“By works of the law will no one be justified.”
Many Christians make a fundamental error by drawing the conclusion that the proper response to an awareness of our estrangement from God is to adopt ‘godly’ principles in an effort to get right with God (as the saying goes), and then equating faith with the keeping and doing of those principles. The Bible is commonly used this way.
For St. Paul, however, this way of thinking is an illusion. Now that humanity is no longer able to live in perfect reverence, thankfulness and love before God there is no hope of ‘getting right with God’ by anything we think, say or do. We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. A righteous life of our own making is impossible. Paul lays this out with sobering clarity in Roman 1:18-3:20, ending this section with the verse for today.
The Church has struggled with the absoluteness of Paul’s assessment from the very beginning. He leaves no place for our deeds, our works, our best intentions. He took Isaiah’s words to heart; “Even our righteous deeds are filthy rags.”
Sadly, many Christians fail to see that by placing ANY sort of emphasis on what we do in matters of faith in relation to God undercuts the very essence of the Gospel. Deeds account for nothing. And if we look to them to justify or prove anything before God, even to demonstrate how sincere we think our faith is, they are worse than nothing. They condemn us (see Paul’s letter to the Galatians).
The works, the deeds, in which Christians are called to rejoice will be celebrated by the vast majority of Christians in the week to come, the week we call ‘Holy Week’. Two thousand years ago our Lord Jesus Christ embraced suffering and death at our hands. And He willingly, humbly submitted to this humiliation because it was God’s will that He do so – for us! His glorious deeds are the works with which Christians should be preoccupied, even possessed!
No doubt some will read this and say, “Yes but we have to do SOMETHING, don’t we?” To which I say, ‘And just what do you have in mind?’
There is nothing, I repeat, nothing that you can do or have to do in order to get right with God. Your sin is forgiven FOR JESUS SAKE and not because of works. God has done it all! As Paul said, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord!”
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”