Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, which we had to read in a soteriology class at seminary. He was very good in his analysis of all the different words and elements related to the cross. He makes the comment in his work that this word group for righteousness does not indicate something arbitrary but something in conformity with some standard of right. The righteous man is one who is judged right by such a standard, and righteousness indicates a state of having attained to the standard in question.

As I have talked about justification, I want you to understand that these are not definitions that I use that I have generated on my own. I want you to understand the doctrine of justification as I have taught it is one that is grounded in the history of Christianity going back to its clear systemization and its articulation coming out of the Protestant Reformation. In the current discourse on justification, it is said that we hold to the Lutheran view of justification. That is exactly what it is – it was the view that Martin Luther articulated at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

It is simply the fact that a person is declared, not made, righteous by the Supreme Court of heaven because at the instant of faith alone in Christ alone, we are given, imputed the righteousness of Christ. So we do not change. It is not an infused righteousness. This is the idea you get in Roman Catholic teaching that righteousness is infused, sort of parceled out as you participate in the various sacraments. It is a progressive thing. Justification and sanctification are both progressive. But we believe that justification happens at an instant in time when a person believes that Jesus died on the cross for him. At that instant, God simultaneously imputes to the individual believer the righteousness of Christ and then declares him  to be justified because he possesses the perfect righteousness of Christ. It does not change us, but it is the basis for our eternal salvation.

Last time as we looked at Abraham in the section dealing with circumcision in Romans 4:9-12, I raised  the question “Were Abraham’s 14 tests of faith that God took him through the cause of his justification or a result of his justification?” I want you think about that. It is like asking the question, “Are you a sinner because you sin or do you sin because you are a sinner?” We sin because we are sinners. We are born with a corrupt nature, we are fallen, we receive the imputation of Adam’s original sin; and so when we come out of the womb, we are a sinner, and the result is that we commit personal sins.

When it comes to understanding justification with Abraham, Abraham was first justified. Genesis 15:6 talks about a previous event in Abraham’s life based on the grammar. Sometime previous to that when he was in Ur of the Chaldees, he believed God, and God imputed His righteousness to Abraham. The tests are tests that God brought into Abraham’s life to test his faith and to encourage him to grow. He did not pass all of them, but you and I do not pass all of them. The tests of faith that we encounter and the ones that we pass are not the cause of our justification. Our justification comes when we believe Jesus died on the cross for our sins.

We think about this question “Are we justified before God by faith?” Then the growth that appears afterwards is distinct from that act of justification. We will get into this more when we get into Romans 6 and talk about the spiritual life. But what happens in Roman Catholic theology, as well as lordship theology and this new Perspectives of Paul theology (N.T. Wright), they all confuse justification with ongoing sanctification, so that there is an overlap. The way you really know a person is justified is because their life is going to show it. They misquote the passage in Matthew 7:20 “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” That is talking about identifying false prophets. The fruits are the words that come out of their mouth. How do you identify a false prophet? His fruit, what he teaches or says, does not conform to Scripture. It is not an inspection criteria for determining whether someone is saved.

Someone is saved because they trust in Christ as Savior. They may commit mass murder afterward, they may commit any number of vile acts and offenses, they may be pedophiles, they may be thieves and robbers, they may be extremely violent, they may not keep any law, they may be completely antinomian; but if they believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, they are saved. It is not on the basis of some change in them that is the basis for salvation; it is because they possess the perfect righteousness of Christ which is given to them.

One of the ways to express the major theme in Romans is how do we receive righteousness as a free gift? That is what Romans is all about – the reception of righteousness as a free gift. It is not something that is worked for; it is not something that is earned.

The conclusion of this section we looked at in Romans 4:9-12 states that in relation to Abraham he was “… the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision [Jews], but who also walk in the steps of faith [Gentiles, a separate category, those who follow Abraham in faith] …” The point that Paul is making is that circumcision did not have anything to do with Abraham’s justification. He was circumcised 15 years after the Genesis 15:1-5 event, but his justification actually occurred sometime before the events of Genesis 12:1. Abraham might have been 50-60 years of age or even 30-40 when he was justified. It is not until Genesis 17, when he is 85-86 years of age, that he is circumcised, and you have the ratification of the covenant at that time through the sign of circumcision.

In Romans 4:12, Paul is making the point that circumcision could not be the cause of his justification. Why all this emphasis on circumcision? Because at this time in Judaism, the rabbis, the Pharisees specifically, taught that if a man was circumcised, then that was equivalent to becoming a party of the covenant, and he was saved.

