Sunday, June 28, 2020

Justified by Faith-Salvation in Romans

Justification by faith has special prominence in Romans. The words justification, righteousness, faith, righteous, and gospel all occur in Romans more often than in any other book in the New Testament. While Paul gives attention to other important doctrines, everything to do with justification has special emphasis in this letter.

Quite clearly, Paul tells the Romans that he is not ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16): the Gospel of the crucified Messiah would have been widely held to be something people ought to be ashamed of. The cross was an instrument for executing slaves and criminals, not a way of promoting salvation. 

Paul proceeds to tell his readers that God’s righteousness is revealed in the Gospel, and he quotes Habbakuk, “The righteous will live by faith” (or “he that is righteous by faith will live”) (1:17). That is the central truth of the Gospel. We are not saved by anything that we do, but we accept God’s forgiveness by faith. For Paul there can be no other way.

The Wrath of God

He is not referring to salvation from a mock peril, for he insists throughout this letter that the wrath of God is very real. He uses the word wrath twelve times in Romans (no other New Testament book has it more than six times). This wrath, he says, is “revealed” (1:18); it is something God has made known, not something people have speculated about. We are left in no doubt that God is not neutral about sin; he is totally opposed to it, and a day will come that His wrath will be shown in judgment (2:5). Sinners are in no good case, and apart from the Gospel, they must eventually face the divine wrath against every evil.


But wrath is not the last word, and besides emphasizing the importance of the Gospel, Paul says a lot about grace in this letter (it occurs twenty-four times, the most in any New Testament book). Salvation by grace means that it is not our own effort that delivers us from the consequences of our sin, but God’s goodness. Because He is the kind of God He is, He brings about salvation through the death of His Son. We are “justified freely by His grace” (3:24). “His” incidentally means “the Father’s.” We often see grace as specially linked with the Son (cf. “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”), but we should bear in mind that it is just as characteristic of the Father.

The Law

For the Jews, the law of God was of absorbing importance, and Paul was no exception. He gives law extensive treatment in Romans (where the word occurs seventy-two times! Next highest is thirty-two in Galatians). Paul came to see that the law cannot lead to salvation; it makes us know our sin (7:7), but this is not salvation. It is a step along the right way, but no more. The law was powerless “in that it was weakened by the sinful nature” (8:3). It tells us that we are in the wrong, but it cannot put us in the right. Christ is “the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (10:4).

The Jews revered Abraham their great forefather, but whereas they saw him as a great exponent of the law (before it was written!), Paul emphasized Abraham’s faith. The Jews saw this as a good work; “faith becomes a zealous obedience in the matter of fulfilling the law” (A. Meyer). But Paul cites Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (4:3). This clearly shows that it was not the merits of Abraham that brought about his acceptance before God, but his trust in God. He believed God and therefore he was accepted. And it is those who follow in the steps of believing Abraham who are accepted in later days.

No Condemnation

In his magnificent eighth chapter, Paul brings out something of the wonder of the Christian life. Christ has set his people free. No longer being subject to the domination of sin, believers enter a glorious new life in which “those who are led by the spirit of God are sons of God” (8:14). He emphasizes the glory of the Spirit-filled life and brings the chapter to a close with an emphasis on Christians as “more than conquerors” (8:37).

Living Sacrifices

Paul does not see faith as an easy option. Salvation indeed comes as God’s free gift to those who trust Him. But when people really believe, they give themselves over to the service of God. Paul urges his readers “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (12:1). This is the natural outworking of the saving faith that lays hold of the atoning work of Christ.