This next section of chapter 3 (vv. 27-31) is a postscript to verses 21-26. The earlier verses, the first paragraph, tell of the plan God has devised to save men and women. It is by the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and can be summed up in the words “justification by grace through faith alone.” The next five verses, which make up a second paragraph, present three consequences or implications of this plan. The first is that this way of salvation “by grace through faith” excludes boasting. The second is that it provides one way of salvation for everybody. The third is that, far from allowing a person to indulge in immorality or lawbreaking, as some suppose, it actually upholds the law. God’s way of salvation provides a level of morality of which mere adherents to law, apart from the grace of God in the gospel, cannot even dream.
With today’s study we will study the first implication of the doctrine of justification by faith, which concerns boasting. For boasting is related to pride – it is an expression of it – and pride is the greatest of all sins according to biblical Christianity. If pride is the greatest of all sins and God’s plan of salvation does not destroy pride – rooting it up, casting it out, and even dusting off the place where it stood – then it’s not a good plan. It has failed, and we need a faith other than Christianity. Pride was the very first sin (see Isaiah 14:13-14). Pride made Satan want to ascend into heaven to the very throne of God, but the Bible says it actually brought him “down to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (v. 15).
Where in the range of human experience and relationships is pride most evident and at the same time most clearly wrong and inappropriate? The sphere of life in which people show the most pride is religion. And there is a good reason for this. Religion – not true Christianity, but religion in the generic sense – is the ultimate setting for the very worse expressions of pride. For it is in religion alone that we are able to claim that God, and not mere human beings, sets His approval on us as superior to other human beings. Moreover, the more demanding or rigorous our “religion is, the more prideful we become. Do we need an example? The Lord Jesus Christ provided one when He compared the humility of the tax collector, who was saved by faith in the mercy of God made known in the sacrifices, with the pride of the Pharisee who boasted of his goodness (Luke 18:11-12).
The fact that the Pharisee did not see himself as a sinner in need of mercy shows that he did not know God at all. Here is the way C. S. Lewis puts it: “How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say that they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshiping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how he approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellow-men… Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good – above all, that we are better than someone else – I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.”*
But how can we forget about ourselves – we who are filled with pride? It’s the very nature of pride to do the opposite. The answer is that in ourselves we cannot. That is what being saved by grace means; it means that we cannot save ourselves. We are no more able to save ourselves or forget about ourselves than are other human beings. But we are enabled to forget about ourselves when God turns our attention to Jesus, who died for us and binds the whole of our hope and life to Him through faith. Which brings us to our Romans 3:27-28 text. Salvation by grace is the one doctrine that undercuts all boasting.
So let’s be done with boasting in the church of Jesus Christ – “except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). Christians are all nothing but sinners saved by grace. If you do not believe that, you are not saved. You are still trusting in your own good works, your feelings, your superior religious knowledge or your faith – not in Jesus. Jesus saves! That is the message of Christianity. If you believe that, you will forget about yourself and bow low before Him.
Romans 3:27-28 Reflection Questions:
How often do you give yourself credit for doing some good works, instead of giving God the praise and credit?
Are you worshiping an imaginary god?
What do you do daily to forget about yourself?
*C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1958), p. 96, 97.