Faith, Works, and Grace in Romans
Text: Romans 1:1-17
I. In understanding biblical writings, it is important to remember that God is the author
A. II Timothy 3:16 - All the written writings are breathed from the mouth of God
B. This was Paul’s point in I Corinthians 14:33 when discussing roles and organization of the worship service.
1. God doesn’t give contradictory commands
2. He doesn’t tell one church one thing and another church another.
C. The consistency of the message is the ultimate proof of the inspiration of the Scriptures
D. Hence, it is surprising that many pit one passage against another with attempt to resolve the conflict.
1. I had a teacher once who claimed to be a Christian, but didn’t like Paul’s writings because he was a male chauvinist - I Corinthians 14:37
2. Martin Luther couldn’t resolve James chapter 2 with his belief, so he expressed doubt that James was inspired.
3. Throwing out portions of the Bible doesn’t solve the problem.
E. Often, apparent conflicts can be resolved if the terms are understood in the context in which they are used.
F. We will focus on the relation of faith, works, and grace; in particular, we will focus on the book of Romans today.
II. The overall theme of Romans is found both at the beginning and end of the book
A. Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4)
B. It is through Jesus that we have received grace and it was Paul’s duty to bring about an obedience of faith (Romans 1:5)
C. Jumping to the end, Paul returns to the overall topic of his work: the gospel leads to obedience of faith - Romans 16:25-27
D. Returning to the beginning, Paul defines the scope. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to every believer, both Jew and Gentile, because in it the righteousness of God is revealed
III. The Gentile’s need for salvation - Romans 1:18-32
A. Paul discussed the decay of the Gentile society; a path that America is rapidly pursuing.
B. The Gentiles ought to have known God through the creation - Romans 1:19-23
C. It was their willful ignorance that led them further and further from God
D. Mankind on their own cannot be saved. The Gentiles desperately needed salvation from their own mess.
E. To better understand Paul’s argument, we should look at the history of the Romans and Greeks of Paul’s day
1. These two societies were well known for their immorality and their idolatry
2. Their religion was one of works alone.
3. One professor stated, “you can believe that Zeus is a complete idiot, but as long as you provide the requisite sacrifices, you can secure his good favor.”
4. Hellenistic religion, which influenced cultural practice, allowed you to do as you pleased so long as no significant social harm was done, and even then you could have any harm excused by the application of the proper sacrifices.
F. Hence, Paul was addressing people who regarded religion to be doing the proper sacrifices at the proper times to secure the good will of the gods.
1. “When fully realized, the gods were persons and, as the only real persons in our experience are human, they were therefore represented in human form. They had their own houses (temples) and images (idols) that attested their presence there. They demanded the customary dues of worship, the ritual words and acts, the prayer and the vow, the sacrifice, bloody or unbloody, the garland, the procession. Just as devout service might earn prosperity and victory, so neglect might bring down divine wrath and, with it, disaster and defeat.” Harold Mattingly, The Man in the Roman Street
IV. Fairness in judgment - Romans 2:1-16
A. The Jewish mind set allowed them to condemn the Gentiles while simultaneously committing similar sins - Romans 2:1-4
B. God’s judgment will be fairly based on what a person does - Romans 2:5-8
1. Those who preserve in doing good while seeking for glory, honor, and immortality will gain eternal life
2. Those who do not obey the truth, but instead are selfishly ambitious and following after unrighteousness will gain God’s wrath
3. Notice that Paul states that obedience is what swings the scales.
4. This is what many label as “works.”
C. God’s judgments are impartially given - Romans 2:9-11
1. It doesn’t matter who your ancestors were.
2. It matters what you do
3. This statement is significant.
a. The Gentiles did not like the Jews who insisted there was only one God.
b. The Jews did not like the Gentiles, taking pride in their superiority as God’s chosen people.
c. Paul throws hundreds of years of ethnic bias out the window by declaring that God doesn’t care about your nationality.
D. This leads to a question, “How can God fairly judge people who had not received the law of Moses?” - Romans 2:12-16
1. Judgment will be based on action, not just possession (hearing) the law
2. The Gentiles did have a system of morality.
a. They knew certain actions were right and others wrong, even if it was imperfectly implemented.
b. The fact that they could distinguish between right and wrong proves they had God’s law written in their hearts
V. The Jews’ need for salvation - Romans 2:17-3:20
A. The Jews were arrogant in their belief - Romans 2:17-24
1. They knew the law, yet they violated it.
2. In other words, they heard, but they did not do.
3. Thus the Jews needed saving.
B. Circumcision was the physical evidence of being in covenant with God, but it has no meaning when that covenant is not obeyed - Romans 2:25-29
1. Paul spiritualizes the rite of circumcision.
2. It is not the physical act that saves, but the dedication displayed.
3. Hence, a circumcised Jew will be treated like the uncircumcised Gentile if he does not keep God’s law. And the uncircumcised Gentile can be treated as the circumcised Jew if he does keep God’s law.
