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God Justifies Believers through Christ

Romans 3:19-31

Jim Davis

God’s law measures us by God’s perfect righteousness. God's law is just and righteous and it declares all must do what is right. Law demands we be virtuous, upright, people of integrity, honorable, honest and morally good. That same law also demands justice be served for those who fail; however slight the infraction. Laws are virtually of no value if they do not demand justice. The very purpose of any law is justice. Law also demands recompense, reparation, redress and compensation when broken.

Romans 3:19-20
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (NIV)

God's law is right and just, but it cannot make men right with God. God's law condemns us when we do wrong and it demands justice. Law in and of itself cannot make us right for once the law is broken the law declares us unrighteous. The law cannot make us right once we have done wrong. God's law can only declare us guilty and hold us accountable to God.

Romans 7:9-10
Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. (NIV)

Looking at the antonyms for the word justice may help us to clearly see the purpose of the law. Immorality, dishonor, corruptness, unfairness, partiality and bias are the things law seeks to set right.

Knowledge of a law awakens a rebellious nature within us. A story was told of a hotel on the Gulf coast of Texas. The establishment had a restaurant downstairs with big glass windows. Tourist would try to fish from the balconies of their rooms. Often their lines would be too short and the lead weights would swing against the large windows and break them. The windows cost $600 each. They tried several ways to stop fishing from the balconies. Finally they took all the signs off the balconies, which read "No fishing from balconies." They ceased to have a problem. There is something about a law that brings out this innate nature within us. When this nature is surrendered too, sin is the result and death is the end.

Justification Comes through Christ

The moral law also holds God accountable for God has submitted himself to the moral laws of our universe. For God to be just he must uphold the just demands of the law. What would you think of a judge that refused to hold men accountable to the laws of the land? Would any less be true of God?

Romans 3:21-26
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (NIV)

A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, was called by adoring New Yorkers 'the Little Flower' because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids.

One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. "It's a real bad neighborhood, your Honor," the man told the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson." LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, "I've got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions--ten dollars or ten days in jail."

But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: "Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant." So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation. (Brennan Manning, The Ragmuffin Gospel, Multnomah, 1990, pp 91-2)

In essence this is what Christ has done for us; he has met the requirements of the law for each of us. The powers of justice and mercy met in the cross to salvage our lives.

Faith In Christ Excludes Boasting

Although the Jews had every advantage they failed to live up to their potential. They spent their energies priding themselves in their advantages. Many Jews boasted that they were Abraham’s descendants; they felt that being a descendant of Abraham was the means of their salvation. They also felt that merely possessing the law gave them special privilege as God’s children. Some of Judaism’s principle errors stemmed from a false sense of security, due to their physical descent from Abraham and their possession of the law. Paul reveals both Jew and Gentile are lost without Christ.

Remember in chapter two what the Jews professed:

They had the Bible
They professed God
They approved of what was best
They studied the Word of God
They were guides for the blind
They knew the truth

When one accepts the gospel of Christ, as God’s power to save there is no room left for boasting.

Romans 3:25-27
God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. (NIV)

Seeking self-justification through the law makes us the center of our world. We begin to look at ourselves as the power that creates and sustains the world. We begin to believe that we have a power within ourselves to give purpose, meaning, and significance to life. This type of attitude results in boasting.

Romans 10:2-3
For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. (NIV)

Isaiah 65:2-5
All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations--a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick; who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of unclean meat; who say, 'Keep away; don't come near me, for I am too sacred for you!' Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day. (NIV)

Boasting did not end with Abraham’s descendants. Even today some may take pride because they are Christians. Christians may say, "I have been born again" with the same arrogance. We may think that being a Christian makes us better than others. It is amazing how we seek to justify ourselves as we resist the idea that we are sinners. We often seek justification among men. You have seen others stand before God and declare:

I am more acceptable than others.
I am more deserving than others.
I have achieved more than others.
I am more sufficient than others.
I am more adequate than others.
I have no need beyond myself and this world.

This may lead us to think we are better because we

Have the Bible,
Profess God,
Know God’s will,
Approve the best things,
Study the Word of God,
Guide and teach others,
And know the truth.

