1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, (Romans 4:1–5, NKJV)
Abraham is the great example of justification by faith and not by works of law. Remember, “works” in Paul’s context is sinlessness – never violating God’s law (Rom. 3:20, 23, 27-28). The boast of justification by works is sinlessness (v. 2). Just one sin forever eliminates the ability to claim justification by works of law. Only sinlessness make righteousness a debt owed (v. 4). Like us, Abraham was a sinner in need of grace. And so, his faith was counted to him for righteousness (v. 3, 5; Gen. 15:6). The nature of Abraham’s faith is described in James 2:21-24. There, Abraham’s works of faith (obedience) were essential to his belief (which was accounted to him for righteousness, cf. Heb. 11:17). Even so today, saving faith is obedient faith, not to earn salvation, but so that we have a complete faith – the kind of faith that is accounted to us for righteousness.
25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25–26, NKJV)
God put forth Christ Jesus as our means of obtaining mercy for our sins. His death is the atoning sacrifice that appeases God’s just wrath against our sins. This means of justifying sinners is “by His grace” and “through faith” (Rom. 3:24-25). God’s way of justifying sinners 3:21-22) through “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24), and demonstrates two aspects of God’s personal righteousness. First, God’s forbearance is witnessed in the restraint He exercised in not exacting just punishment against all sinners before Christ’s death (v. 25). God’s forbearance is witnessed in the sacrifice of Jesus, which atones for sins under the law of Moses (the Jews) as well as the sins of the Gentiles. Secondly, God’s personal righteousness is vindicated in the justice of this divine arrangement (v. 26). God did not acquit sinners without an acceptable sacrifice. He did not condone or ignore their sin. He has provided a way of justification for all sinners. God is shown to be just when justifies (acquits of guilt) sinners through faith in Jesus (Rom. 1:16-17).
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, (Romans 3:23–25, NKJV)
All of us have sinned and are worthy of death (Rom. 6:23). None of us could justify ourselves before God. We could not remove our sins by our own power, because we were spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1). Separated from God by our sins, we were under divine wrath (Rom. 1:18). We needed grace to save us. The kindness and love of God appeared to the world “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 24). God acted to save us. He set forth Christ Jesus “as a propitiation by His blood” (v. 25). A propitiation is the means of appeasing wrath, that which atones for sins. The death of Jesus atones for sins, it is the means of removing God’s wrath and replacing it with mercy (1 John 2:2). The atoning sacrifice of Jesus is “through faith” – not through the law (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16). The gospel has the power to save you by producing faith in your heart (Rom. 1:16-17; 10:17). When that happens, your faith prompts you to confess your faith in Jesus, to repent of your sins, and to be baptized to be saved (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-38). This is salvation “by grace, through faith” (Eph. 2:8).
21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:21–23, NKJV)
Law identifies sin, but it cannot save the sinner (Rom. 3:19-20). How God justifies the sinner is revealed in the gospel of Christ, not in the law of Moses (Rom. 1:16-17). God’s redemption is “apart from the law,” that is, the Law of Moses could not justify sinners. (Christians who attempt to justify themselves with the Law of Moses “have fallen from grace,” Galatians 5:4.) The “righteousness of God” in today’s verse is the means by which God counts sinners righteous (Rom. 1:17). How God does this is testified of by the Law and the Prophets, and is accomplished “through faith in Jesus Christ” to all who believe (whether Jews or Gentiles). Since all have sinned, no one attains to the glory of God on his own. That would require sinlessness. The sinless person is the only one who could earn justification as a debt owned (Rom. 4:1-5). Since we are all sinners, no one can earn the right to be saved. We need grace to be justified (Rom. 3:24). This is a far cry from denying the need to obey God to be saved. Without obedient faith we are lost (Acts 10:34-35; Heb. 5:8-9; 11:6). Obeying Jesus does not earn salvation, it is trusting Christ to save us because we have the faith to obey Him.
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:7–9, NKJV)
We miss the point of this passage if we conclude God sent an ailment upon Paul to restrain his arrogance (John 9:1-3). His physical limitation was an opportunity for the grace of God to be magnified. Paul admitted he had been arrogant before his conversion, but also that he had been humbled by the mercy of God he received in Christ (1 Timothy 1:13-17). His thorn in the flesh was an occasion for the power of Christ to be glorified in him. And so, Paul trusted the Lord instead of his wisdom, strength, and accomplishments (Philippians 3:1-11). Most of us will face ailments and illnesses at some point in life. These are chronic for some and short-lived for others. But every one of them is our opportunity to learn to live with our limitations and to be strengthened in the Lord. His grace is sufficient for us to endure life’s temporary trials so we may live eternally with Him (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (Romans 11:5–6, NKJV)
Just as God gathered a remnant of His people back to Jerusalem after their Babylonian captivity and exile, He is now gathering a remnant for salvation “according to the election of grace.” Here, and throughout the book of Romans, grace (which is heard in the truth of the gospel, Colossians 1:5-6) is set in contrast to law keeping law (the law of Moses) as the means of justification (Romans 3:21-26). Grace is not obtained through law-keeping, for if one keeps the law (without sin), then his reward is a debt earned, not a gift given (Romans 4:1-8; Ephesians 2:8-9). So, how does God execute “the election of grace?” God elected (chose) to save sinners in Christ (Ephesians 1:4-6). Through the blood of Christ, God makes forgiveness of sins available “according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). God calls sinners out of sin into salvation by the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). Faith obeys God and obtains grace, just like Abraham and his faith (Romans 4:16; James 2:21-24). We are saved “by grace through faith,” not by earning grace, but with a faith that takes God at His word and does what He says. Christians do that, and stand in the “true grace of God” (1 Peter 5:12).
16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:16–17, NKJV)
Pride is a most deceptive, sinister sin. It lurks in the recesses of the heart, unwilling to expose itself to the light of truth. Its character is evil, yet it portrays itself to others as confident, self-assured, even boastfully content. In fact, pride threads its way through practically every sin we commit, because its nature is thoroughly selfish. Pride focuses on “me” and what “I” deserve. It is not a giver, but a taker. Pride serves self-interests first, ahead of others. It deceives us into thinking we are more important than we really are (Galatians 6:3). The difficulty of overcoming pride is admitting it. It is a great obstacle to loving God and doing His will. Since God “resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” we must “submit to God” to truly be humble and receive God’s grace (James 4:6-7). Pride will pass away along with the other evils of the world. It is eternally better to humble yourself before God, repent of your pride, and draw near to God with pure hands and a clean heart, than it is to obstinately and pridefully lose your soul forever (James 4:8-10).