Romans 3:21-31
The Righteousness Of God Removes Pride

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Re-Translated In November 1999

1.  People are always living their lives in comparison to others.  They compare themselves with others and take pride in themselves or they compare themselves with others and live their lives by putting themselves down or picking up a lowly attitude.  In order to preserve one's pride, at times a person has to view others as lower than himself or herself .  That's how we tend to look down on others.  A Pharisee who prayed after the following manner appeared in a parable of Jesus.  "O God, I am not as other people who steal, are unrighteous, and commit adultery, and I thank you I am not like this tax collector..." (Luke 18:11).  Why do words like "as other people" and "like this tax collector" show up in a dialogue with God?  Properly speaking, aren't they meaningless in connection with God?  However, even though these words don't deal with a relationship with God they show up in the text in connection with human pride, and such pride from humanity often times really makes it impossible to live with other people.

2.  As you have noticed in your reading this far in Paul's epistle, he frequently puts Jews and Gentiles side by side in the text.  He has put it like this: "To the Jew first and also to the Greek," (1:16), "Beginning with the Jew and also with the Greek," (2:9,10), "Both Jew and Greek," (3:9).  But, what Paul did was not done at all in accordance with the social expectations or customs commonly understood in those days.  I think we should see "the Greek" here standing for a non Jew in general, and you might say, it is a representation of the fact that the two peoples cannot live together.  Placing them aside each other and treating them with the same status was irritating for both of them.  The Jew was given the law of God and had pride in keeping it.  Therefore, they looked down on Gentiles.  They lived with the feeling that "We're thankful we're not like these Greeks." On the other hand, the Gentiles had a Gentile pride, and because of their pride they looked down on Jews or it even happened that they would entertain hostility against Jews.  The root of this problem between Jew and Gentile was very deep and the truth is the church also began to drag this problem along at great length.  We understand this situation clearly as we read The Acts Of The Apostles.  It wasn't easy for Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians to live together.  Furthermore, it means that Gentile missions were not carried out very naturally from the beginning.  As a matter of fact, I believe this problem was serious even in the Roman church to which Paul had sent this epistle.

3.  However, here Paul began to say, "Well then, where is human pride?  It has been removed."  Paul has written this as a fitting conclusion to what he has written so far.  That is, he has joyfully written "Pride is removed!," since salvation based on the gospel causes it as we'd expect it to.  He says that the gospel completely shuts out "human pride" which used to make it impossible for people to live together.

The Righteousness Of God Removes Human Pride

4.  So then, please look at verses twenty-seven and so on.

"Well, where is human pride?  It has been removed.  By what principle [or law]?  Was it by the law of works?  No, it wasn't.  It is by the law of faith.  Because we realize that when a person is justified it does not come from the works of the law, but it comes from faith," (verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight).

5.  The word "principle, law" that Paul is using here is the same word "law" in verse twenty-one.  As he makes a play on the same kind of words, a few words get complicated, but what he means is clear.  The contrast made here is between the way of being justified by works and the way of being justified by faith.  This "law of works" is the principle that says a keeper of the law obtains a righteous relationship with God by his or her works.  But in contrast to this, "the law of faith" as it is in verse twenty-eight is a principle that says "when a person is justified it does not come from the works of the law, but it comes from faith."

6.  Paul clarified this "law of faith" all the way to verse twenty-six.  He began with the recognition in 3:20 that "By the practicing of the law no one will be made righteous before God."  As it is in verse twenty-three, he began from the recognition that "all persons have sinned and cannot receive the glory of God."  The works of a man or a woman will not hold up before the principle of God's righteous judgment.  What a person should receive based on his or her works is not "glory, honor, and peace" (2:10), but only the wrath of God and judgment. Nothing can be done for the relationship between God and humanity based on actions that lead from an individual to God.  But then, Paul began to say in verse twenty-one that the righteousness of God has been revealed "without any relationship to the law."  A righteous relationship with God was to be given by God's work of salvation and not something that comes from the work of humanity.  A person was only to receive it by faith alone.  "Through only the work of redemption that comes from Christ Jesus one is justified without charge by God's grace," (verse twenty-four).  This is the "law of faith."  It means God is the doer and the individual is a completely passive recipient or God is the worker and the person is the one worked on.

7.  Therefore, there is no room at all for human pride to come in. If one lives only in comparison with others he or she will be able to be proud of his or her works, but a person can no longer be proud whenever it involves God's righteousness or when one's relationship with God is the issue.  Because a person does not and cannot do anything for his or her own salvation.  Therefore, "the law of faith" removes human pride.

8.  To say it the opposite way, whenever human pride is not shut down we could say "the law of works" is still alive.  We must carefully consider what has been written here.  Paul says "human pride has been taken away," but in reality, it is possible [for some] to say that's not so.  For example, in misunderstanding verse twenty-eight some have responded that "the works of the law" is a substitute for "faith."  In other words, "faith" has been thought of as a special "work" in place of "works of the law."  By doing that, measurable comparisons begin all at once.  One winds up thinking things like "Although his faith is fine, my faith is not enough.  Therefore, although he may surely be saved by such a fine and fervent faith, I probably won't be saved by mine."  Or one may think the opposite like "My faith is the real thing but her faith is so so very shallow."  In regard to faith, it happens that sometimes people boast or sometimes they degrade themselves.  Self-deprecation and bragging are two sides of the same [coin]. If we ask where does it comes from, it doesn't come from "the law of faith" because the law of faith takes away pride.  It means, therefore, that it is the "law of works" that is present there.  It means "the law of works" is in control.  Furthermore, the righteousness of God which God grants to all believers and the righteousness of God which Paul is in the process of discussing here end up being shut out by this "law of works."  "So then, where is human pride?  It has been removed."  We must focus our understanding of the gospel on these [God given] words.

