NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XXI)
To summarize what Paul has said since verse 19: You cannot work your way into heaven! Remember, there is a gate, and the gate is guarded. God only recognizes one work, one sacrifice, and one offering, and that is the death and resurrection of His Son Christ Jesus. If we are to be justified, it must be through the blood of Jesus. Cain was a prototype of those who attempt to approach God without the shedding of blood. It didn’t work when Cain tried to avoid the expense of losing a lamb, and it surely will not work now. In fact, it cost the sacrifice of the Lamb of God to make it possible.
Jesus Himself made this very clear: “I assure you, anyone who hears what I say and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life. They will not be judged guilty. They have already left death and have entered into life.”1 And this became the central part of Paul’s preaching: “Brothers, understand what we are telling you. You can have forgiveness of your sins through this Jesus. The Law of Moses could not free you from your sins. But you can be made right with God if you believe in Jesus. So be careful!”2 And just as important in identifying the Law of Grace as the only rule by which salvation was given, Paul wanted everyone to know that this was an immutable truth for all mankind.
Early church theologian Origen writes: “It remains for us who are trying to affirm everything the Apostle says, and to do so in the proper order, to inquire [as to] who is justified by faith alone apart from works. If an example is required, I think it must suffice to mention the thief on the cross who asked Christ to save him and was told: ‘Truly, this day you will be with Me in Paradise.’3 A man is justified by faith. The works of the law can make no contribution to this. Where there is no faith which might justify the believer, even if there are works of the law these are not based on the foundation of faith. Even if they are good in themselves, they cannot justify the one who does them, because faith is lacking, and faith is the mark of those justified by God.”4
Then Bishop Theodore points out: “Paul did not say ‘we conclude’ because he was himself uncertain. He said it in order to counter those who concluded from this that anyone who wished to, could be justified simply by willing faith. Note carefully, that Paul does not say simply ‘without the law,’ as if we could just perform virtue by wanting to, nor do we do the works of the law by force. We do them because we have been led to do them by Christ.”5
Then Pelagius writes: “Some people misinterpret this verse in order to do away with the works of righteousness, saying that faith by itself is enough, even though Paul says elsewhere: ‘If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.’6 If this seems to contradict the sense of the other [verses], what works did the Apostle mean when he said that a man is justified by faith, without works? Obviously, these are the works of circumcision, the Sabbath, and so on, and not the works of righteousness about which St. James says: ‘Faith without works is dead.’7 [In this verse] Paul is speaking about the man who comes to Christ and is saved when he first believes by faith alone. But by adding the works of the law, Paul is saying that there are also works of grace which believers ought to perform.”8 Clearly, Pelagius is not advocating salvation by works or by works and grace. He is merely pointing out that good works play a significant role in how a Christian lives his or her life. But these actions are not intended as a substitute for faith, but a result of faith.
Reformist John Calvin shares how this teaching was viewed by the established church in his day: “Justification by faith is indeed made very clear, while works are expressly excluded. Hence, in nothing do our adversaries labor more in the present day than in attempts to blend faith with the merits of works. They indeed allow that man is justified by faith; but not by faith alone. Yes, they place the effectiveness of justification in love, though in words they ascribe it to faith. But Paul affirms in this passage that justification is so gratuitous [by grace], that he makes it quite evident, that it can by no means be associated with the merit of works.”9
John Bengel points out that Paul’s question, “Where is your boasting then?” is unanswerable.10 The only person who could make such claims is one who can say that they have fully attained the level of living a completely righteous life. This is what the Jews tried to do. (Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christians have tried the same down through the centuries.) Bengel goes on to say that although a person, according to the law, might have supposed they may reap righteousness as a reward, yet they could not boast before God.11 Now, as things are, seeing that there is no righteousness available by the law, there remains much less room for boasting; and boasting is much more excluded by the Law of Faith, than by the Law of Works. An appropriate misuse in the application of the word Law is made by calling justification by faith, a Law. This is allowed inasmuch as it is by Divine appointment, to which submission is due.12 Thus, the Law of Justification by faith was broken because they did not submit themselves to the righteousness of God.13
Adam Clarke puts it in terms of the Wesleyan view: “Seeing these things cannot be denied, viz., that all have sinned: that all are guilty, that all are helpless: that none can deliver his own soul, and that God, in His endless mercy, has opened a new and living way to the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus.14 Therefore, we apostles and Christian teachers conclude – prove by fair, rational consequence – that a man – any man, is justified – has his sins blotted out, and is received into the Divine favor by faith in Christ‘s blood, without the deeds of the law, which never could afford, either to Jew or Gentile, a ground for justification. Because both have sinned against the law which God has given them, and, consequently, forfeited all right and title to the blessings which the obedient might claim.”15
Robert Haldane gives his commentary on the futility of boasting about one’s self-righteousness: “That is, according to the doctrine which the Apostle, by the Spirit of God, is teaching. There is no ground for it, or for ascribing salvation in any part or degree to the works of men. This shows that salvation was appointed to come to the redeemed through faith, for the very purpose of excluding all pretenses to allege that human merit has any share in it. This applies to all works, moral as well as ceremonial. If ceremonial works only were here meant, as many contend, and if moral works have some influence in procuring salvation, or in justification, then the Apostle could not have asked this question. Boasting would not have been excluded.”16 In other words, justification to stand before God as innocent cannot be granted by an individual or church. It is by divine appointment through faith.
