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THE CONTENT OF FAITH
Christ at the Center
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the beginning of a new righteousness
which finds God in Christ Jesus at its very center.
Paul continues to unfold the revelation of Christ "raised again for our justification." He shows that the channel through which we receive God's righteousness and justification is faith in Jesus.
Paul presents the primacy of faith in these three subjects:
- The Principle or Law of Faith (3:27-31)
- The History of Faith (4:1-16)
- The Dynamic of Fiath (4:17-5:9)
The Principle or Law of Faith (3:27-31)
Since the time of the Reformation, we have spoken freely about justification by faith alone. Yet something has happened to the word faith. Often we lose the original meaning and content of Scriptural words; or even more dangerous than that, we tend to put other meanings into Scriptural words, meanings not found in the Bible. It is as though we put apple juice on the label but vinegar in the bottle. People sometimes become suspicious of labels. Thus we need to reemphasize the true meaning of faith.
Scripture calls man's basic failure in obtaining the righteousness of God "the law of works." It calls man's basic success in obtaining righteousness "the law of faith." These two laws need to be considered carefully.
In Romans 3:27 Paul gives one of the main secrets of the difference between these two laws:
Where then is the glorifying? It is excluded. By what manner of law? of works? Nay: but by a law of faith (3:27).
The Law of Works
The law of works promotes boasting; faith excludes it. The law of works
fails to make men righteous; the law of faith succeeds in making them
righteous. God insists on faith rather than law for personal justification.
The law of faith cancels pride in order to preserve God's glory. God says,
"Not of works, that no man should glory."
When a man works to attain righteousness, he is thrown on his own resources, his own moral energy. Thus when he achieves a relative standard of righteousness which seems to be better than other men's, he glories; he is boastful; he is proud. The law of works makes man boast in his own achievements; the law of faith glories in God alone.
This is exactly the thought that Jesus taught in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. The Pharisee prayed thus with himself: "I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men,…or even as this publican" (Luke 18:11). The Pharisee we self-righteous. A man is self-centered if he is not God-centered, for all men have some motivation. Men who operate under the law of works have a morality, but it is self-centered. The main element in all depravity is selfishness. By the law of works the very self that Jesus said His disciples should deny is enthroned. Self-enthronement is an abomination in the sight of God. No wonder the prophet Isaiah said, "All our righteousness are as filthy garments."
Over this very issue of independence Satan began his deceptive career. His first temptation was to entice the human race to act independently. Eve acted independently of Adam, and Adam acted independently of God. They acted from their own souls, form their own selves. Thus depravity came in and contaminated the whole human race.
Dependece on Self
Self has not innate qualities of true holiness apart from God. Jesus
gave one flat command concerning self; "Deny thyself." The most cultured
ways of self are the ways of death. But the law of works propagates and
preserves the spirit of independence. The law of works operates against
God's whole plan in creating and redeeming mankind. Man certainly has
the power to choose freely - but only that he might choose the way God
has designed for him.
One common expression and attitude abroad in our day concerning the law is this: "No one can keep the law. Nobody is perfect!" Though this expression may be true of each man in his unrepentant state - because he is still committed to self-gratification - it seriously limits God's divine provision in Christ. Humanity has neither a righteousness of its own which could ever please God nor a perfection of its own. Scripture emphasizes the truth that all men are sinners, and God must visit wrath on all unrepentant sinners.
If We Deny the Possibility of Righteousness ...
Again we say, from the divine side, that to deny the possibility of righteousness
is to frustrate the very meaning of redemption through Christ and His
cross. The church sometimes parrots statements about our inabilities to
keep the law, and then these statements become a convenient smoke-screen
to make practical steps of faith null and void. Isolated verses of Scripture
may seem to convey the thought that unrighteousness must continue to remain
in believers. But when such verses are studied in the light of their context,
we see that God's revealed purpose for man is practical holiness and righteousness
"in all manner of living."
For instance, the statement "All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God" is a fact which is true of man in his sinful state. But this statement cannot be applied to a man who has found the "much more" of the grace of Jesus or to the man who knows the power of Christ's blood and Christ's Spirit.
