Author: Ron Graham


A Law of Faith
—A study in Romans

This lesson asks you to focus on Paul's teaching about being justified by faith rather than by law. That is not an easy topic, so I am keeping this lesson short, to the point, and as simple as possible. Perhaps you will judge this lesson to correctly represent and explain Paul's principle doctrine on this subject.

1 Three Alternatives

There are three alternative paths by which a man might seek to be justified...

In his letter to the Romans, Paul is not arguing for justification by faith alone without obedience to law. Rather, he is arguing that you cannot have justification by obedience to law alone without faith in Christ. What Paul argues for is "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5, 16:26). We have to obey the law, but it must be a law of faith, and that's what the gospel is. The gospel is to be believed (Romans 1:16) and obeyed (Romans 6:16).

2 The Law of Faith

Some translators have weakened Romans 3:27 by using the word “principle” instead of the word “law”. Since Paul, in Romans, has in mind "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:2), it seems to me that he is thinking, in Romans 3:27, of an actual law of faith. He is thinking not merely of the “principle” of justification by faith, but of the enacted law (the gospel or new covenant) which had the power to save (Romans 1:16).

Of course, any law of God can be a “law of faith”. It is fair to say, however, that not all of God's laws served equally well in this regard. As a law of faith the Mosaical law was especially disabled and weak (Romans 8:3), whilst by contrast God's law for the Christian age is called "the power of God for salvation" (Romans 1:16). The gospel serves better as a “law of faith” than did previous law systems. In other words the just can live by faith better under Christ's new covenant than under previous ones, which bore testimony to faith but were not the ultimate “law of faith” as is the gospel. That is why Paul was anxious to preach the gospel to the church of Christ in Rome (Romans 1:15).

3 Not Under Law

To those who have been justified by faith (like Abraham was), Paul says, "Sin shall not be master over you,for you are not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14). Then Paul says, "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!" (6:15) Think about that carefully: Paul obviously believes that you could sin, even though you are not under law. But if you are not under law, how can you sin? After all, Paul also holds that where there is no law, there can be no imputation of transgression (Romans 4:15, 5:13). If someone under grace can sin, then someone under grace has law, because sin is breaking God's law. So how can Paul conceive of people who "have sinned without law" (Romans 2:12)?

Paul in one case is speaking in the absolute. In the other case he is speaking relatively...

Saying that we are "not under law but under grace" is a bit like saying someone is “not in the sun but in the shade.” When you are in the shade, you are not out of the sun absolutely. Otherwise it would be pitch dark, wouldn't it? In the shade, you are only out of the sun relatively speaking. It is much the same when Paul says you are not under law but under grace.

What Paul says in Romans 6 about enslavement helps us to understand that "not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14) is a relative statement. Paul says, "Though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient... and having been freed from sin you became slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:15-23).

It's easy to see that being "enslaved to God" is far better than being enslaved to sin, and though we are still slaves, we are free from the enslavement that led to death. We are now under enslavement whereby we receive an inheritance as sons of God, for God treats his slaves as sons. These two contrasting states of enslavement are in view when Paul speaks of being "not under law but under grace" Obviously a slave of God must be under the law of God. However anyone who faithfully follows the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, is free, forgiven, and under grace.