Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. – Romans 3:27-31 ESV
When it comes to righteousness or right standing before God, does anyone have any grounds on which to boast? Is it possible for a Jew to claim righteousness because his adherence to the law? If it was, then Christ died in vain. If righteousness is available to men through their own effort, through the keeping of the law, then the Gentiles are hopeless, because God did not give them the law. But Paul asks, “is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also?” (Romans 3:29 ESV). Then he answers his own question. “Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one…” (Romans 3:30 ESV). There are not two plans of salvation – one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles. God did not set up two means of attaining righteousness – one through good works and the other through faith. God “will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Romans 3:30 ESV). In this last sentence, Paul uses two different prepositions: by and through. One is the Greek word ek and the other is dia, and they both mean essentially the same thing: “by means of.” Most likely, Paul used two different prepositions in talking about Jews and Gentiles to illustrate that God chose to deal with each in two distinctively different ways. To the Jews He gave the law. But it was to show them His holy expectations and their inability to live up to them. The Gentiles did not receive the law. They were essentially outsiders. In writing to the Gentile believers in Ephesus, Paul reminded them, “Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called ‘uncircumcised heathens’ by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:11-12 NLT). Then he gave them the good news: “But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 NLT). They were near to God, made right with Him, through the blood of Christ and through faith. Both Jews and Gentiles are made right with God by and through faith. What looked like two different paths was essentially one and the same. The gospel of God, His plan for man’s salvation, was always going to go through Jesus. That is why Paul can so confidently and emphatically state, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28 ESV). He doesn’t say, “in conjunction with” or “alongside” works of the law. In other words, justification stands completely based on faith, and that faith must be placed in a single source: God’s offer of salvation made possible through the death of His own Son. In his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul gives a synopsis of the gospel, the good news in which we are to place our faith: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared…(1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV). He came. He died. He was buried. He rose again. And Paul says, “so we preach and so you believed” (1 Corinthians 15:11 ESV).
It is belief in God’s gospel that brings about our justification. We are made right with God through faith in His redemptive plan, not our own futile efforts to live a righteous life. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV). It is our belief in that reality that makes us right with God. In the very next chapter of Romans, Paul will state, “He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right [justified] with God” (Romans 4:25 NLT). That is what we must believe. It is in that truth we must place our faith.
So does faith eliminate and invalidate the law? Not in the least. Paul claims that when we are justified by faith, we actually uphold the law. Paul uses the Greek word, histēmi and it means “to uphold or sustain the authority or force of anything” (Outline of Biblical Usage). Our ability to keep the law is made possible through our faith in the redemptive work of Christ. Our capacity to live righteously or rightly is given to us by God through our faith in Christ. Paul summarizes our new relationship with the law in chapter eight of Romans:
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:2-4 ESV
Through His gospel, God has made it possible for men to live in harmony with Him, having placed the desire to keep His commands in their hearts. No longer do we serve Him in the flesh or through our human effort. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8 ESV). But we live according to the Spirit. And “if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10 ESV).