Bread – Uphold

June 25, 2012


Readings for Monday, June 25 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Num. 16:1-19; Rom. 3:21-31; Matt. 19:13-22; Psalm 89

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In Romans today, we read “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. … Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” Rom. 3:28-31

This quote touches on one of the great Christian controversies, the roles of grace versus law. It forms one of the great divides among churches. On the one hand we have those Christians who believe that grace may start us and may sustain us, but it our obedience which fully matures us into salvation. In this camp, it is grace plus works (obedience to the law) which saves. On the other hand we have those Christians who believe that it is faith alone in Christ alone which saves, and works before or after have nothing to do with it except as good works may be evidence of a new birth, a transformed heart. In this camp, it is grace only (the sovereign work of God) which saves.

There in fact may be those who say that the passage I have just quoted is not a salvation passage, but a “justification” passage, slicing and dicing the various stages of a Christian’s growth to maturity. I do not have the brain power to engage in these distinctions. It seems to my simple way of thinking that if I am not “made right” before God by something (obedience to the Law) or someone (Jesus Christ), then I am going to be consumed by God’s wrath against my sin. So, it seems to me that this is essentially a salvation passage.

What is fascinating to me about this quote however is that Paul says that “by this faith,” he and the followers of Christ have not rejected or overthrown (or superseded) the law, but in fact “uphold the law.”

In some respects, this is confusing because it seems like he is saying two things can occupy the same space at the same time. By saying that the law is superseded by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, we are saying that it is not overthrown.

One explanation I have heard for this is that the Law went from a role of bringing us to salvation (which it could never do because we cannot obey the entire Law all the time and all sin offends God), to being a “taskmaster,” showing us God’s standard so that we can recognize our sinfulness and therefore be brought to Christ.

However, I think that Paul may be actually saying something else.

First, what is the Law? Although the Law in its entirety comprises many things, the keystone is the very first thing – “I am the Lord your God … You shall have no other gods before me.” Deut. 5:6-7 By saying that “…by this faith…we uphold the law,” Paul may very well be saying that, in recognizing that we come to faith by God’s sovereign action and by no works on our part, we are acknowledging the truth of this first commandment, that there is no other “god” except God. By “this” faith (faith in Jesus Christ) we are acknowledging that we are not a god, that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation, that we come empty-handed, that we are dead in our sins, and that God’s gift of faith and, through faith, salvation is truly His sovereign, holy, loving, merciful act, neither earned nor deserved by us. By true faith in Jesus Christ, without works, we are saying that God is God and we are not. By this faith, we are “upholding” the law of God.

Second, there is an active component to this. “By this faith … we uphold the law.” How are we obedient? Why are we obedient? The answer is “By this faith.” Through this faith, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we uphold God’s law by a heart of gratitude, a desire to be obedient, and desire to reflect God’s holiness in our own lives. In this way and “by this faith,” we “uphold the law.”

So, the law brings us to Christ. By our total reliance on God, we reject ourselves as “god” and therefore uphold the law. By our gratitude “by this faith,” we strive toward obedience to God’s standards for our lives, and so we “uphold” the law.

By faith in Jesus Christ, the law is upheld because God can. Without faith in Jesus Christ, it is not because we cannot.

So, today, our job is to live by faith, and in living by faith uphold the law. Not because we can earn anything by upholding the law, but because in living by faith we acknowledge that we are not god and He is, and because by His power we want to for His glory. Not because we have to but because we can.

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