My last post ended with the gospel news of Romans 3:21-22. This served as the rain-shower of comfort after the drought of Paul’s long discourse of our absolute inability to keep the law. Whether living under the law of conscience or the Law given to Moses or both, nobody can live up to God’s standard—perfection.
This is why those words which follow the sweeping condemnation of humankind are so vitally important. They are God’s solution to the problem—his righteousness over our unrighteousness.
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).
It only stands to reason, right? If we cannot gain righteousness—make God happy with us—through the law, then the righteousness that we receive from God must come from outside of or apart from the law!
Why, then, do so many people insist that something must still be done? Why do many Christians—including myself—act and even speak at times as though a part of my righteousness is left up to the way that I live now?
The fancy Latin term for it is opinio legis—the “opinion of the law.” This is the false notion which hangs around and tries to convince us that either part of all of our salvation still rests on our shoulders.
When Jesus was ministering to the people of Israel, he often butted heads with the group of religious leaders called “Pharisees.” They were the dominant sect of Judaism at the time. The reason for their many hostile encounters? The opinio legis! The Pharisees believed that they and their followers were, in fact, saved by their ability to keep the Law given to Moses and the Israelites. And make no mistake! They were the best of the best at doing so!
Outwardly, at least.
Inwardly was a different story. Though they belittled the tax-collectors (not the same as IRS agents … these tax-collectors were the brutes and cheats) and other “sinners” (those known for some sort of public transgression, such as prostitution or thievery), they themselves had filthy, hateful hearts!
Jesus spoke very harshly concerning that notion of being saved through the law in Matthew 23:27-28: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Strong words! Jesus was making a very strong point about those who would boast before God and people of their good deeds—namely, that what we do cannot make us truly clean. It can only make us look good on the outside. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samual 16:7).
When he looks at the heart, he finds all those horrors mentioned in the previous post: lust, greed, deceit, etc. Are we really going to believe that what we do has any bearing on our eternal futures? We can only do that if we’re prepared to spend those eternal futures in the very unpleasant place called “hell.” Because when I act, that’s what I earn. Even the good things that I do are stained by sin! "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). We have as much ability to earn heaven and God's favor as a little kid using toy money to pay for a luxury cruise.
Faith is what shuts up the lying tongue of that opinio legis. Rather, to clarify, faith in Jesus Christ is what shuts it up! When the righteousness of Jesus comes into the picture, we realize that we know no longer need to hold on to this old instinct to try to make God happy by what we bring to the table. Christ’s righteousness is plenty not only for me, but for all who believe!
At this point one might wonder about the extent of God’s grace. An unbeliever crushed by guilt and shame might say that Christ’s righteousness is not for everybody, but only for believers. Thus they cannot know for certain that God’s grace also applies to them individually—after all, they might be hopelessly a part of the mass outside of the righteousness Christ gives, right?
It’s important that we take special note of 3:23-24: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Time to put on our “English grammar thinking-caps”! What is the subject of these two verses? You'll only find one! It’s the second word “all.” Now let’s search for the verbs that “all” are doing. “Have sinned” and “fall” are the two obvious ones. We established already that everybody has sinned and thus cannot attain God’s standards of glory. But wait! “All” is the subject of one more verb: “are justified.” Notice that this final verb, this verb of Gospel, is a passive one. “All” are being acted upon with the justification that comes by grace.
This word “justify” is very closely related to “righteousness.” They actually come from the same Greek root in the original language. It’s a term that is used in a courtroom to acquit somebody of all charges. The Judge of all Creation slams his gavel and makes his declaration—not guilty.
To summarize. All have sinned—every single person. All fall short—of all time. All are justified (freely), declared “not guilty”—every single person of all time.
And all this “apart from law.”
Whatever other voices you might hear that would try to convince you there’s still something left undone, some final piece of the puzzle that you have to complete for your salvation—they are liars. When your own opinio legis tells you to complete what Christ started to save you, tell it to shut up. Should the Devil’s lingering voice whisper into your ear that God couldn’t love such a rotten sinner as you, tell him to go back to hell. Should Popes or family or friends or the philosophers of this world present to you a different plan of salvation that relies upon what you do even in the least little bit, run away from them!
Run to the cross of your Savior Jesus. Cling to it firmly. This, and nowhere inside of you, is where your salvation is found. When we search for it within ourselves and our own good works, the only results will be the depression of failure or the delusion of arrogance.
You can’t make God happy with you.
But we don’t have to make God happy with us. Jesus already took care of that! God delights in you for Jesus' sake, and because of this, life in heaven belongs to us!
What do you do, then?
Believe and enjoy it!