Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Justified by Works?

Part 7 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 2:12-29

It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified (v. 13). 

A Contradiction?

In verse 13 Paul states, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” Does this statement contradict what Paul later says in 3:20: “by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight”? To be “justified” by God means to be declared righteous (i.e., innocent of sin).

God Shows No Partiality

In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul is claiming that all people—both Jews and Gentiles—are unrighteous (i.e., guilty of sin) and are the objects of God’s wrath (i.e., righteous anger). The average Jew would have replied, “But wait, I’m a Jew! I’m one of God’s chosen people! I have God’s law! I’ve been circumcised! God won’t condemn me!”

Why did God decide to make the Jews his chosen people? It wasn’t so God could play favourites. God chose the descendants of Abraham to fulfill a purpose: to bless the other nations. God promised Abraham, “In you all the families [i.e., nations] of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). This blessing would come through Jesus, “the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1).

Justification by Faith

How can we be justified? Paul’s main point is that no one can be justified by obeying the law. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). But Paul continues, “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” (vv. 24-25). The only way we can be justified is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This is the gospel!

A Changed Heart

There are two interpretations of 2:13:
  1. Paul is speaking hypothetically. If you could perfectly obey the law, then you would be justified. 
  2. Paul is referring to the works that are the result of a changed heart. This is the interpretation I favour. 
It’s the Holy Spirit who changes our hearts (v. 29). If our faith is in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit within us, who produces love (“the fruit of the Spirit is love,” Gal. 5:22). God desires not merely an outward conformity to his commands but an inward desire (motivated by love) to obey them.

No one can be justified by obeying God’s law, but no one will be justified without being a doer of the law. We also see this in the book of James. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith [i.e., mere intellectual agreement] alone” (James 2:24).

What matters most is the heart. Your heart is the real you. “The LORD God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all you heart” (Deut. 30:6).

In many ways, a first century Jew was like a modern day churchgoer. The churchgoer might argue, “God would never condemn me! I’m a member of the Baptist church! I’ve been baptized! I serve in the ministries of the church! I give!”

But are you trusting in what Jesus did for you on the cross? Do you have a changed heart? A heart of love?