Justification by Faith Is the End of Boasting

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. 31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

Why Raise the Issue of Boasting?

Why does Paul raise the issue of boasting? "Where then is boasting?" he asks in verse 27. And he answers, "It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith." Then in Romans 4:2 he raises the issue again: "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God." So the matter of boasting is important to Paul. Why?

1. Pride Is the Greatest Problem of the Human Race

First, because boasting is the outward form of the inner condition of pride. And pride has been the root cause of all the evils and miseries of the world, described in Romans 1:18-3:20. Let's go back and see this first-hand for ourselves. In Romans 1:18 Paul says, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." The truth is available to all people in one way or the other, and instead of humbling ourselves under it, we stand over it and push it down. This is pride. It may take hundreds of different forms - from the most petite and delicate to the most powerful and crude - but the reality is the same: we will stand over the truth and accept what we like and suppress what we don't.

What truth do we suppress? Verse 21 says, "Even though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or give thanks." The truth that pride suppresses most is that God is greater than we are and should be glorified as the greatest reality in the universe, and that God is the Giver of all things and should be continually thanked. A Godward spirit of worship and gratitude is missing from most hearts because of pride. We want admiration for ourselves, not for God, and we don't want to be dependent like helpless children on God's mercy.

So verse 22 says, "Professing to be wise, they became fools." This is pride. "Professing to be wise, [we] became fools and exchanged the glory of God . .." We think we are wise when we are acting foolishly.

Verse 25: "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator." Pride may still worship; it may still serve. But not God. Only a creature -something more manageable, something that can't really govern us and put us in our place.

Verse 28: "They did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer." Pride prefers not to have God in its knowledge. Pride does not like to submit to authority or depend on mercy. Therefore it is always rejecting or redefining the true God.

So in the middle of verse 30 we read that such people are, "insolent, arrogant, boastful." Here Paul is explicit about the depth of pride in the fallen human heart.

Then in Romans 2:3, Paul shows the form this pride takes in the morally vigilant: "Do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?" There is such a thing as the pride of the lecherous and there is also the pride of the legally careful, moral person.

There is even the pride of the religious person who uses his knowledge of God to exalt himself. Romans 2:17, "If you bear the name 'Jew' and rely upon the Law and boast in God . . ." and then he goes on to warn them against hypocrisy. The same could be true of any religious group. We are all tempted to make God himself a means of our own self-exaltation.

And when Paul comes to the end of his long indictment of the human race as all being under sin (3:9), he says in climax in 3:18, "There is no fear of God before their eyes." They don't tremble before God. They have exchanged the glory of God for other things. And they have such an overweening sense of their own significance in the world that they can't even imagine trembling before their Maker and Judge.

So boasting matters to Paul because boasting is the outward form of the deep, root-problem of the human race, pride. This moral corruption lies behind all the evils and miseries of the world. And, worst of all, this pride has put us at odds with God, so that, as Romans 3:19b says, "Every mouth is stopped and all the world has become accountable to God." We are under his judgment because of our pride and all the sin that flows from it.

2. God Accomplished Our Salvation without Our Help

How then can we be put right with God? His wrath, Paul says in Romans 1:18, is being revealed against us. And we are "storing up wrath for ourselves in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (2:5). If we are so proud and sinful, and God is so angry, how then can we be saved from the wrath of God? How can people who have so belittled and dishonored the glory of the infinite God ever be set right with God?

The answer is given in Romans 3:21-26, which we have been pondering for the last three weeks. The answer is that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to suffer and die in the place of proud, ungodly sinners, so that four things would happen. 1) The injury that we have done to God's glory through our pride and sin would be repaired, because Jesus gave his life to glorify the Father (see verses 23 and 25). 2) The wrath of God would be absorbed by Jesus and turned away from us as he gives himself as a propitiation by his blood-shedding (verse 25). 3) An infinitely valuable ransom would be paid to release us from the guilt of sin - the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (verse 24). 4) The righteousness of God would be demonstrated and vindicated.

In sum: 1) God's glory is upheld; 2) his wrath is propitiated; 3) the ransom is paid; 4) his righteousness is demonstrated.

That is what God did in Christ, outside of us, before we had anything to do with it. A great salvation is accomplished outside of you before anything is applied inside of you.

Now the result of this great salvation for us, that gives us hope that we will escape the wrath of God, is justification. What this means is that, on the basis of what he has done in Christ (those four great acts), God declares us to be righteous. Because of all that great work, Paul says in verse 24: "[We are] justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." The redemption price - the ransom - was paid by Christ outside of us in history. This unleashed an avalanche of grace toward us, and the form that grace has taken is the free gift of justification. Verse 24: "we are set right with God as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus."

And we saw as we closed last week that in verses 22 and 25 and 26 the means though which we are justified is faith in Christ Jesus. Verse 26b: ". . . that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."

Now let's ask again the question we raised at the beginning: Why does Paul raise the issue of boasting in verse 27? I think we can answer it more fully now. The first part of the answer is that pride is the greatest problem of the human race. Self-exaltation and self-admiration and self-determination are the universal forms of worship that compete with glorifying and thanking and trusting the living God. So boasting is utterly crucial to deal with.

The second part of the answer is that God has acted in history through the death of Christ to save us from the condemning effects of pride. And he has done it in such a way as not even to involve us in the accomplishment of it. He sent Christ; he upheld his glory through Christ; he propitiated his wrath by Christ; he paid the ransom, which was Christ; and he vindicated his righteousness in Christ. And we cannot boast that we had any part in accomplishing it, because we did not have any part in accomplishing it.

