Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.
All this talk of law makes me think maybe I should call up a lawyer to help me with this passage. But oh wait, Paul is actually saying I don’t need to call that lawyer up…
Two phrases stick out to me in this passage: “for through the law comes the knowledge of sin” near the beginning and “the law of faith” near the end. Let’s start with the first. Paul turns our understanding of the law’s purpose on its head. It stands to reason that following the law would prove our righteousness, that we’re “a good person.” Breaking laws earn us punishments, likes fines and jail time. But Paul says otherwise. Because it is impossible for us humans to uphold the laws perfectly, every time we break a law (and we will), we’re gaining more “knowledge of sin.” The law shows us we are inadequate and in need of grace.
And Christ Jesus brings us that grace through his death on the cross and the Holy Spirit give us that faith to believe in the cross’ redemptive power. Paul redefines the law that teaches us about sin to the “law of faith” that teaches us about the grace of God. As Martin Luther learned reading this passage, we do not have to depend on our works to save us—even the “work” of faith! That’s because faith is not our work but God’s work, God’s gift to those God made and loves.
Christ Jesus, we give you thanks for the redemptive power of the cross and your gift of faith in our hearts. Let us eschew the law that teaches us about sin and embrace the new law that teaches us about grace. Empower us to extend the hand of grace to others and not count their merit by works.