The book of Romans is Paul’s masterpiece—his “Grace Manifesto.” Written to an audience composed mostly of Gentile Christians, Paul goes to great lengths to explain the fullness of the good news that is salvation in Jesus Christ. The Judaizers who Paul had debated in the Jerusalem Council had made their way to other Christian communities, including Rome, and they were trying to force these new believers to follow the laws concerning circumcision, dietary restrictions, holy days, and more. Romans was written to combat this legalism, and its central theme is that God’s grace has prepared a way of salvation for people entirely apart from the works of the Law.
Paul’s argument is complicated. And brilliant. Let’s trace his line of thinking through the first 10 chapters of his letter and see just what God is saying to us about His grace.
Paul begins by talking about righteousness. The righteousness that Paul speaks of is not the righteousness of a moral code, but the righteousness that consists in right relationship with God. And this right relationship begins with acknowledging God for who He is—namely, God. Because of the ungodliness of people (that is, their failure to acknowledge God for who He is), God has just cause to be angry with humans. Yet for all this justifiable anger, God is still kind, and His goodness is intent on leading people to repentance. Repentance is required of the Jew as well as the Gentile, for while the Gentiles do not have the Law, the Jews, who do have it, are guilty of breaking that same Law. So Gentiles who do not have the Law are unrighteous, and Jews who do have the Law cannot claim to be righteous either: “There is no one righteous.” But for both Jew and Gentile there is a way to be right with God—Jesus Christ.
Paul also wants believers to have a clear understanding of the purpose and limitations of the Law. He announces, “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” The primary limitation of the Law is that no one can become righteous by keeping it. And this is because no one has or can successfully keep the Law (Christ being the only exception). Instead of making people righteous, the real function of the Law is to make people aware of their unrighteousness, make people conscious of sin. The Law ensures that everyone will be found guilty, and that no one can boast that they are righteous. The problem with the Law is that it leaves everyone condemned and no one righteous. This is the trap of legalism. The observance of the Law seems to offer a way of escape from sin, but it is ultimately a blind alley demonstrating the fruitlessness of human effort to attain righteousness this way. The dead end of the Law reveals only this: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And because all have sinned, all stand in need of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Paul goes on to discuss the nature of the Law and the nature of sin. While no one can be made righteous by the Law, the Law is not bad, is not evil. In fact it is good—it presents a perfect standard, holy and just. The Law is spiritual. The Law was meant to produce life. However, due to the nature of sin, the Law is woefully ineffective as a means of righteousness.
Sin has a very slippery nature. Sin exists outside of the Law, but the Law made it so that sin could be clearly defined, understood, and judged. Once the Law was in place, sin and all its ways of being lived out became definitively, unequivocally sinful, and sin became abundant. Thus the Law gave sin a whole new life: “apart from the law sin was dead,” but because of the Law, “sin revived” and came back to life. Sin went on to use the Law to flex its own muscle, twisting the original intention of the Law, making it the floodgate of wrath and the legal grounds for death rather than a means of righteousness and a source of life. By the Law we understand not just sin, but find out that our natures are inescapably sinful, for even when we want to do what is good we only discover that we always seem to be sinning. And the wages of sin is death. So we cry out in frustration: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
It seems a hopeless case. If the Law were the only means of being right with God, the case would indeed be hopeless. But where sin abounded, the grace of God super-abounded. So while Paul builds his argument about the Law and sin, he also outlines another means of righteousness that the superabundant grace of God has revealed.
Paul calls Jesus the revelation and demonstration of “the righteousness of God apart from the law.” It is because of Jesus that the grace of God becomes overwhelmingly more abundant than the sin that is abundant because of the Law. Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law—all of them, and is the only human being who has ever or ever will be able to satisfy the Law of God on every point. By doing so, Jesus accomplished for us what the Law never could do for us: where our “flesh” makes us weak and incapable of being sinless, Jesus “condemned sin in the flesh.” Jesus condemned sin not only by perfectly, sinlessly fulfilling the Law, but also by paying the penalty for sin under the Law, which is death. Because He did this, Jesus Christ is “the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” As the “end of the law” Jesus sets those who believe in Him free from sin—for “where there is no law there is no transgression.” So it is no longer by the works of the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ that righteousness and right relationship with God are to be found. This new way of righteousness in Jesus is the essence of God’s grace.
Therefore, faith, not works, is the door to righteousness. Abraham was saved not because of any goodness of his own, any works of his own, but simply because “[he] believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” No one can be justified by the Law, but everyone can be made righteous by faith in Jesus. Romans 10:10 says that whoever believes in their heart and confesses with their mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord will be saved. Those who are saved are dead to the Law, and because they are dead to the Law, the Law no longer has any power over them. The new reality of the person who believes in Jesus is grace: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
In Romans, the reality of grace is that there is no one and nothing left to condemn those who have put their faith in Jesus. The Law is gone. Sin has no power. God, who alone could condemn us, gave His own Son for us. Christ who might condemn us, died for us, rose again, and lives to make intercession for us. The reality of grace is that there is now nothing that can “separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If you want to know more about God’s Grace and why Grace Wins, order a copy of Daniel King’s book about the Grace of God today!