Implications of the Gospel
Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 3:27–31
(Read vv. 21–31) Last week, we focused on 4 heavy, long, and complicated words from vv. 24–26—justification, redemption, propitiation, and glorification. They represent marvelous truths that are at the center of our faith and of our hope for eternity. I hope they inspired you to glory in what God has done for us in Christ and to rest in the finished work of the cross.
But I recognize that it’s not easy to wrap our minds around these ideas. They are complex and hard to comprehend. Maybe you were left wondering, “What do I do with all this? What does this mean for how I live my life?” I’m glad you asked because today’s text, vv. 27–31, draws out 3 very important implications of the gospel for real, practical life.
You can see that Paul frames these implications with a series of questions. There are 3 questions in v. 27, two more in v. 29, and a 6th question in v. 31. So, imagine a Jewish reader whose head is spinning after vv. 21–26. He’s always believed that he’ll be in heaven because he is a Jew and because he faithfully obeys God’s law. But Paul has denied all of that and has argued that justification by faith is our only hope of salvation.
This Jewish reader is not so sure. He has big questions. And Paul has some important answers with some important implications, not just for the Jew but also for us Gentiles. I’d like to summarize his answers with 3 big assertions.
I. Boast in Christ alone (vv. 27–28).
Throughout Romans 2–3 Paul frequently crafts his argument as a debate with an imaginary Jewish opponent. However, even though he’s an imaginary person, there’s nothing imaginary about his concerns. Paul knew that any Jew would be asking these questions.
So, the 1st question Paul anticipates following vv. 21–26 is, “Where then is boasting?” That’s a question that most people aren’t bold enough to ask. I doubt you’ve ever had someone respond to the gospel with, “If I believe that, what do I get to brag about?” We all know we aren’t supposed to say that. But the fact remains that…
Sinners like to boast. 1 John 2:16 says that the “pride of life” is a driving force behind the sin nature. We all want glory, and we all care about what others think of us. And, sadly, this pride often twists true religion and morality into a petty competition for religious superiority. People strain to look the best, do the most stuff, and to gain glory and recognition. We’ve all known people who use religious practices, not to honor the Lord but to glorify themselves.
Paul was one of these people before his conversion. He reflects on it, when he says, “Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more:circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee;as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Phil 3:4–6). Paul really thought he was something for having such spotless Jewish credentials.
Sadly, even though we believe in salvation by grace alone, we often aren’t much better. We may turn to ministry titles, personal convictions, church involvement, family practices and just about anything else into a feeling of superiority.
It’s not just churchgoers who do this. Everyone wants to feel superior about something even if it’s silly. The last couple years, we’ve seen people with their noses held high because they had a mask on or because they didn’t, because they were vaccinated or because they weren’t. We’ll cling to anything if it makes me feel better than you.
Therefore, while the question of v. 27 may initially seem benign, we must appreciate the impulse within us all to find a reason to boast. We may be smart enough not to boast out loud, but we want to boast on the inside. So, how does the gospel confront the pride of life? Paul answers…
Justification by faith alone excludes boasting. 4:2 states the issue bluntly (read). The logic is simple. If my standing before God is based even 10% on my works, I have “something to boast about,” because I earned a portion of my standing with God.
Frankly, that’s what we all want. You’d think that everyone would want a free gospel, but they don’t. Sinners want to believe they earned God’s acceptance, and they want to boast in their achievement. That’s why every religion except true gospel Christianity is fundamentally legalistic.
But true gospel Christianity is very different. Notice Paul’s firm, declaration of v. 28. I want to park here because many people refuse to accept what God says. For example, a few years ago I did a membership interview with a couple who really enjoyed our church and wanted to join. The husband believed that Jesus died for his sins, and he believed in salvation by grace through faith in Christ. However, he also believed that his works added something necessary to the cross of Christ.
When I pushed back, he told me, “I can’t accept the idea that I don’t contribute anything.” He denied salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone.
It was tragic because the moment you add anything to God’s grace, you lose the gospel entirely. That’s what some people in Galatia wanted to do, and notice how Paul responded, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision (or add any other work to the cross), Christ will be of no benefit to you.And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal 5:1–4).
I hope we all agree on this issue, but I must mention it because it’s out there. A few years ago, a retired pastor in town wanted to teach on Catholic evangelism at Life Point. He was very sharp and well educated, but he insisted that someone could reject salvation by grace alone and still be saved. However, Galatians 5 is clear. If you think your works to add anything to Christ, “Christ will be of no benefit to you…you have fallen from grace.”