3. We Benefit from God's Great Salvation Only by Faith in God

Which brings us to the third part of the answer to why Paul brings up the issue of boasting; namely, that the means by which we benefit from this great salvation (redemption, propitiation, justification) is a means designed specifically by God to exclude boasting - that is, the means of faith.

So picture these three steps: first, pride is the great root of all the evil that cut us off from God and created the need for salvation. Second, God accomplishes a great salvation in Christ on the cross by upholding his glory, propitiating his wrath, paying a ransom, and demonstrating his righteousness - so we had nothing to do with it and cannot boast that it depends on us at all. Third, now how will God connect you with it? How will you become the beneficiary of this great salvation?

Only in a way that excludes boasting. For if what links us to this salvation is an act we can boast in, then the purpose of the whole plan collapses.

That is why Paul raises the issue of boasting.

The Law of Faith

And what is his answer to the question in verse 27 - "Where then is boasting?" His answer is just what we expect: "It is excluded." That is utterly crucial. All boasting must be excluded by the way God saves. How is it excluded? What did God design so as to exclude boasting? Here's his answer: "By what kind of law [was it excluded]? [A law] of works? No, but by a law of faith." Boasting is excluded by a law of faith.

The term "law" is translated in some versions "principle" - boasting is excluded not by the "principle" of works but by the "principle" of faith. "Law" is the literal meaning and it is the same word as in the next verse (verse 28), "works of the Law," and in verse 31, "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law."

So I think it should be translated "Law" in verse 27, and that Paul means the Law would not exclude boasting if it commended works as the way of justification, but the Law would exclude boasting if it taught that we are justified by faith. Which is, in fact, what it does teach, as Paul will labor to show in chapter four.

So the point of verse 27 is that what excludes boasting from salvation is that justification comes to us not by works of Law, but by faith which the Law teaches. Notice the connection between verse 27 and verse 28: "Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (which he will defend from the Law in chapter four). In other words, if boasting is going to be excluded from justification, then justification has to be not only by faith, but also "apart from works of Law." If you mix in works as a means of justification, you undermine God's purpose to exclude all boasting.

Apart from Works of Law

Now what does that mean - "apart from works of Law"? Well, the next two verses help us see what Paul has in mind. Verse 29 says, "Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also." In other words, he is saying, "Justification is apart from works of the Law" because if it were based on the deeds of the Law, then the Gentiles who don't have the Law would be at a disadvantage and God would not seem to be the God of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews.

But, in fact, that is not the case, as verse 30 then makes plain: "Since indeed God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith, is one." In other words, there is one God over all nations and over the Jews, not many gods, and there is one way of getting right with this God; namely, by faith.

But to see what "works of Law" means here (in verse 28), notice what Paul focuses on: he takes circumcision as his example of a "work of Law" and he says in verse 30, that those who do this work (Jews) are justified by faith not by this work; and those who do not do this work (the Gentiles) are justified through faith apart from this work. "God will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith" (verse 30). Therefore, verse 29: he is not the God of the Jews only but of the Gentiles also. Therefore, verse 28: "A man is justified by faith, apart from works of the Law."

So "works of the Law," which do not exclude boasting, are deeds required in the Law - such as circumcision (verse 30) - which a person does to obtain justification. I'll say it again to make it crystal clear: a "work of Law" -which in its essence does not exclude boasting - is anything you do (besides faith) to obtain a right standing with God - that is, to obtain justification. If you try to do anything besides trust God's grace in order to get right with God, you are doing a "work of Law" - and you are still in the grip of pride. Boasting is not excluded by "works of Law," but only by faith.

Why is that? Paul explains, in Romans 4:4-5, why "works of Law" do not exclude boasting. He says, "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited according to grace, but according to debt [literal translation]. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness."

Faith Calls Attention to the One Who Is Trusted

In other words, if you receive circumcision (or let's say, attend church, and keep the second table of the Ten Commandments) as a way of obtaining right standing with God, then what you would get would not be grace, but what you are due. "To the one who works, his wage is not credited according to grace, but according to debt." In other words, "working" calls attention to the worker and the work and expects what is due. Therefore, working does not exclude boasting, it supports boasting.

On the other hand, faith does not call attention to itself, but to the grace of the one trusted. Faith corresponds to grace. Work corresponds to debt. Therefore faith excludes boasting, and work supports boasting. If you are the beneficiary of grace in all that you are and have, you cannot boast in yourself. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:7, "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" When all is gift, boasting is excluded. But what happens if you try to perform a "work of Law" as a way to get right with God? Three things: 1) you nullify grace ("to the one who works, his wage is not credited according to grace"); 2) you turn justification into a wage that you are due, rather than a free gift; 3) you re-establish boasting which the entire plan of salvation was meant to destroy. So I plead with you on this Lord's Day, humble yourself under the great saving work of God in Christ; turn away from all pride and boasting and self-reliance; renounce all efforts to show yourself worthy of the gift of justification; and trust in free grace alone, "apart from works of the Law," as the way to get right with God.

Don't respond to God's offer of salvation with Romans 4:4; respond with Romans 4:5.

4:4 - "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited according to grace, but according to debt." Don't nullify grace and turn justification into a debt.

4:5 - "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness." Trust the one who justifies the ungodly - and you will be saved.

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org