Haldane also touches on Justification by Faith being called a law. “It is not by works; for if works were admitted, in the smallest degree, to advance or aid man’s justification, he might in that proportion have ground for boasting. It is, then, by the law of faith; not by a law requiring faith, or as if the Gospel was a law, a new law, or, as it has been termed a remedial or mitigated law. But the word law is here used in allusion to the law of works, according to a figure usual in the Scriptures. By the same figure, Jesus says, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’ Here faith is called work, for a similar reason. Faith in the righteousness of Christ is, by the appointment of God, the medium of a sinner’s justification, without any consideration of works. This way of justification clearly shows that a man has no righteousness of his own and that he can obtain nothing by means of conformity to the law, which can have no place since he must admit that he is a transgressor. It impels him to search outside himself, and to lay hold of the righteousness of another, and so leaves no room for glorying or boasting in himself, or in his own performances more or less. His justification is solely by faith, and it is clear that to believe a testimony, and rely on what has been done by another, furnish no ground for boasting. ‘Therefore, it is by faith, that it might be by grace.’ The whole plan of salvation proceeds on this principle, ‘that no flesh should glory in His presence,’ but ‘that, according as it is written, he that glories, let him glory in the Lord.’ 17No ingenuity can ever make elevation by human merit consistent with the passage before us.”18
And Spurgeon preached: “The Apostle Paul peremptorily, over and over again, tells us that salvation is not by works; nor does he tell us that it is by works and grace put together. He testifies that the two principles neutralize and cancel each other out and that a man must either be saved wholly as the result of God’s favor or else he must be saved altogether as the result of his own merit, for the two principles cannot in any way be combined.”19 As we know, man’s way is meant for failure from the start because he cannot keep his own promises. But God’s way guarantees success because God’s promises will never fail.
F. F. Bruce gives an excellent explanation of justification apart from works. He writes: “Paul does not mean that such works need not be performed, but that, even when they are performed tolerably well, one is not thereby justified in God’s sight. He is cutting the ground from under the feet of those who say, ‘I always do the best I can … I try to live a decent life … I pay my lawful dues, and what more can God expect of me?’ When this is grasped, it can be seen that they have no ground for self-congratulation as they contemplate the way of salvation: it is ‘by grace alone, through faith alone; to God alone be the glory.’. Yet, while justification in this sense is received by faith alone, ‘the faith which justifies is not alone;’ it is, as Paul says, ‘faith working through love’20”21
1 John 5:24
2 Acts of the Apostles 13:38-39
3 Luke 23:43
4 Origen: On Romans, loc. cit
5 Theodore of Mopsuestia: Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 1 Corinthians 13:2
7 James 2:26
8 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 See 1 Corinthians 1:20; 15:55; cf. 2 Peter 3:4
11 Luke 17:10
12 Cf. Romans 10:3
13 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 244-245
14 Hebrews 10:19-20
15 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 154
17 1 Corinthians 1:31; cf. Jeremiah 9:24
18 Haldane: ibid., pp. 154-155
19 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Galatians 5:6
21 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 114–115