So, I hope that everyone here is clear on the message of v. 28. Justification is “by faith apart from works.” Therefore, if you are trusting in Christ plus anything, please come to the end of yourself and trust wholly and completely in the finished work of Jesus. If you are saved, “stand firm” in the work of Christ, “and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Satan wants you to slip back into legalism. Don’t let him fool you.
That said, what does justification by faith alone mean for human boasting? Verse 27 answers, “It is excluded.” The literal idea of the term is “locked out.” Boasting is not welcome. There is no room for pride or human glory at the foot of the cross. The foundation of our faith, as the song says, is, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”
Therefore, Christians should be the humblest of people because we are always mindful of the wrath we deserve. We know that our sin is horrible, and there’s nothing we could do to cover it or to merit God’s love. Our only hope is to cling to the cross.
So, there’s no room for pride or for us to be self-righteous and condescending. We should be humble before God and full of grace and patience toward others because we appreciate how much grace we have received.
Furthermore, our hearts should beat in rhythm with Galatians 6:14, where Paul states, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” I should be determined to deflect all glory from myself to the Savior. I want to make much of Christ in all that I say and do. We want people to know that he rescued me from hell, and he changed everything about me. I am what I am solely by his grace, so I glory only in the cross.
So, the first big assertion of our text is “Boast in Christ alone.” The 2nd big assertion is…
II. Preach the gospel to everyone (vv. 29–30).
Notice the next question that Paul’s Jewish opponent asks in response to Paul’s gospel…
The Question: “Is God, the God of the Jews only?” This question may sound very arrogant to us, but it is based in a legitimate biblical truth. “For you are a holy people to the Lordyour God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deut 7:6).
Israel uniquely belonged to God, and they believed that this covenant relationship all but guaranteed their final salvation. Only a really wicked Jew would miss out on heaven.
But Paul is arguing that having Jewish heritage or receiving circumcision don’t justify; instead, everyone must be justified by faith in the finished work of Christ. The Jew retorts, “That can’t be right. Doesn’t God belong exclusively to us? Your doctrine of justification by faith denies our Jewish privilege.”
Now, I doubt that any of us lay awake at night worrying about Jewish privilege, because we are all Gentiles. But we’ve talked about the fact that many Gentiles cling to other things that they believe will gain them privilege with God.
It could be their baptism, their family heritage in a particular church, or simply identifying themselves as Christian. When they hear a gospel invitation, they tell themselves, “I don’t need justification by faith. I’m already a Christian.” So many people think they have a backstage pass to God that is better than what other people have. How does Paul respond?
The Answer: God is one; therefore, he is the Savior of all people. Notice how Paul answers the Jewish question (vv. 29b–30). This is a cunning argument because Paul draws on one of the most foundational Jewish beliefs from one of their favorite verses.
The Shema, as they called it, declared, “Hear, O Israel! The Lordis our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:4–5). The OT was built on the conviction that there is only one true God, and all other gods were idols.
Paul uses this shared conviction to make a really important point. If God is one, he must be the God of all nations, not just the Jews (v. 29). This is consistent with the OT. “That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy” (Ps 67:2–4a). God has always desired the salvation of all peoples.
That’s not to say that Israel didn’t have a special relationship to God (9:4–5). God had given Israel many blessings so that they would be a light to the nations. However, many Jews twisted God’s blessings into an exclusive privilege, as if God only belonged to them and would only save Jews.
They needed to remember that God is one, and he is the God of all nations. Therefore, he is also the Savior of all people, not just the Jews (v. 30). God will save anyone, no matter their background, if they come to him in faith. The Jews needed to rejoice in the salvation of all peoples, not lament it like Jonah. That’s something that we must remember also.
The Application: Share the gospel with everyone. I doubt anyone here would openly reject this application. But for as much as we are appalled at Jonah for getting angry at God for showing mercy to Nineveh, we all have the same tendency toward bitterness and exclusivism.
If you let bitterness grow unchecked, it can play some terrible tricks on your perspective. You begin to desire someone’s destruction, and you revel in it when it happens. You can reach a point where you don’t want certain people to hear the gospel, and I’ve seen believers get annoyed that certain people profess salvation. It’s one thing to entertain legitimate doubts, but it’s something entirely different wish someone would stay away.
The same tendency can affect our zeal for world missions. There are some evil governments throughout the world, and some of those countries are filled with evil people who have done horrible things. There’s no question about that.
