Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
Paul raises and answers three simple questions to show us the natural results of this tremendous acceptance that God gives us in Jesus Christ. First, “Who can boast?” No one, absolutely no one. How can you boast when everyone receives the gift of grace without any merit on his part? This means that any ground for self-righteousness is done away with, and this is why the ugliest sin among Christians is self-righteousness. When we begin to look down on people who are involved in homosexuality, or greed, or gambling, or whatever — when we begin to think that we are better than they are — then we have denied what God has done for us. All boasting must be excluded. There are no grounds for anybody to say, “Well, at least I’ve never done that.” The only ground of acceptance is the gift of grace.
Next is Paul’s second question: Is anyone excluded from grace, Jew or Gentile? The answer is NO!, God has no most-favored-nation; they are all alike before him. Paul argues, “Is God the God of Jews only? Then there must be two Gods — one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles. But that cannot be; there is only one God; God is one.” Therefore he is equally the God of the Gentiles and the God of the Jews, because both must come on exactly the same ground. This is the wonderful thing about the gospel. All mankind is leveled; no one can stand on any other basis than the work of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s third question is, “Does this cancel out the Law or set it aside? Do we no longer need the Law?” His answer is, “No, it fulfills the Law.” The righteousness which the Law demands is the very righteousness that is given to us in Christ. So if we have it as a gift, we no longer need to fear the Law, because the demands of the Law are met. But it is not something for which we can take any credit; indeed, whenever we act in unrighteousness after this, the Law comes in again to do its work of showing us what is wrong. That is all the Law is good for. It shows us what is wrong. But now instead of condemning us, all the hurt and injury accomplished by our sin is relieved again by the grace of God, the forgiveness of God.
Receiving God’s forgiveness is not something we do only once; it is something we do repeatedly. It is the basis on which we live, constantly taking fresh forgiveness from the hand of God. John’s letter puts it this way: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 KJV) That is God’s gift, and we need all the time to take it afresh from the hand of God. When we find ourselves slipping into self-righteousness, when we find ourselves looking down our noses, when we find ourselves filled with pride and acting in arrogance, being critical and calloused and caustic and sarcastic toward one another, or feeling bitter and resentful — and all these things are yet possible to us — our relationship to a holy God is not affected, if we acknowledge that we sinned. We can come back, and God’s love is still there. He still accepts us and highly values us.
That is what God’s gift of righteousness means to us. It is wonderful good news indeed, that we never need fear. The God of ultimate holiness, the God who lives in holy light, whom we cannot begin to approach, has accepted us in the Beloved, and we stand on the same ground of worth that he himself has.
Heavenly Father, these words are so remarkable, I can hardly believe them. I pray that I may live on this basis, and thus find the ground of forgiving others, and being tenderhearted and loving toward others, knowing that I already have that gift myself, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Do we view self-righteousness as an egregious denial of God’s undeserved assignment of His righteousness to us? How then should we think and act toward others? What is the basic and prevailing purpose for the Law?