BOASTING EXCLUDED BEFORE THE GRACE OF THE GOD OF NATIONS.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
What are we really like? What is the condition of men and women? Paul has been dealing with this throughout the past two chapters and he has come to the conclusion that everyone, the Jews as well as the Gentiles, have sinned. They come short of this standard, which is the glory of God. So the condition of men and women is this, that each one of us is a sinner, everyone without exception. Now Paul raises a number of significant questions.
- WHERE, THEN, IS BOASTING?
Paul was raised in the atmosphere of Jewish boasting. His kith and kin were always boasting that they were descendants of Abraham. All was well between them and God because every man jack of them, and every woman too was a descendant of Abraham. Jehovah himself had covenanted to be the God of every one of them. What need had they to listen to preachers warning them that they should repent and be baptized? They had religious superiority; they were the chosen people. They were immensely proud of their privileged status. They were nationally, culturally and morally superior to every other nation in the world. They were heaven’s protected favourites. Of course they went along to the wilderness to hear the latest prophet John the Baptist preaching. He was a remarkable phenomenon; the silence from heaven, not sending prophets for 400 years, had ended. He drew the crowds, but his preaching couldn’t touch many of them because they thought his warnings and exhortations were irrelevant. They were in a relationship with Abraham and they had no need to repent and get baptized, so that one day in his preaching John cried out to them, “Do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). He was telling them, “God doesn’t need you. He can make the stones that littered the desert better children of his than you’ll ever be.”
The Lord Jesus met similar coolness. He told an audience of Jews that as we sin we become a slave to that sin, a slave to pride, a slave to lusts, a slave to greed. Each time a man sins he loses a little more of his freedom and comes more under the domination of his sin. But there was a way of deliverance; “‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?’ Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it for ever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word’” (John 7:31-37). Boasting in their descent from Abraham was a wall that they had erected to protect them from considering the words of Jesus, “You must be born again.’ All of us live behind self-erected walls. What wall have you put up keeping Jesus Christ outside your life? No unbeliever without a wall around him.
Paul himself had once erected a wall like the Great Wall of China around him keeping Christ out. He had been a great boaster before he had started to follow Jesus. This is what he said to the Philippians, “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: [then he begins his boasting] circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. [Then he describes the great change . . .] But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Phils.3:4-9). Paul had been delivered from boasting by a sight of true greatness. Who was great? Jesus Christ the Son of God. Great in his life; great in his teaching; great in his atoning death; great in his resurrection from the dead; great in his power to keep us. Paul’s wall of Jewish boasting in having Abraham as their father was destroyed.
But of course there is Gentile boasting too. Paul refers to this in particular at the beginning of this letter where he says that men are “insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil” (Roms. 1:30). We Welsh boast in such things as our beautiful land, our ancient language, our rugby prowess, our singing and our eisteddfods. We used to boast also in our schooling and our health service and our radical politics, but you don’t hear much of those themes in today’s songs of pride. But all men will find something they’re going to boast about. Boasting is the language of our fallen self-centredness. Ultimately it’s sinners’ protection against their feelings of guilt, and failure, and worthlessness.
So let us explain to you the principle on which we Christians disdain boasting. Everyone possesses certain principles by which he lives his life. There’s one man who says that his principle is this, that as long as an action of his doesn’t hurt anyone then he goes ahead and he does it. But by what principle or method or rule do we Christians in this congregation function? Is it, Paul asks, “On that of observing the law?” Thou shalt not boast!” Of course the law of God does condemn boasting. Jeremiah chapter 9, 23 and 24 famously records these words; “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.” But that is definitely not how Paul answers his own question, “No not because of what the law says, rather, “on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” You understand what he is saying, that there is a certain order of things by which those men operate who have rejected Christ as their Saviour. What do they have? They’ve got themselves. You reject my Saviour and all you have is you, you alone in heart-ache, you in suffering, you in dying, you in the grave, you before the great white throne. All you have is you alone. You are operating on that principle of self-sufficiency and that rule in life and this is it -“I believe in myself.”