4. Thus Paul argues that God chooses people based on obedience and not a physical act or parentage. Christians are the “Israel” of today.
C. A historical background of the Jews
1. The Jews long found pride in being the chosen nation of God and therefore considered themselves to be saved because of that status.
2. After all, God gave them their land and He was their God. For most of their history God’s temple existed in Jerusalem. It was there that God was worshiped.
3. The Jews kept themselves separate from the nasty Gentiles so as not to be contaminated.
4. They believed in their sanctification, being a people set apart and different from the rest of the world. They believed that their salvation was an entitlement due them for the ethnic and religious heritage. Their personal behavior was not seen as a major factor - Isaiah 29:13
D. Yet Paul’s emphasis on equality raises the question, “Wasn’t Jewishness an advantage?” - Romans 3:1-8
1. The Jews did have the advantage of having God’s laws written out for them
2. But having the Law meant they were held to a higher standard
a. Because some did not keep that Law doesn’t mean that God was unjust toward the Jews
b. Even those who break the Law demonstrate God’s righteous decrees.
3. So if God is glorified even when someone sins, why is the sinner condemned? Because it is just.
4. Should the Jews haven then ignored the Law? Of course not!
E. The Law itself states that everyone has sinned
1. Paul proves this by quoting: Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; Proverbs 1:16; 3:15-17; Isaiah 59:7-8; and Psalm 36:1
2. The condemnation was not restricted to Jews. It applied to Gentiles as well.
3. Therefore, no one can stand justified before God in and of himself.
VI. The solution to sin - Romans 3:21-31
A. God’s righteousness is manifested through something that is not in the Law
1. The Law and the prophets gave evidence of its coming, but this righteousness is not based on the Law
2. The Law pointed to faith in the Christ as the means of salvation. Since it was outside the Law, it was equally available to all.
B. Jesus’ blood was the propitiation for our sins.
1. God’s righteousness is shown in Jesus’s sacrifice.
2. Sins are not ignored. They are handled by the death of Jesus.
3. God is not arbitrary, but just in justifying the believer.
C. So then was the Law then useless?
1. Not at all, the power of the Law always rested in faith.
2. A person could do the works of the Law, but without faith it was worthless
3. But faith doesn’t nullify obedience to the Law. Instead faith establishes the need to obey the Law.
VII. Illustrating his point - Romans 4
A. Paul uses Abraham, the founder of the nation of Israel, as an illustration of his point - Romans 4:1-3
1. The basic question: “Did Abraham earn his justification?”
2. The answer is that God said Abraham’s justification came because of faith.
B. A second illustration Romans 4:4-5
1. When a person works at a job, is his wage earned (due him)?
a. If you are employer, what would happen if you didn’t pay a worker?
2. Contrast that to the chores you do at home.
a. It is work, but we do not expect payment
3. Both involve work, yet only one carries the expectation of payment.
4. Which more closely illustrates righteousness? Is righteousness earned? Paul argues “no.”
C. If righteousness is by works, then what have we earned – considering that we all have sinned? - Romans 6:23; 4:6-8
1. Any righteousness on our part comes from God forgiving our sins, not from our earning righteousness.
D. Does the Law make a person righteous? - Romans 4:9-13
1. The quote involving Abraham comes from Genesis 15:6
2. Abraham was not circumcised until 13 years later in Genesis 17
3. Hence you cannot say that Abraham’s righteousness came because he kept the provisions of the law.
4. If keeping the Law could save, then faith would be unnecessary - Romans 4:14-17
a. But it is the Law that no one can keep
b. But with faith, then we can see the grace of God in our salvation
c. If it is with faith, then the path is opened to any believer, not just the physical descendants of Abraham.
VIII. I can understand that if someone only looked at Romans 4, you might come away with the idea that faith and works are contrasting ideas
A. Recall that Paul’s intent was to encourage the obedience of faith - Romans 1:5
B. Romans 1-3 proved that everyone has sinned
1. Relying of the works of the law alone cannot save because one violation brings total condemnation - Galatians 3:10-14
2. Hence, no one is able to earn salvation because we all earn condemnation.
C. Since man is unable to rescue himself, it required God to bridge the gap.
1. The sacrifice of Jesus paid the debt owed by sin
2. Our response to that gracious gift should be faith.
D. Recall now the Gentile vision of righteousness – it was based on the idea of works alone.
E. Recall the Jewish vision of righteousness – it was based on heritage alone or heritage combined by works.
F. Neither group placed any credence on faith
1. What Paul is proving is that works alone cannot save
2. Yet Paul never said that works are unnecessary, recall Romans 2:5-8
3. Paul emphasizes what makes a difference. It is not the works that make a difference, but the faith.
4. Paul is addressing those who would isolate works from faith.
G. Works done to earn salvation will not lead to salvation. But works done because of belief in Jesus; works done in patience, seeking God’s glory, and desiring immortality will save.
H. This is why James is not in disagreement with Paul. Instead, he is addressing another group – those who would try to isolate faith from works.
IX. Would you today have that obedient faith? - Romans 6:1-7