God Is One And Only One

9.  As we continue, let's read verses twenty-nine and thirty.

"Or, is God only the God of the Jews?  Isn't he also the God of the Gentiles?  Yes, he is. He is also God of the Gentiles because God is really one and only one.  This God justifies a circumcised person because of faith and justifies even an uncircumcised person by faith," (twenty-nine and thirty).

10.  The message that a righteous relationship with God is given by faith alone should have originally been the most joyous news for the people.  However, in actual practice it wasn't so easy for them to accept because it would take away their pride and repudiate them as Paul has already stated.  It wasn't easy at all to consider good the removal of one's personal pride.  How a person will cling to the pride of his or her works!  Paul, therefore, knew quite well that "the law of faith" was impossible for the Jews to accept because he, too, used to live in pride as a Jew himself.  Indeed, it wasn't only the Jews who had a hard time accepting "the law of faith."  It's the same way for us too.  One way or another everyone wants to maintain their bragging rights.  Even though it's against God, that's how it is.

11.  So, Paul begins to argue from here on why it is "by faith."  He spends a considerable amount of words on this matter all the way to chapter four of this epistle.  I would like us to focus our attention on Paul's argumentation spreading it out over several sessions.  First, he begins to explain, based on the words of the Jewish confession of faith, why "being justified by the works of the law" is impossible as a way of salvation.  That's the message in verses twenty-nine and following.

12.  For the Jews, they are words recited every day.  It is called "the Shema."  It is a confession of faith that begins in Deuteronomy 6:4 with the words "Hear (Shema), O Israel.  The Lord our God is one and only one Lord.  You will serve him with your heart, serve him with your soul, and serve him with your strength and you will love the Lord your God."  In such a manner they confessed daily a belief that God was one.  So, Paul states that since God is one, how could he be the God of only Jews?  Of course, don't we expect God is also for those besides the Jews?  Furthermore, if God is for those besides the Jews, why would a righteous relationship with this God only be possible by the observance of the law of Moses?  Why does [a relationship with God] hinge on something that belongs only to the Jews?  His conclusion goes like this.  Of course, there ought to be a way of salvation given to both Jews and Greeks and to all people equally not dependent upon them. Therefore, it means that the basis of salvation does not depend upon human responsibility in any way whatsoever.  Since the basis of salvation does not lie with humanity in any way, it depends upon just the work of God's grace and believing alone is left to the individual.  This is all that is meant when it says, "He justifies a circumcised person (that is, a Jew) because of faith and he also justifies an uncircumcised person (a Gentile) by faith."

13.  So, when we read Paul's words, we are led to consider several points as we reflect on ourselves.  If God is creator of heaven and earth and is the absolute supreme being (of course, "a God who is not supreme" is only a contradiction in terms) we could say that the fact that God is one is the logical expected conclusion.  The Jews were confessing faith in the one and only God.  But, by their adherence to the deeds of the law, they ended up making the one and only God substantially as a god for only the Jews (what we could call a God for one race, a tribal God).  Then, on second thought, what about us?  As we read the old missionary books, at the time that they passed on to this country the one and only God, we can see what kind of difficulties they experienced.  They met resistance like, "In Japan we have our own God for our nation.  Why did you come to tell us about a God of the western nations?"  As you'd expect, in modern times where the world has become so narrow, I suppose there are fewer naive people any more who say things like "Since there is a God of Japan, don't tell us about the God of the western countries."  But, when we think about how the Christians living in this country are, I suppose when it comes down to it they live dragging along their polytheistic ideas unchanged while claiming God is one.  In other words, at times we may be thinking as if the Lord God whom we worship were a god for only church going people, as if he had nothing to do with the many people of this country, and as if there were other gods for them.

14.  Why did God crucify Christ?  Why did he prepare a way in which [people] are justified by faith?  [He did those things] because God is one, he is the God of the Jews along with the fact he is the God of the Gentiles, and he is also the God of the people of this country, and God justifies the people of this country by faith and wants to make them live in righteous relationships with him.


"So then, do we negate the law by faith?  That is not so.  Rather, we establish the law," (verse thirty-one).

16.  As far as what Paul has stated up to this point, he makes up some hypothetical questions which might have naturally come from the Jews and then responds to them.  Paul certainly said, "We realize that when a person is justified it does not come from the works of the law, but it comes from faith."  However, this does not negate the law.  Instead, this conclusion of Paul is the result of his having taken seriously the law as requiring the righteousness of God.  If it were a matter of comparison with others, a person could be proud of his or her own uprightness and good deeds.  If we consider the Jews who have been given the law as compared to the Gentiles who have not been given the law, we could say that the Jews certainly have kept the law.  And surely the Jews were proud of themselves [for keeping the law].  But, they shouldn't have been if the law was a requirement for God's righteousness and the standard for the judgment process of God.  Since one's works will be called into account before the absolute supreme being, who in the world could be proud of his or her works?  Besides that, who on earth could be proud of his or her uprightness before the Lord who will judge the hidden areas [of the heart]?  No one could.  Paul's argumentation began from there.  What [the phrase] "the law is established as the law" means is as follows:  The person claiming righteousness based on works must misrepresent and reduce the requirements of God's righteousness from every direction.  Paul did not do that.  When the law is established as law, it is clear that a person is only justified by faith.  Also, it means when a person is only justified by faith and human pride is removed, a person truly turns into a person who lives with God and lives with others.

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