We also went over Galatians 3 last time. Galatians was Paul’s first epistle. He wrote Galatians in maybe AD 53 or 54. This is 11 years before he wrote Romans. Galatians is his first clear articulation of the whole doctrine of justification by faith. When you get to Romans, he takes almost everything he taught in Galatians and is much more precise and detailed when he explains everything. Galatians 3:17, he concludes by saying “And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.”

A couple of things I want you to notice about this verse that helps us to understand what is going on in Romans 4. When Paul starts off, he says, “And this I say, that the law…” What law is he talking about? He does not say the Mosaic Law. Every time he talks about the Mosaic Law, he does not always identify it as the Mosaic Law. How do we know that he is talking about the Mosaic Law? “…the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later…” What law came 430 years after the Abrahamic Covenant? The Mosaic Law. So it is obvious this is the Mosaic Covenant from the context. “…cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ…” What covenant is that? It is the Abrahamic covenant that was confirmed by God in Christ with Abraham. He is indicating that the whole Trinity is present in the cutting of the covenant in Genesis 15.

Then he says the Mosaic Law “….cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.” What promise is that? In Romans 4:9-12, the issue is circumcision and that it was enough to get them saved. But if you look at verse 13, the issue shifts to the Law. Circumcision was one aspect of the Law, and then Paul changes from just talking about circumcision. In verses 9-10 “Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.”

When we get to Romans 4:13, it begins in the English with “For the promise…” The focal point in verses 13-17 is on the promise. That is the key word. Verse 14 “…the promise made of no effect.” Verse 16 “…so that the promise might be sure to all the seed…” It is related to the Law as a whole. Galatians 3 has these ideas. In Galatians 3:18, Paul concludes by saying, “For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise…” This was written many years before he wrote Romans. The problem he faced with the Galatians was that early in his ministry on his first missionary journey, he, Barnabas and John Mark first went to Cyprus and then up to south central part of what is now Turkey. It was considered the Roman province of Galatia. They went to Derbe, Lystra and Iconium, and afterwards, they went back and visited the churches they had established. Then they went back to the home church in Antioch in Syria.

While they are back there, this issue comes up as to how are Gentiles related to the Law? This was a major issue for the early Christians. That is why Paul is writing this epistle to the Galatians to tell them that Gentiles are not required to come in under the Law and not required to be circumcised. He is dealing with the same kind of issue as he is correcting the Galatians. They had been seduced by the teaching of these false teachers that would come to be known in history as Judaizers. They said, “Jesus is fine, but he is not enough. You also have to get circumcised and come in under the Law [basically a Jewish proselyte], or you will not really be saved and not have everything that God has for you.”

In Galatians 3:18, Paul says the same thing he is going to say in Romans 4 that if inheritance is from the Law, if you get the possession.. . What does this word inheritance mean? In the Old Testament which is the framework for understanding inheritance, inheritance does not have the idea of somebody dying and you read the will and get something passed down from whatever your parents had left or from your great great grandparents from generation to generation. That is not the main idea of inheritance in the Old Testament.

It has to do with possession, ownership of property. A person had an inheritance even if no one had died. That term is used a lot in relationship to the apportioning of the land of Canaan. The individual Jews in different tribes were given land allotments, and that was their inheritance, their possession, their property. That is the idea in this word, not so much something that you are going to get in the future because someone dies, but that this is a possession related to the promise that God made to Abraham.

This is the terminology and the foundation for understanding Romans 4:13-17 that we are getting ready to get into. Paul says the same thing here in Galatians in a shorter way about inheritance, participation in the promise that God made to Abraham. That promise had two applications: one was related to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jewish people and the blessing and the plan God had for them. Then the fact that that blessing God promised to Abraham and his descendants would bless the entire world. So it has a global or worldwide application to it. The inheritance relates to that promise to Abraham and the realization of that. What Paul is saying is if the inheritance is from the Law, if possession realization of the blessings of the promise come through obedience to the Mosaic Law, then it is no longer the result of promise.

He is contrasting law and promise because the promise was the promise of a gift. Do you do anything to earn a gift? No. A gift is something that is freely given. If it is a real gift, there are no strings attached. It is not like one of those calls you get that say, “You have just won a survey, we just drew your name, and we have a special prize for you.” But you have to listen to a 4-hour real estate spiel in order to get the prize. That is not a gift; that is just trying to bait you into coming out so they can try to sell you something. This is a real gift. It is the gift of a promise that God is going to bless Abraham not based on works or something earned but freely given.