However, Christians have put their trust in Jesus Christ; they have been justified freely by the grace of God alone, through the salvation that the Son of God has achieved all by himself for us. We know that that mercy has become ours only through us putting our faith and hope in Jesus Christ alone. That Christian has discovered that he’s got nothing whatsoever to boast in. There is a total absence of such an entity as “Christian boasting;” it is excluded not only because the law says, “Thou shalt not boast” but because a Christian is someone whose entire hopes of eternal life depend on Jesus Christ alone. The Christian has made no contribution to his salvation. All his good works have been contaminated by sin. They are all imperfect. We’ve been saved by the good works of Jesus Christ not our own. That is the law of faith. Our Saviour made the one complete and perfect sacrifice that reconciles a holy sin-hating God to us. No other sacrifice has ever done that and none ever will. Jesus of Nazareth accomplished this all by himself apart from our works of the law.
You were no help to the Lord when he lived and died in this world. You hadn’t even been born, while his disciples and his family all ran away and left him in the hands of his enemies to beat him up and torture him and mock him and kill him by crucifixion. He saved us all alone by shedding his blood. And that faith of yours, which connects his salvation to you, was not something you worked up or that you were smart enough to exercise. Faith in Christ is self-renouncing; works are self-congratulatory! Faith looks to what Christ has done. Works looks to what we are. By grace alone you’ve been saved through faith but that was not of yourself. It was a gift of God to prevent you from such boasts as, “I am mighty glad that I put my trust in the Lord and got saved from hell.” It was God who joined you to him by the faith that God created. And you can’t even boast in your love for Jesus because you love him only because he first loved you. Salvation from beginning to end is the work of God. Its conception is God’s; its continuance is God’s; its consummation is God’s. So why are you boasting? What have you got to boast about? Absolutely nothing at all. Zero! Zilch! Boasting is folly. Boasting is ignorance.
Shut the door on your boasting. Turn the key on your boasting. Never open the door of self-applause again. There is no holiness without that door locked and the key thrown away. There is no happiness if boasting is tolerated. Will you ever be a blessing to others if you are often turning to speak about yourself. But boasting in Christ is authentic, attractive and grand! Praising another, not boasting in self is the character of the true believer. Praising Jesus not hinting at yourself is what helpful saving preaching is all about; “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” Where is boasting? It is in Jesus. May we never boast – never, never, never – except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. “A man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” Any man! The worst man! The coldest, deadest, most scornful and evil man who turns from all of that and looks to the Lord Jesus Christ is justified through that look alone. You don’t boast in looking, you boast in the one whose mighty gracious power delivers you from death and judgment by allowing you to look at him. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness even so the Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone who looks to him may have everlasting life. Then there is another question.
2. WHERE THEN IS THE LAW?
That is the question in verse 31, “Do we then nullify the law by this faith?” And the answer Paul gives is “Not at all! Rather we uphold the law.” The word ‘law’ has a number of meanings in the New Testament. It sometimes refers to the whole Old Testament scriptures, and sometimes to the five books of Moses, and sometimes to the ten commandments. What is ‘the law’ refer to here? From the context it refers to our-works-that- keep-the-law-of-God. It is referring to our attempted obedience to the law of commandment, the law addressing us and saying to us, “Do what I tell you and you shall live.” But we are crushed at such a request. We protest, “Love you with all my heart and soul, and mind, and strength? How in the world can I do that? If salvation hangs on that then I am a lost man. Love my neighbour as myself? If I do that then I will be saved? Impossible! My best obedience is riddled with self and failure. There is no hope for me in being saved by the obedience of the law.”
Have you learned that lesson? That is what Paul has been teaching us for three chapters. No salvation can come to any person by the works of law-keeping. No one has ever got to heaven by ticking off one by one the ten commandments. The imperfect obedience that we offer to God in keeping his law is of no avail in itself in getting right with God. Only by faith focused in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ can we be saved.
So does this faith in Christ nullify – render null and void – the law of God? In other words, for the rest of our lives do we simply work out our own principles of conduct. Do we pick’n’mix what principles we choose to live by? Do we think that the Jews under the Old Testament had to have the law of God, the moral law, the civil law and the ceremonial law. They were children, but we have come of age and all we need is to live by trusting in Christ and by loving? “All we need is love.” Paul says, “God forbid!” Paul says, “Rather, we uphold the law.”
