Paul points out that the law is actually upheld when we are justified by faith. When we pursue righteousness by faith we uphold the law.
Paul asks a question that echoes the slander of the competing Jewish “authorities,” who claim Paul is teaching that we ought to sin because by sinning (verse 9) we show God’s grace, therefore the more we sin the better God looks. The competing “authorities” claim Paul is throwing the Jewish law overboard, and replacing it with a license to sin.
Paul emphatically insists that justification before God comes only by grace through faith, apart from the law. But rather than throwing the law overboard, faith actually upholds the law. It is the slandering Jewish “authorities” who are trampling the law by asserting they are keeping the law while they are actually breaking it. In doing this, they bring shame to the name of God before the Gentiles (Romans 2:17-24).
Note all the paradoxes that have been offered in just the first three chapters of Romans. The slandering, competing Jewish “authorities” claim to keep the law and teach others but actually break it and slander God. These “authorities” are going to great lengths to counter Paul’s teaching so they can uphold the law of Moses, but in doing so are setting it aside. The slanderers claim Paul is teaching that since justification before God is a free gift, we ought to sin all the more so God will be shown all the more gracious. But Paul is teaching that the resurrection power of Jesus can free us from sin and death in our daily living.
Paul is demonstrating that the way to uphold the law is to be justified apart from the law and live a life of faith. We should not be surprised since Jesus’ teaching is full of paradox: we die that we may live, we obey so we can be free, and we serve as the least so we can be first.
Paul places a great deal of importance on this point, that justification before God comes by grace apart from the law, and righteousness comes from living by faith. He dropped what he was doing in Antioch and traveled to Jerusalem, assembling the Apostles and Elders of the church of Jerusalem to settle the question (in Acts 15). We are still reading and studying the extensive letter he wrote to the church at Rome, the center of the world at that time, to address the question. It is the nature of man to gravitate toward rules. We all tend to use them to justify ourselves and attempt to control others. Paul stands on the reality that no amount of laws can change a human heart, which is the core need of mankind that Jesus came to resolve.
31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
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