Paul says in Galatians 3:18 if that inheritance, the realization of the promise that God made to Abraham is from the Law (something you work for or earn), then it is no longer a promise. It is either one or the other. They are mutually exclusive. Then he said, “… but God gave it …” That is the key word, the grace word. It is DIDOMI in the Greek and means to give. It is etymologically related to the verb forgive, and all those words are related to grace. God gave it to Abraham. How? By promise. The key is understanding that promise in Romans is always shorthand for the promise that God gave freely to Abraham. Nothing was done to earn it.

Romans 4:13 continues the thought that Paul has developed already. He is going to expand on it and start emphasizing promise instead of circumcision and the Law rather than circumcision. It begins with that initial word “for.” There are a couple of different words in Greek that are translated “for.” This is the Greek word GAR. It is introducing an explanation or further information about something that has already been brought into the discussion. So he is going to give a further explanation, grounds for something, or reason why he has said something. That connects it to what has gone on before. Verses 13-17 are further development of what he has been saying in 9-12. You cannot just separate them as completely different topics.

When we look at it in the Greek instead of the English, it has a very different word order. That is for emphasis. If I were to translate it in the same word order as the Greek, we would see what the emphasis is. The first phrase in the Greek is “For NOT through the law …” Once again, you see that Paul is being very emphatic here at the very beginning that this is not through the Law. He does not start out talking about the promise; he starts off  “For NOT through the law the promise …” That is his first statement just as he said in Galatians 3:17. And that explanation “for” makes us understand that he is continuing the same line of thought.

Paul’s logic is really tight. When Paul gets into some of these sections, he is just very rigorous in his use of logic. He says (following the Greek order), “For NOT through the law the promise that he would be the heir of the world.” That does not make a whole lot of sense in English, but you see what he is emphasizing by the word order in the Greek. That is the thing about the Greek word order – you can take each of these phrases or clauses and mix them all up because of the syntax of Greek. It is always going to be translated the same way into English, but if you put certain phrases or clauses up front, that tells you where the emphasis is.

We look at Romans 4:13 in the NKJV “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” In the English you lose the emphasis. What does the promise say? That he would be the heir of the world. Where did God promise that to Abraham in the Old Testament? Nowhere. Go back to what we have learned in our study on how the Old Testament was quoted in the New Testament. There are four different ways in which the writers in the New Testament quote from the Old Testament. 1) Literal prophecy, like Micah 5:2. The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and in Matthew 2, He is born in Bethlehem.

2) Typology. Something happened historically, as the Jewish people were brought out of Egypt. This is used as a type or a picture that is applied to Jesus and His family when they returned to the land coming out of Egypt. Also in Matthew 2. That is just an historical statement “Out of Egypt I called My son.” The event in the Old Testament was not prophetic, but it is used as a type or representation and is then applied to Jesus.

3) Old Testament statement that is just similar to something that is happening in the New Testament. The writer in the New Testament is applying it by virtue of principle or something of that nature to an event that occurs in the Old Testament. This example also comes out of Matthew 2 that the mothers of Israel wept after Herod killed all the infants. Joseph, Mary and Jesus had already escaped because they had been warned by the angel. The quote comes out of Jeremiah 31. When Jeremiah originally stated it, it was not a prophecy. He was talking about the fact that the mothers of Judah in 586 BC were weeping over the fact that their sons were being taken away as captives to Babylon, and they would never see them again. It happened north of Jerusalem in Ramah and did not happen south like Bethlehem which is Matthew 2. It involved sons that were being taken away and not being killed. Everything is different. The only thing it has in common is mothers grieving because they will not see their sons again. It is a point of application.

4) Summary. Matthew says that Jesus’ family, Mary and Joseph, moved back to Nazareth because the Old Testament said He would be called a Nazarene. It never says that anywhere in the Old Testament. Nazarene was kind of a negative, pejorative term. “That person is from the hills of Arkansas. You cannot expect much from them. Not too bright.” I am not picking on Arkansas. Up in New England, they used to say if somebody crossed the border into Maine, their IQ dropped 50 points. Every place has some area that they do not think those people are very bright.

That is what we have here in Romans 4:13—just a statement that summarizes everything that was covered in the Abrahamic Covenant. God makes the covenant with Abraham, and there are three elements to it. God promised a specific piece of real estate—the land. He said that blessing would come through the seed, which can be singular or can have the meaning of a large group – his descendants. And worldwide blessing. Each of these is further expanded in subsequent covenants.

God promised the LAND to Abraham and reiterated it many times in the rest of Genesis—Genesis 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:7, 18-21; 17:8. The SEED—Genesis 12:1; 13:16; 15:5; 17:4-6, 16-20; 18:18; 22:17. The promise of WORLDWIDE BLESSING—Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18.