But God is one. He reigns over all the earth, and he is the only Savior. Therefore, we should zealously desire that the gospel reaches every corner of the earth, and that every nation responds. We should rejoice over every conversion and love every brother and sister in Christ. Our bond in Christ must take priority over every worldly concern or identity marker. I hope we are united in this conviction.
Maybe there is someone in your family or in your workplace who has done you great harm. I don’t want to minimize the potential evil that has been done. But please believe that the gospel is powerful enough to transform anyone. It transformed Paul from a persecutor of the church into its greatest voice, and it can transform anyone you know. No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace.
So, pray for the salvation of all people, and then take every opportunity to share the good news of Christ. Don’t be a fool, but make sure that eternal priorities rule over earthly ones.
Or maybe you believe that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. You’ve done too many bad things for God to ever love a sinner like you or demonstrate any grace. God says he is one. He stands over you just like he stands over everyone else. He is the God of all peoples including you.
And Romans is abundantly clear that Christ is ready to save anyone who comes to him in faith. So, confess your sins to your God, and believe that Christ is more than enough to save anyone including you.
In sum, vv. 29–30 say that there is no room for exclusivism in the gospel. God stands over all people and justification is available to all who believe. Therefore, preach the gospel to everyone. The 3rd big assertion is…
III. Obey God’s will (v. 31).
There is some debate about what question Paul is answering and how he answers it. On the one hand, it’s possible that Paul’s Jewish opponent believes that the OT teaches salvation for the Jews alone through circumcision and obedience to the Law. Therefore, he views justification by faith as a brand new doctrine that contradicts the OT. So, he accuses Paul of “nullifying” or rejecting the OT and its doctrine.
If that’s what the opponent means, then when Paul says “we establish the Law,” he simply means that his doctrine is consistent with the OT. He’s not denying the OT; he’s upholding it.
Along these lines, justification by faith is taught in the OT, and Paul’s going to prove it in chapter 4. But I don’t believe this is his primary concern in 3:31 because this verse specifically concerns the Law, not the OT in general.
Therefore, most commentators believe that the Jewish accusation in v. 31 is that Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith is inherently antinomian, or anti-law. And it’s not hard to see why a Jew would make this accusation. The Jew has always believed that obedience to the Law plays an essential role in salvation, but Paul comes along and argues that our works don’t play any role in saving us.
But if that’s so, what’s the point of obeying the Law? Therefore, the Jew claims that any theology which frees people from any obligations to the Law must be false because that’s clearly contrary to the OT. You can almost hear the guy laughing at Paul based on his false assumption.
Paul took this accusation very seriously. In fact, one of the major purposes of Romans 6–8 is to clearly state that justification by faith does not free someone to live as he pleases. Christians must obey the Lord and live holy lives; otherwise, there’s a good chance they have never truly been born again. Paul will be adamant about this point.
But it’s as if Paul can’t wait until chapter 6 to clarify the issue. Therefore, he quickly notes that justification by faith does not “nullify the Law.” Instead, it “establishes the Law.”
In particular, Paul will argue that through the power of the indwelling Spirit, Christians can obey God’s Law in a way that is otherwise impossible (8:3–4). By the Spirit, we “fulfill” the “requirements of the Law.”
Now, chapter 7 will clarify that Christians are not bound to the Law of Moses but instead to Christ. So, neither our text nor Romans 8 are saying we must obey all the food and clothing Laws or keep Jewish festivals. Christians are bound to the Law of Christ, which is very different from the Law of Moses. We’ll say much more about that down the road.
For now, just notice the main point of v. 31. Salvation by grace does not free us to live unrestrained lives of sin. God is holy, and God has defined for us what it means to live a holy life through the commands, principles, and examples of Scripture. We must pursue a holy life. And by the strength of the Spirit, we can. We won’t bat 1,000, but we can “fulfill” the “requirements of the Law.”
So, Christian, rejoice in the security that you have through justification by faith. Give thanks that you don’t have to earn a place in heaven, and you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’ve done enough to get there. No, your debt is paid and your eternity is secure.
But be careful that this security does not give way to apathy regarding holiness. Instead, remember that your body is the “temple of the Holy Spirit,” Christ bought your life on the cross, and you must obey his will.
But circling back to where we began, we don’t obey to glorify ourselves. No, the cross has changed my life, and God’s Spirit is the one who empowers me to obey. Therefore, we must boast in the cross and the cross alone.
The gospel is not just a ticket to heaven, and it’s certainly not just a stuffy, complicated theology of big words that are only meaningful to eggheads. Instead, the gospel is for real life, and I must live out the practical implications of what Christ has done for me.