Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (ESV)
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Not Ours, But His
Friday of Lent 1
27 February 2015
Theologians of all generations have struggled to distinguish between law and gospel. One of the aspects of that struggle is simply the brute fact that the way of the law and the way of the gospel are contradictory. Luther says they are "non plus contraria," that there is nothing more contrary or opposed to each than the law and the gospel. Certainly, that contradiction must be left to stand. The law must remain the law. The gospel must remain the gospel. There is no need to straighten out or rationalize what God can certainly take care of on His own. We should be founded preaching the law and the gospel.
He uses the law to destroy our impious self confidence that presumes we can avoid the punishments of the law by obeying it and keeping it. We cannot obey it or avoid its punishments. Because of its implacability, the law burdens us so that there must be a new way of righteousness that comes apart from the law. The law kills. Somehow there must be life. The law condemns. Someone must pardon. The law accuses. There must be a stilling of that accusation. The tribunal of the law finds us guilty. Someone must defend us against it. Only Christ and a different message from God will do. Only the gospel will suffice.
The gospel proclaims us righteous. It cries that our warfare is accomplished. It speaks the law silent. It sings the verdict "not guilty." This is the meaning of the Bible's doctrine of justification. For Christ's sake, our heavenly Father has proclaimed us righteous in His sight and He has done this without reference to the law. The law only shows our need, it does not bespeak us righteous. Only another word of God, the gospel, can do this. These are the two "high points" of what Paul writes to the Romans, not only that we are acquitted by the gospel, but also that such acquittal comes apart from the law. The righteousness we have is not our own, which would make it subject to the law. It is the righteousness of God; making it certain, because it depends of the divine promise. How can there be a righteousness apart from the law? With God there is nothing that is impossible.
Paul is not making this up. He wants his readers to understand that this was eternal faith of the church as testified to by the Old Testament. He is not just pulling this out thin air, but is claiming it was always the way of salvation. The God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever is standing behind this promise. The righteousness is none other than His own. This is why it is so dependable. It's not ours, but His.
"'But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it' (Rm 3:21). Here Paul utters a great thing, and something that needed a great deal of proof. For if those who lived in the law not only did not escape punishment, but were the more weighed down by it, how apart from the law is it possible not only to escape vengeance, but even to be justified? For he has here set down two high points; both being justified and also obtaining these blessings without the Law. And this is why he does not say righteousness simply, but the righteousness of God, so by the worthiness of the person displaying the greater degree of the grace, and the possibility of the promise. For to Him all things are possible.
"He does not say, 'was given,' but 'manifested,' to invalidate the accusation of novelty. For that which is manifested, can be manifested because it is old, but has been concealed. And it is not this only, but what follows (Rm 3:21b) shows that this is no recent thing."
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 7
Almighty God, heavenly Father, You granted righteousness to us in the person of Your Son. Help us to stand fast in the faith of the gospel, that all our trust might be in righteousness which is not our own, but Yours. Amen.
For all who are deployed to combat zones, that the Lord would send His holy angels to watch over them
For Walter Friend, that he might receive complete healing
For Joanna Karner, Aubrey Doggett, and Ann Kunz, and all who have chronic diseases, that they might have strength for every day
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015