That is the promise. We have the phrase here—Abraham would be the heir of the world. We just talked about inheritance, so what does heir mean? Heir means ownership. He is the one who owns something. Did Abraham ever own the land? No, he was a traveler the whole time; he was a sojourner the Scripture says. But he is not only going to have ownership in the land in the kingdom, but it says here, he is going to own the world. What in the world does that mean?

By the time you get into later passages in the Old Testament, there are a number of passages that speak of the future ownership and elevation of rulership of Israel, elevation of priority over all the nations. In Psalm 2:7-12, the Messiah is going to come back and rule over all the nations. All the nations are going to come to Jerusalem to worship at the temple—Psalm 2:7-12; 22:27-28; 47:7-9; 72:8-11, 17; Is. 2:1-4; 19:18-25; 49:6-7; 52:7-10; 55:3-5; 66:23; Amos 9:11-12; Zephaniah 3:9-10; Zechariah 14:9. All these Old Testament passages speak of Israel at the forefront, the foremost nation in the millennial kingdom.

Second Temple Judaism - the period that begins with the return of the Jews after the Exile in 538 BC and they rebuild the temple in 516 BC when Zechariah is the prophet. Not long after that by 440 BC, the Old Testament is closed. There is this silence from 440 until the New Testament period at the beginning of the 1st century. During that time, the Apocrypha was written. The books have value, not spiritually or doctrinally, but they tell us a lot about what went on during that time period. They tell us a lot about the history, the Maccabean Revolt, what went on with Antiochus Epiphanes, and a lot of other things.

In Second Temple Judaism, they sort of synthesized all of the Abrahamic promises into this idea that Israel was going to rule the world under the Messiah, and that Israel would basically be the heir of the whole earth. This is seen in a couple of passages in one of the apocryphal books, Jubilees. In Jubilees 22:14, it states, “And may He cleanse thee from all unrighteousness and impurity [speaking of Israel looking forward to the time of the kingdom, that there would be a time of total cleansing], that thou mayest be forgiven all the transgressions; which thou has committed ignorantly. And may He strengthen thee, and bless thee. And mayest thou inherit the whole earth.” This is written about 250-300 BC, so they are synthesizing, summarizing the Abrahamic Covenant that Israel will inherit or rule the whole earth.

Another passage is Jubilees 32:19 “… that they shall get possession [ownership, inheritance, heirship] of the whole earth and inherit it forever.” This idea when Paul speaks of Abraham being heir of the whole world, this is a term that summarizes the fulfillment, the full realization of all of the Abrahamic promises and blessings. This applies to Abraham even though you do not have a specific statement in the Old Testament. This was clearly understood by Jewish readers at that particular time.

This concept of being an heir of the world is going to be further developed in Romans 4:17. It is a quote from Genesis 17:5. “(As it is written, ‘I have made you [God speaking to Abraham] a father of many nations’) …” Abraham is not just the father of the Jewish people but of all nations (Jews and Gentiles) who follow him in faith. There is this connection between being the heir of the world (all the nations) and being the father of many nations. Paul ties those ideas together in this particular passage.

Romans 4:13 “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law…” A promise was a gift that God gave to Abraham. That means it is not through the law but is through the righteousness of faith. What Paul is saying is that the promise is not going to be realized by the law, by observing the ceremonies or the morality of the law. The reason that I am making that distinction is those who are followers [a couple of doctrinal churches where we know people who have family members there] of N. T. Wright, the former Anglican bishop and now head of the theology department at one of the seminaries in Scotland, have been seduced by this error. He is teaching a false view of justification.

When Paul says we are not justified by the works of the law, he is not making this kind of division that N.T. Wright says he is. It is OK to be moral, but Paul was rejecting the Jewish nationalism of that day which was the idea of circumcision or ritual observance. Paul was rejecting all the Law; there is nothing you can do in the Law that can gain righteousness. The promise comes by faith alone through the righteousness of faith, the righteousness that comes by believing in Jesus Christ and receiving the imputation of His righteousness.

Romans 4:14 “For if those who are of the law are heirs …” He uses the same particle “for”, a further explanation. He is going to give an illustration from logic. He uses a first class condition because he is assuming this first part is true: you become an heir through the Law. If that is true, he is saying, then faith is made void, and the promise made to no effect. Why? Because Law and gift are mutually exclusive. Working for something is the Law; being freely given something is the promise. They are mutually exclusive, so if those of the Law are heirs, that just wipes out faith and promise. They are not necessary. His main assumption is if heirship (position of his opponents) comes through the Law and you are going to benefit from the blessing of the promise, then faith is nullified and so is promise. They are irrelevant and no longer significant, necessary or important. Then what he indicates (not really saying this but it is imbedded within his logic) is that if neither faith nor promise have been nullified, the promise then must not be through the Law. He does not state that, but that is the implication of his logic. Since faith and promise are both important still, then the promise must not come through the Law.

