Calvary Road Baptist Church

“JUSTIFICATION EXCLUDES LAW-KEEPING”

Romans 4.13-15 

“Good morning, sir. How are you today?”

“I’m fine. What can I do for you two fellows?”

“My friend and I attend the Calvary Road Baptist Church, and we’re out visiting folks and talking to them about the Lord Jesus Christ. And on that subject, may I ask you a question?”

“Sure you can.”

“Sir, are you one hundred percent sure that if you died today, you would go to heaven?” 

Friends, I have knocked on thousands of doors in the decades that I have been a Christian, asking that type of question. And I have noticed that those who answered my question answered the question in one of the following three ways:

When asked about their eternal destiny, there were always those who thought or hoped they were going to heaven because “I try to do the right thing” or “I try to do my best.” We know that that’s not the way to be reconciled to God. Abraham, the prototype of the believer, the example held up to God’s Word for everyone to follow, discovered that good works, whether it is the result of trying to do your best, or anything else, simply is not the way to acquire a standing before God. We learn that in Romans 4.1-5.

Another common answer given when people were asked about their chances of getting to heaven goes something like this: “I’m a Catholic.” Others answered, “We’re in the LDS Church,” or “Not interested. We’re Jehovah Witnesses.” Still others would answer, “I’m Southern Baptist.” Folks, that’s not the way to be reconciled to God either. In addition to discovering that getting right with God is not the result of doing good works, Abraham also discovered that getting right with God is not the result of ceremonial religion. With the Jewish people, it was the belief that circumcision was critical to being righteous. But others think that by being baptized, or by becoming a member of this Church or that Church or the other Church, or observing some religious practice such as honoring Mother Earth Gaia, you somehow have standing before God. Saying “I’m a Catholic” or “I’m Southern Baptist” betrays the false confidence that religious activity saves you. But such is not the case according to God’s Word, according to Romans 4.9-12.

Finally, there are those who, when asked about their assurance of an eternity in heaven, say “I keep the Ten Commandments.” People will say that, thinking that observing the Law that God gave to the children of Israel by Moses will result in their salvation. But will it? Can it? The three people Pam and I had lunch with two weeks ago voiced that very opinion. However, in Romans 4.13-15 we are given the last of the so-called negative findings related to Abraham’s justification. In these three verses, we see that justification also excludes Law-keeping. That is, from the experience of Abraham, the Apostle Paul leads his readers to discover the truth that you cannot keep the Law with any hope that it will make you righteous in the sight of God.

To see this truth, please make your way to Romans 4.13. Once there, I invite you to stand with me for the reading of today’s text: 

13  For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

14  For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

15  Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. 

We are led by Paul to do three things in these three verses: 

First, WE ARE LED TO REMEMBER SOMETHING 

Verse 13:

“For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” 

Here Paul recounts facts that are undeniable because they are facts already known by all of his readers familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures. Three things to remember in this verse:

First, remember the blessing. The blessing Paul refers to here is the promise that God made to Abraham, first in Genesis 12.3: 

“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” 

Remember that the promise made by God to Abram, even before he was justified by faith, was to the effect that Abraham and his seed would inherit the world. That promise is often referred to as the Abrahamic Covenant. And it’s the primary reason why so many Bible-believing Christians are strongly pro-Israel and opposed to anti-Semitism in any form.

Second, remember the blessed. The Jewish people always figured that those blessed by God as a result of this promise made to Abraham would be Abraham, obviously, and his physical descendants the children of Israel. Abraham and his seeds. But notice, if you will, that Paul refers to “Abraham, or to his seed” in this verse. “Seed,” you will notice, is singular. And in Galatians 3.16 Paul makes a big issue of something he only mentions in passing here. Using the singular “seed,” remember that he is alluding, not to the Israelites, the “seeds,” but to a single “seed,” the Lord Jesus Christ, as the One through Whom all others are blessed.