Luke 16:15
He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight. (NIV)

Often we endeavor to create loopholes in the laws or array one law against another in an effort to seek justification. But the due penalty will eventually be paid.

Luke 10:25-29
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (NIV)

Supreme Court Justice Horace Gray once informed a man who had appeared before him in a lower court and had escaped conviction on a technicality, "I know that you are guilty and you know it, and I wish you to remember that one day you will stand before a better and wiser Judge, and that there you will be dealt with according to justice and not according to law."

Proverbs 30:11-14
"There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers; those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth; those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful; those whose teeth are swords and whose jaws are set with knives to devour the poor from the earth, the needy from among mankind. (NIV)

Another way we seek justification is by comparing ourselves to others.

Luke 18:9-14
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men-- robbers, evildoers, adulterers-- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (NIV)

2 Corinthians 10:12-13a
For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond measure, (NKJ)

Faith in Christ excludes any grounds for boasting. Paul declared, "There is no one righteous . . . all have sinned . . . no one does good." You must believe this before you can come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Romans 3:27
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. (NIV)

The very fact that we are Christians excludes boasting about our goodness. To become a Christian, we must admit our real needs. True faith in God recognizes the fact we are sinners and that alone leaves no room for boasting.

Law Our Means of Sanctification

The law was the center of Jewish pride. Their greatest fear was that the law would be nullified by their faith in Christ.

Romans 3:28-31
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (NIV)

Faith in Christ does not diminish or nullify the importance of the law. It is actually one's faith in Christ, which must recognize the validity of God’s law given in the Old Testament. It is the guilt produced by a knowledge of the law and the just requirements of the law, which manifest our need of salvation through Jesus Christ. We actually must believe the law before we can come to Christ. Faith in Christ is not designed to invalidate the law for Christ presents himself to meet the just demands of the law as each of us accepts his sacrifice. In recognizing Christ as the atonement for our sins, we make a statement about the validity of the Old Testament law. We must never forget if we are without Christ, the laws demand for justice will be met by each of us on judgement day. Christ did not come to destroy the law, but rather to meet the just demands of the law.

The law is completely useless as a means of justification for no one can keep the law. If the law is our means of justification, it can only condemn. We don't like living under condemnation. To many today see the law as totally negative. They do not wish to recognize any demands the law makes. After all we are saved by grace. So Paul writes,

"Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." (Romans 3:31 NIV)

The law is just, right and good. Those seeking only justification believe that faith nullifies the law. Faith in Christ recognizes the law as just, right and good, but our faith is placed in Christ as our means of justification. We no longer have to live under its condemnation in fear of its just demands, but it is not to be disregarded as a means of sanctification.

The Old Testament law was given as a means of sanctifying and blessing God’s people. It was never meant as a means of justification for only Christ can justify the laws demands.

Deuteronomy 10:12-13
And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (NIV)

Deuteronomy 32:46-47
"Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you-- they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess." (NIV)

The law is indispensable as a means of sanctification. If you are saved, you know you needed to be saved because you broke Gods law. Sin is a transgression of the law. Although you may be saved from the just demands of the law, you must seek to do God's will to allow God to sanctify your life in Christ.

2 Thessalonians 2:13
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. (NIV)

1 Thessalonians 4:1-6
Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. (NIV)

A person who seeks to be justified by the law merely recognizes the law as a means to an end. But a believer in Christ has a much greater appreciation for the law of God. The believer sees the law as good. The believer sees the law as a means to direct one’s life for good.


A husband and wife didn't really love each other. The man was very demanding, so much so that he prepared a list of rules and regulations for his wife to follow. He insisted that she read them over every day and obey them to the letter. Among other things, his "do's and don'ts" indicated such details as what time she had to get up in the morning, when his breakfast should be served, and how the housework should be done. After several long years, the husband died. As time passed, the woman fell in love with another man, one who dearly loved her. Soon they were married. This husband did everything he could to make his new wife happy, continually showering her with tokens of his appreciation. One day as she was cleaning house, she found tucked away in a drawer the list of commands her first husband had drawn up for her. As she looked it over, it dawned on her that even though her present husband hadn't given her any kind of list, she was doing everything her first husband's list required anyway. She realized she was so devoted to this man that her deepest desire was to please him out of love, not obligation.


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