So in his conclusion, the contrast he has been making is between righteousness by Law and righteousness by faith. This is from Romans 3:27-4:8. His ultimate conclusion is that if the blessing comes by Law, then neither faith or promise have any significance. If you are going to talk about faith and promise, then you have to recognize by virtue of the imbedded logic here that Law is no longer relevant.

Romans 4:14-15 “For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law, there is no transgression.” When you read that verse, what you thought you heard was that where there is no Law, there is no sin. But sin and transgression are completely different ideas. Paul is not saying where there is no Law, there is no sin. He is saying where there is no Law, there is no transgression (a violation or transgression of the Law).

Romans 4:15 is a difficult verse to understand. A lot of theologians and commentators just ignore it. He says that if the promise comes by the Law, the reason it invalidates faith and promise is because the Law brings wrath. The Law brings wrath because the Law cannot be obeyed. Not one person can fully obey the Law. When you violate the Law, you are going to bring wrath. What does wrath mean? We go back to Romans 1 where I showed you that throughout Romans, this term wrath does not refer to end time eternality in the Lake of Fire. What wrath refers to is the judgment or divine discipline of God on people who are disobedient to Him in time, in history. The Law brings about wrath because when we disobey the Law, God will bring discipline or judgment upon people who have failed to obey the Law.

His next point is that if there is no Law, then there is no violation of the Law. His key point is that the promise is for those who obtained it by faith alone in Christ alone because all that the Law is going to get you is discipline and judgment from God. The Law is not designed to bring blessing. The Law was designed to show that we cannot obey the Law, and when we do not obey the Law, the result is divine discipline and judgment.

That brings him to his conclusion in verse 16 “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace …” This is his tremendous conclusion. If it is not of faith, then it violates grace. The phrase “according to grace” means according to a standard, and the standard is God’s grace. Faith is related to grace. Law is related to works.

“Therefore, it is of faith …” What is the “it?” There is actually no statement of a subject here—it is probably “the promise or the blessing of the promise comes from faith, so that it might be according to the standard of grace, so that the promise might be sure [or certain or confirmed] to all the seed …” That is going to be the Jewish seed that responds by faith as Abraham did. “… not only to those who are of the law [Jews], but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham …” So using those two phrases to contrast the Jews who were given the Law and the Gentiles who were not given the Law but follow Abraham on the basis of faith. And then a reference to Abraham’s fatherhood of all believers at the end of the verse.

I want to give you some observations on grace.

1)  Grace is based on God’s character, specifically His love. Whenever you are gracious to somebody, you should not base it on your character but on God’s character. Your character is still not so hot, even on a good day. Same with me. When we have to love someone as Christ loved the church, we still need to base that on God’s love and not on whatever has developed within us. It has to be based on a certain foundation.

2)  Grace though is not an attribute of God. Love is the attribute; grace is an expression of that attribute. That is important to understand. Sometimes get the idea that God has to deal with us in grace. God does not have to do anything with any creature in grace. He did not deal with Satan or the fallen angels in grace. There is no redemption solution for the fallen angels, no plan of salvation. He chose to deal with human beings in grace.

3)  Grace is a volitional act by God toward His creature. There is not a necessity in God that he has to, to be true to Himself, deal with His creatures in grace. It is an expression of His love. He has to be loving, but He does not have to treat everyone the same in grace because grace is different for everybody. It is not identical to everybody. Common grace—God brings the rain on the rich and the poor, the believer and the unbeliever, the righteous and the wicked alike. But some righteous do not get as much rain as other righteous, especially if you are in Houston. And some wicked get more rain than other wicked. God’s grace is not an attribute; it is an expression of an attribute.

4) Grace is also contrasted with works in Scripture. We see it in Romans 4:4-5 “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted [imputed] for righteousness.” Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” The one who works deserves a reward or a wage, but grace is a gift, something that is undeserved, unmerited, and freely given. The promise was freely given to Abraham.

5)  Grace completely negates or removes any human contribution. If you try to do any little thing, ½ of 1/10th of 1% wipes out grace completely. It is all or nothing. All relying upon God’s grace. That is the Reformation watchword phrase—grace alone, sola gratia. Faith alone—you do not add anything to faith. In Christ alone 0151it is not faith in Christ and the church, faith in Christ and works. Grace alone. Those three have to be alone.