Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. Romans 3:19-31 (ESV)
The apostle Paul clears up a lot of misunderstandings regarding Christian faith in the book of Romans.
Today we still get caught up in earning brownie points, even though the “buy your way to Heaven system” was the major impetus behind the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and other reformers protested the buying and selling of indulgences- things you could buy or do to earn special favors for yourself of your family. Just like buying saints’ bones or making pilgrimages to Jerusalem or doing various acts of penance couldn’t make Renaissance age Christians any better in God’s sight, there is still nothing we can decide to do, suffer through, or pay for that can make us “right with God.” One of the primary pillars of the Reformation is faith alone. Faith alone, in Christ alone, by His grace alone- it all comes back to Jesus.
We are often asked, “Are you saved?” or “Have you given your heart to Jesus?” by well meaning friends in various, ironically, Protestant, Christian traditions. Decision theology is the premise that we make a decision to choose Jesus and we choose to believe in God. It is a popular theological misconception in American Christianity. The premise is well intentioned, and fits in well with American individualism, but no decision made by a person can create saving faith in anyone. The decision to redeem us is God’s, for Jesus’ sake. (John 1:9-13)
The honest answer to decision theology is that we are being acted upon- saved, if you will- by God. We can no more save ourselves by our own actions or volition than an infant can change its own diaper or prepare its own bottle.
The Mosaic Law, which the apostle Paul as a former Pharisee would be well acquainted, is a law of works. No one can save themselves by works of the law, and no one ever was. Abraham was counted righteous by faith. All of the flawed and mortal saints of the Old Testament were counted righteous by faith. The Old Testament saints’ faith pointed ahead to Jesus’ appearing, while the saints of the New Testament era until now look to the Incarnation of Jesus. We have the good news of the life He lived and the death He endured to forgive our sins and purchase our eternal life. We are counted righteous- made good with God- for Jesus’ sake, by His grace because the Holy Spirit gives us faith. We can’t brag about how good we are because if we appear to be good, that goodness is the work of God in Christ through us.
The Law of Faith points us to Jesus. Jesus is the one doing the acting on us. If we brag, we brag about Him.
This is good news for those of us who struggle with doubt. Our salvation and strength is outside of us- no matter what we think or feel, Jesus has done the work of our salvation for us. In our baptism, through the hearing and teaching of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit gives us saving faith in the completed work of Jesus. Because we trust Jesus, we are free to do the good works God created us to do, but our works don’t save us.
The Law of Faith is so much better than the law of works!