Finally, in this verse, remember the basis of the blessing. The basis of the blessing is stated negatively and then positively. The promise that Abraham should be heir of the world was not a promise God made to Abraham that would find its fulfillment through the Law. Instead, God’s promise was to find its fulfillment through the righteousness of faith. Remember, dear readers. How in the world could Abraham’s blessing, and our blessing that follows his example, come by the Law? The promise had to be based on faith. Why so? There was no Law in Abraham’s day. Remember that he lived and died some four centuries before the Law of Moses was given! 

Next, WE ARE LED TO REASON SOMETHING 

Never let anyone tell you that you have to turn off your brain to become a believer in Jesus Christ, or that you have to turn off your brain after you have become a believer in Jesus Christ. You will need your thinking cap on because this verse contains a line of reasoning that most lost people follow with great difficulty:[1] 

Verse 14:

“For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.” 

The first phrase of the verse states the condition: 

“For if they which are of the law be heirs.” 

Don’t forget that Paul’s whole ministry is built upon the premise that “they which are of the law” are not heirs, and that being Jewish, in and of itself, is not sufficient for salvation. Neither does the apostle believe for a minute that observance of the Law saves anyone, whether they are Jewish or Gentile. He is, however, willing to use that condition as a working hypothesis just to show you how wrong it is. It’s like saying to someone, “Okay. Let’s just say for the purpose of discussion that what you say is true.”

With the first phrase stating the condition, the second and third phrases state the two conclusions: 

“faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.” 

If they who are of the Law are heirs, then two things are true: Faith is made void, and the promise is made of none effect. Let’s look at those two phrases: The first phrase reads “faith is made void.” The verb “made void” indicates that something was done in the past and the effects are still felt.[2] Paul is saying that if Abraham got right with God by observing the Law then his faith was made empty and the effects of that are still being felt today. This line of reasoning concludes that Abraham’s faith accomplished nothing and neither does anyone else’s faith accomplish anything if they which are of the Law are heirs. To restate the matter, if obedience to the Law is how one gets right with God, then Abraham’s faith counted for nothing, and no one else’s faith counts for anything either. Next, there is the phrase “the promise made of none effect.” Same type of verb as the previous one.[3] If the way you become an inheritor of the blessings is by observing the Law, then the promise that God made to Abraham was effectively neutralized and continues to this day to have no effect. And how is that so? Remember, the promise was made 430 years before the giving of the Law. I illustrate: Just promise to give your five-year-old child a bicycle when he turns six. After that promise tell him that to get the bicycle he has to be a good boy. Dad, the promise means absolutely nothing to that boy if you add a condition later on. Treat your child that way, and you risk making him bitter toward you. God would never do that. Before we move on, let’s ask ourselves two questions: First, do you believe that faith is made void? Second, do you believe that the promise God made to Abraham was made of none effect by a later decree of God, by the Law? Of course not. We steadfastly reject such conclusions. But those are the logical conclusions that follow from the condition, “For if they which are of the Law be heirs.”

There is something we must consider in this 14th verse. This 14th verse is what grammarians refer to as a conditional statement of the second class. A conditional statement of the first class works something like this: If A is true (which it is), then B is true (which it is). However, this is not a first class conditional statement. It’s a second class conditional statement. That is, this is what is called a contrary to fact declaration.[4] If A is true (which it is not), then B is true (which it is not). What Paul means in verse 14 is this: If they which are of the Law be heirs, which they are not, then faith is made void, which I do not believe, and the promise is made of none effect, which is not true either. So we see what Paul is doing. He is paying his readers a compliment. He is assuming that they can follow his line of reasoning and will come to the conclusion it is based on Faith is not made void, and the promise is not made of none effect. And the only way that can be is if those who are of the Law are not heirs. Which means you do not get right with God by keeping the Law. 

Finally, WE ARE LED TO RECOGNIZE SOMETHING 

Verse 15:

“Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.” 