Universal Fact About Fallen Man
It is so good to know that verses about man's sinfulness are meant to
announce not an unalterable fate for man but rather a universal fact about
fallen man. No fate hangs over mankind determining a permanent sinful
state within him. Rather, in God's Word there is announcement of man's
failure to be what he ought to be before a holy God.
The Bible never teaches that man's failure to attain righteousness is a life-long necessity. It points out, instead, that man's failure is due to a basic problem which when recognized and remedied can establish the law.
Characteristics of the Law of Faith
What are the characteristics of the law of faith? Faith in Jesus Christ
is not self-centered, man-centered, or independent. Faith is God-centered.
Faith leans. Faith glorifies God. Faith has everything to do with God's
way but nothing to do with man's way. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is
the beginning of a new righteousness which finds God in Christ Jesus at
its very center.
The parable of Jesus teach man's dependence on God. Jesus illustrated this dependence when He said that He was the Vine and we are the branches. A branch has no life except in a vine. Without the vine a branch is dead. Even so, the law of faith grafts us into Jesus Christ; the law of works leaves us without the life of the true Vine.
Jesus also said He was the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep. A sheep has no guidance except through a guide, a shepherd. Without a shepherd, a sheep is lost. Without our Shepherd, we are lost. The law of faith keeps us close to Jesus Christ, our wonderful Shepherd, who laid down His life for us that we might be saved completely. But the law of works robs us of our Shepherd, leaving us in the cold wilderness of man's morality, and ending in death.
Why Is Faith the Channel for Justification?
Why has God chosen faith as the channel for our justification? Faith
is essentially a part of God's order in creation. In one sense faith was
not chosen by God. Let me explain.
If God had a choice as to how men should be justified, only one of two ways could be taken: either by the law (principle) of works or by the law (principle) of faith. But by its very nature, the law of works strengthens man's depravity and independence and therefore is contrary to God's will. Works are man-centered and make men boasters, for they throw man back on his own resources. The law of works is really a rejection of God's rule over man's life.
It is the law of faith which glorifies God, exalting His saving work and making God the center of man's salvation. We must therefore receive our justification as a gift from God. We cannot manufacture it ourselves. God's method of receiving faith follows the same rule that Paul laid down when he said, "What hast thou that thou didst not receive? but if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" (1 Cor. 4:7).
The Faith In Jesus
This faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified has omnipotent powers to
slay the rule of sin and to transform all of life. In the Bible this faith
is not intellectual but rather it is the whole man resting his whole life
on the perfect Redeemer and Lord. Thus the testimony of I John 5:4,5:
"This is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith. And
who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus
is the Son of God?"
Moreover, this law of faith does not make its appeal to only a segment of mankind but is the way for God to be God of Gentile and Jew alike. "Is God the God of Jews only? is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yea, of Gentiles also" (3:29).
The History of Faith (4:1-16)
In these verses Paul presents two leaders, Abraham and David. No two Old Testament characters were so revered as Abraham, the father of the nation, and King David, the father of the established kingdom. Both Abraham and David testify to justification by grace through faith and not by circumcision and law.
Abraham was justified by faith before the advent of circumcision or law: "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness" (4:3). David was justified by grace after circumcision and law were deeply incorporated into the life of Israel: "David also pronounceth blessing upon the man, unto whom God reckoneth righteousness apart from works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin" (4:6-8).
The Dynamic of Faith (4:17-5:9)
The Apostle Paul next describes the power of Abraham's faith in God to fulfill God's promises to him that in his seed would all the nations of the earth be blessed.
In Abraham's life the following issues are clear (4:17-22).
- The God of the promise to Abraham is the God of creation and resurrection: "A father of many nations have I made thee, before whom he believed, even God, who giveth life to the dead, and calleth the things that are not, as though they were" (4:17).
- The promise was stated to Abraham: "In hope (Abraham) believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken" (4:18).
How then is the reckoning of righteousness possible? By two radical acts: first, an objective occurrence - the vicarious death of Jesus Christ and His actual bearing of our guilt and sin. This occurred once for all at Calvary nearly two thousand years ago (II Cor. 5:21; Isa. 53:5,6). Secondly, a subjective act - a change in each individual sinner through repentance and faith. Repentance is turning from sin, from self-vindication, and from self-trust. Faith is a turning unto Christ as the one source of forgiveness and righteousness.