Where then is the law? See it being upheld by the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. There he shows us the inward nature of the law, that the commandments don’t merely deal with outward behaviour but inward desire and anger and deceit. The law is upheld by Paul later on in this letter, in Romans chapter 13 and verses 9 and 10; “The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” What we have in this little verse in our text is an abrupt comment that Paul is going to amplify in greater detail further on in this letter, but here he is determined to answer the Jewish criticism that Christians are antinomian – “They have no place in their religion for the law.” Paul is saying, “No way. We uphold the law of God.” Then there is the third question…
3. WHERE THEN IS THE GOD OF THE JEWS?
You see this question in verse 29 and it is one of the most fundamental of questions. The answer is this, that the Old Testament God of Abraham, and the God of the patriarchs, and the God of the prophets, and the God of the Jews – the old covenant people of God, is also the God of us Gentiles – the God of all the Gentiles who believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God. In other words there is just one God. The God of the Old Testament is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to all who receive Jesus Christ (as their Lord to obey and as their Saviour to redeem), to that vast company of people God gives the right for them also to become the children of God. Paul makes that very clear, saying, “since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith” (v.30). In other words there is only one way of salvation and that is through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, what he was and what he did whether you’ve been circumcised or remain uncircumcised. That is no longer important; circumcision is henceforth reduced to a mere option. What is crucial is that both circumcised and uncircumcised put their faith in Jesus Christ alone. It could not be clearer. You must come to the Lord Jesus. Let me ask and answer three fundamental questions, all the most basic of questions. They were raised by James Montgomery Boice in his sermons on Romans at this juncture.
i] Who many come to Jesus Christ? The answer is: everybody and anybody who turns from their sin and puts their trust in the Saviour, Jesus Christ. All alike are lost in sin, and yet all alike are recipients of the goodness of God and hear the sincere offer of pardon and salvation because of God’s great love. You are familiar with the distinction I make between the offer of salvation and the promise of salvation. To every single one of you God is offering his Son Jesus Christ today to be your Saviour. God is commanding all of you at this moment to turn from your unbelief to trust in the living God. Jesus Christ is able to save you. He is willing to save you, and so doubt no more and delay no longer. God sincerely desires you to accept his Son as your Saviour today. He has no wish that you perish in hell. He is offering you his own dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ to be your teacher, and protector, and the all-sufficient answer to your guilt and condemnation. That is the offer he is making now to you all, without exception, everyone here. You come to me and I will give you rest.
But the promise of salvation he doesn’t make to all of you or to the whole population of our town. He is indeed urging every one of you to trust in Jesus Christ. The preceding portions of Romans show that the gospel is offered to men who are very great sinners as well as offered to apparently moral people. It is offered to the pagan as well as to the one who considers himself or herself to be a religious man. Even if you are a very great sinner for a very long time you are offered forgiveness. Those described in the first chapter of Romans were such sinners, but the salvation through faith in the death of Jesus Christ was offered to them. Even if you are extremely self-righteous, salvation can be yours. That is the offer God makes, But he doesn’t promised to any of these people that they are going to be saved. To be saved you have to put your trust in Jesus’ blood and righteousness, in other words, it is through his perfect life and his becoming the Lamb of god that forgiveness can be mine. If I believe in him and turn from every form of self-righteousness and self reliance casting myself on him alone then God promises and guarantees me his salvation.
I don’t know what is the one sin that easily pulls you down? Pride? Pornography? Lying? Stealing? If you cry, “No more” and come just as you are to the Lord Christ, you will be received. It is Jesus who said, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast him away” (John 6:37). What is your profession? Teacher? Accountant? Plumber? Housewife? A Publican? The Manager of a sex shop? You may still come to God through faith in the cross of Jesus Christ. What is your condition? Are you seeking God? Or are you running away from God? Fighting God? Questioning God? Job was questioning God, but God was never closer to him than when he was. Are you an indifferent sort of person? Religion saves no one. It is Jesus Christ who saves. So don’t come to church, rather come to this great living Person who is with us today, the Lord Jesus Christ. His gospel message is for you if you are one of these indifferent people.
ii] How may I come? You may come just as you are. In other words, I am not asking you to keep coming to our meetings for a year, and make yourself better. Then you’d never come at all. Boice tells us that some years ago there was a fad known as ‘come as you are’ parties. People would get an invitation to a party occurring in a week’s time and they were to come to it in exactly the state of dress (or undress) they were in when they got the invitation. Were they dressed to change the oil in the car? They were to come with oil stains. Were they covered with paint from some do-it-yourself household project? They were to come bespeckled. Swim-wear or formal wear! It didn’t matter. They were to come like that. In the same way, you are invited to come to Christ in whatever mental or spiritual attire you may find yourself in.
