Much of Paul’s reasoning in Romans is quite profound and needs careful thought. In chapter 3 he is setting out the parallel principles (and how they converge) for the Jews who observe the law in the right spirit – and are “right” in the eyes of God and what he says of “the law of faith” (verse 27) that applies to all believers.
It seems strange to apply the word “Law” to the operation of faith. Some modern versions (e.g., NIV) drop the word ‘law’ but it is in the Greek text. Paul states, “by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ …” (verses 20-22). For this reason our reading of all of God’s word is necessary.
The more we are conscious of the precepts of God’s laws the more we become aware of our failure to keep them. Therefore something more than keeping the letter of the Law was necessary. Paul is appealing to Jewish ways of thinking – this leads him to use the phrase “the law of faith”. He writes of the “divine forbearance” as God “passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has who has faith in Jesus” (verses 25,26).
Etched in Paul’s mind must have been the words of Stephen as he stood alongside those stoning him, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Jesus made the same appeal as they led him to the cross (see Luke 23:34). Does this mean that God now overlooks all our sins if we have faith in Jesus? Paul asks the Romans. “are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” And the answer – “By no means!” (6:1,2).
The failure of the Jews, zealous for the Law in the time of Jesus, was highlighted by their self-righteousness and a spirit of boasting. Paul warns any who may have this attitude – “… what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By the law of works? No, but by the law of faith” (verse 27).
What does the word “law” mean to you? We read “by works of the law” no one is “justified in his sight”. We sense that “justified’ means ‘seen to be righteous’ – in God’s eyes. Faith is not a ‘Law’ in the ordinary sense. In chapter 4 Paul gives the example of Abraham and how “his faith is counted as righteousness” (verse 3). May we live by “the law of faith”, a faith which ‘inspires’ us and excludes boasting, and becomes a “law” governing all our thinking – and therefore our actions.