- Both Abraham and Sarah were impotent to fulfill the promise: "Without being weakened in faith he considered not his own body now as good as dead…and the deadness of Sarah's womb" (4:19).
- Abraham's faith rested on God's promise. "Yet, looking unto the promise of God…" (4:20).
- Abraham's faith glorified the God of the promise. "Waxed strong through faith, giving glory to God" (4:20).
- Abraham's faith obtained the reality. "Fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform" (4:21).
- Abraham's faith was his righteousness. "Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for righteousness" (4:22).
We also receive this blessing in our lives (4:23-5:1) by faith in God's promise, just as Abraham had righteousness imputed to him by faith in God, who raised Jesus from the dead. Justification by faith can become a reality for all men.
A Record of the Blessed Results
In Romans 5:1-9 we have not the explanation of justification by faith
as much as a record of the blessed results in the justified heart. First,
the guilt of sin is removed. The believer begins to have fellowship with
the redeeming Lord. A believer comes to have peace with God. "Being therefore
justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"
Second, God gives a believer access in prayer to His very throne, access whereby he can obtain grace to live for Him. "Through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand" (5:2). The same faith that justified gives access to the unmerited, enabling grace of God.
At the end of chapter 5, Paul explains the truth that grace, the mighty force of redemption, is stronger than all the power of sin and death. Because of this grace, we can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (5:2). This hope means that believers have expectation of full restoration through God's glorious redemption.
The next three verses introduce the fact that "through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom." "And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulation: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope; and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us" (5:3-5).
Tribulation works patience in the saint; that is, it works steadfastness. Steadfastness exercises the Christian's devotion. It gives him experience. Difficulties and obstacles help to develop maturity of character, that is, "approved faith and tried integrity" (5:4, A.N.T.). Character of this kind produces a buoyant hope, a living expectancy that the love of God is for him and in him. A new power of good will is the crowning act of regeneration. "The love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us" (5:5).
One of the first warnings that the apostles gave to the church was that
the Christian life on the horizontal level would not be without tribulation,
but that in the midst of it the Christian would make his boast in the
Lord, knowing that tribulation is in the control of the love of God.
Next Paul gives a most penetrating analysis of divine love. "For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth this own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (5:6-8). Love is described as God's activity meeting man in his most depraved state and redeeming him through the death of Jesus Christ. God's love is never tardy. With outstretched and nail-scarred hands, it meets every crisis.
Christ meets men when they are without strength, ungodly, sinners, and enemies. These are the conditions of the alienated heart of man. Man did not ascend to God, but rather the love of God in Christ Jesus descended to embrace man in his deepest need.
The apostles John and Paul said these same things through their two different personalities. John said, "God so loved the world, the he gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16). Paul said, "God commandeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (5:8).
We have next the highest expression of divine joy. "We also rejoice in
God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the
Paul states plainly three abiding realities of justification in the Christian life: faith (vs. 1); hope (vs. 2); love (vs. 5). The truly justified man has all the necessary endowments of divine grace to begin to lay hold of the full inheritance of sanctification. According to Romans 5:1-9, then, the believer has peace and access to God and grace. He has hope of heaven and glory. He has a new patience in tribulation and a knowledge of the love of God, the love of God pervading the heart by the Holy Spirit. The truly justified is ready to "pres toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Every true Christian deeply appreciates Paul's words: "Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (5:1). With this message, Paul heralds throughout the Roman empire that which shook the church loose from the works-righteousness of the Pharisees.
John of Damascus on Justification
In the first half of the eighth century, John of Damascus wrote the following
lines exalting Jesus who was raised from the dead for his justification:
'Tis the spring of souls today,
Christ has burst His prison,
And from three days' sleep in death
As the Son has risen;
All the winder of our sins,
Long and dark, is flying
From His light, to whom we give
Laud and praise undying.
In the sixteenth century the battle cry of the Reformation were to Martin Luther, and thousands through him, these lines: "Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God."
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