Some come running to Jesus. I have known some. The first time they heard the gospel they believed it. They came like Zacchaeus – a short man who hurried and climbed a tree to get a saving view of Jesus Christ. Or they came like Peter, who jumped into the lake to swim to Jesus across the Sea of Galilee. Preaching the gospel to people like that is to inherit all the work of preparation that the Holy Spirit has been doing. He has planted and watered and I can reap the fruit of saving faith. The result is in your face. Roman Catholics, many of whom have learned some doctrine but perhaps have not yet understood the gospel of grace, sometimes come in this manner. For them seeing Jesus Christ in the glory of his person and the perfection of his finished work opens the entire treasure house of God to them.
Others come limping along with poor, faltering, hesitating steps. But that is all right. They may come, too. Some people come kicking and screaming. Paul was reluctant. Saint Augustine resisted until God finally reached him in the garden of a friend near Milan, Italy. C. S. Lewis described himself as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in England.” Come like that. Whatever you do, makes sure you come to Jesus Christ.
iii] When may I come? You may come at any age. Come as a child. We’re delighted when children show an interest in the gospel, which many do, especially if they’re being raised in a devout Christian home. Children can understand a great deal if someone will just take the time to explain the things of God to them. Jesus commended the faith of children, saying that we must all come as little children to be saved. See your weakness and know you need a Shepherd to protect you. Are you a child? If you are, and if you can understand what I am saying now, you can understand three things: (1) you are old enough to sin; (2) you are old enough to die; and (3) you are old enough to come to Jesus. For Jesus himself said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt.19:14). If you are a child, won’t you believe in Jesus and follow him? The way older people are to be saved is for you also.
But you may be older. You may be thinking that you probably should have come as a child but that it is too late for you now. The devil is saying to you that you are too far gone, and that now you’d be a hypocrite if you came to Christ. So you are thinking, “I am getting along in years,” you say. “It is hard to change when you are old.” All true enough! Old folk get set in their ways; that’s why it’s good to come young. But although it is harder to come to Christ when you are older, it is not impossible. And it is never too late. You may not be able to do much for Jesus because of your advanced years, but he can do everything for you. You will not have much time on earth to serve him, but you will have an eternity in heaven to praise him.
When may you come? The only time you can guarantee is today, and now is the accepted time to trust in Jesus Christ. Now is the day that salvation has been preached to you and you have been urged to receive it. What a blessed providence that you should come here today and hear the good news that Jesus Christ lived and died that through his life and death we may be forgiven and receive everlasting life. That is not a matter of good luck. That is an expression of God’s love for you. He has arranged this occasion that you may respond to his invitation, “Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart and ye shall find rest to your soul, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” You come to Jesus Christ. It is a movement at the very centre of your life as you look away from your failure and guilt to Jesus Christ who is speaking to you now and offering to become you Lord and Saviour.
Will You Come? I give this appeal: Come to Jesus! Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles, too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Then both Jews and Gentiles come to Jesus Christ. You who have tried to keep the law and desperately failed it, you flee to the one person who did keep the law of God and then bore the condemnation of the law in his death – you come to Jesus Christ. It is through faith in him that every or any single person can get right with God.
Then you come to him. You come to him now. You come just as you are without one plea. You come to him when it seems the most crazy and irrational thing for you to do. You come to him saying to yourself, “What am I doing? I am not religious. I don’t feel like coming. Is this man working on me and brain-washing me? Why should I come? But can I stay away? Mustn’t I come? Mustn’t I confess that so much of my past life has been a disaster without God? Why should it go on in this way to the grave? This one life of mine, mustn’t I seek its redemption and regeneration now? I’m coming. I am doing the craziest thing in my life; I am giving myself to God. From now on I am going to follow Jesus. God help me! God have mercy on me! God be with me. Without you, God, my past is despair, and my future is unthinkable. I have to have you to serve and you to keep me and you to forgive me and you to help me and you to turn to. I can’t face a day without you. Less than Jesus would not satisfy me. More than Jesus is not wanted. I am opening to you Lord Christ. Come into my life today. Come in to stay for ever as my God and King. God be merciful to me a sinner. Amen.
20th July 2014 GEOFF THOMAS