What happens with the Law? What happens with any law? When the city decides that it is against the law to drive faster than 25 miles per hour in a school zone, what is guaranteed to happen in due time? Right. Someone will violate the law. Someone will drive faster than 25 miles per hour in that school zone. And whether he is caught in the act or not, he becomes a violator of the law. With that reality in mind, let’s consider the situation with the Law of Moses. When God gave the Law, what was guaranteed to happen? Right. Since men are by nature sinners, it had to happen that people under the jurisdiction of the Law would transgress the Law. And they did transgress the Law, while the Law was being given to Moses atop Mount Sinai. But since God is a holy and righteous God, and since violation of His holy Law is unthinkable and an utter abomination and outrage, what is God’s reaction when a sinful man breaks His holy Law? Right again. Wrath. He is angry that anyone would violate His righteous Law. The point that Paul is making here is that the Law, in this regard, is capable of accomplishing only one thing. Not blessing, certainly, but wrath.

But what happens without the Law? What happens when you go zooming through the school zone before a law is passed that makes speeding illegal? Have you broken any law? Will you be arrested or fined? No and no. What about the Law of Moses? Can you transgress the Law of Moses before it is given? Actually, no. Attend carefully to what Paul writes here, with this word “transgression” translating the Greek word parabasis, which refers to stepping over a mark.[5] Thus, while Paul does not deny that there is wrongdoing, evil behavior, and wickedness before the Law of Moses was given, there was no overstepping of legal restraint until the imposition of the Law. 

The Jewish people of Paul’s day, even the Jewish Christians of Paul’s day, loved the Law of Moses. It was what separated them from other people and gave them a pattern for living that was superior to anyone else’s external pattern for living. It was also thought by many of them to be the plan by which lost men became a part of Abraham’s inheritance. Then came Christ. And Christ sent us Paul. Paul understood the danger in thinking that observance of the Law made a person, or helped make a person, get right with God. You see, just like the dad who promised his little boy the bike on his sixth birthday, the addition of conditions after the promise serves only to nullify the promise and to neutralize the faith.

Remember, Paul urges in verse 13, that the basis of the blessing is the righteousness of faith, not Law. Reason, Paul urges in verse 14, that if they which are of the Law are heirs, that is, if you are saved by observing the Law of Moses, then faith and the promise, which were in effect before the Law, are now out the window. It’s either one or the others. You can’t have two plans of salvation. God did not make a promise about salvation and then later add a condition about salvation in the form of the Law of Moses. And recognize, Paul urges in verse 15, that the Law only works wrath. Though he does not state it in verse 15, his implication, which he states in other letters, is that the Law does not bless anyone. The Law only curses.[6] Recognize, then, that God could not possibly have had the Law in mind as a means of salvation because salvation is a blessing. Being a blessing, we see that salvation cannot come from obedience to the Ten Commandments or the Law of Moses. Law only produces wrath. The law against speeding in the school zone does not commend citizens who drive properly. Neither does it bless them. It only condemns those who drive in violation of the law. Such is the Law of Moses.

With this question, I close: What are you trusting in to save your soul? If you depend upon keeping the Ten Commandments, obeying the Law of Moses, or adhering to any form of religious rules and regulations, then your faith is not in Jesus Christ to save you, but in your ability to do good things. If such is the case, my friend, you need to be saved.

Christians, do you know what is so wonderful about Paul’s exposé that justification is not by good works, and that it’s not by ceremonial religion, and, finally, that it’s not the result of keeping the Law? It’s wonderful to be able to point sinful men to Christ as their only hope. It’s great to be able to say, “You don’t need ability. Christ is all you need.”

__________

[1] “Thinking cap” is a reference to a 1950s era recurring television cartoon program featuring Tom Terrific and his pet, Manfred the Wonder Dog. Tom Terrific’s “thinking cap” was an oil funnel he placed on his head to promote thinking. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Terrific 6/13/17

[2] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 358.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Galatians 3.13

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org