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. 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...
(1) By faith without law.
Paul argues against this: "Do we nullify law through faith? No! On the contrary, we uphold law" (Romans 3:31) Paul certainly claims that the law of Moses was "weak" (Romans 8:3). However the alternative is not to be lawless, but to be under "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1-2).
(2) By law without faith.
Paul argues against this: "We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (Romans 3:28). One of Paul's main points in Romans is that we cannot be justified by law alone. There has to be something else besides law, namely faith in Christ Jesus. In Paul's mind, law without that faith is fatal (Romans 7:9-10).
(3) By a law of faith.
Paul argues in favour of this: He believes in "a law of faith" (Romans 3:27). Paul solves the problem that "I died" (Romans 7:9-10) with the solution that "Christ died" (Romans 5:8). This solution is made available in the gospel, the new law of Christ, for whoever believes it and obeys (Romans 1:4-5, 15-16).
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.
Paul argues for "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 not only to be believed (Romans 1:16) but also to be 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.
Paul has in mind not only the “principle” of justification by faith, but also 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”. However, 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...
When Paul says, "No sin is imputed where there is no law" he is speaking in the absolute. He means that where there is absolutely no word of God's law, there can be absolutely no sin. Paul never suggests, however, that anyone out of infancy may be regarded as abolutely without law. This absolute state is hypothetical.
When Paul speaks of people being “without law” or “not under law” he is speaking relative to the law of Christ, "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:2), Other laws brought condemnation without a solution.
The gospel is the law that grants the solution and sets you free. It gets you out from under law that provides sin with an open opportunity to kill you (Romans 8:1-2).
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.
Slaves of God
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.
Whether slaves to sin or slaves of God, we are slaves. Relatively speaking, however, as slaves of God we enjoy glorious liberty and grace.
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 God's law, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, is forgiven and under grace, free from the law that condemned.