Is faith a law?
Faith is a law in the sense that electricity has laws, and there are also laws of aerodynamics. If you operate within the laws of electricity or aerodynamics, it is safe, performs well and is dependable. However if you break those laws, it can kill you.
Likewise, if you operate within the law of faith, it too, will be safe, perform for you, and will be something to depend on.
I heard a visiting evangelist say something very similar this morning: that faith is a law, like gravity is a law. Later he said that faith is a system: if you follow the system it HAS to work for you. That God is bound to obey the law of faith so that if someone employs faith to obtain health, wealth, or blessing, God has to oblige.
The above blockquote makes the case that faith is a law in just this sense. Like with gravity, if you drop an apple it will hit the ground, with faith, if you employ faith for acquiring material or spiritual blessing, it will always work. The above quote goes on to defend this thinking on the basis of Romans 3:27,
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.
So here’s the simple question I want to try and answer in this post: is faith this kind of law?
Consider the context. Verses 21-22 introduce the idea of faith in this part of Pauls argument in Romans chapter 3.
But now athe 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 for all who believe.
So let’s enter this as the first piece of evidence: that God has provided righteousness available to people who have faith in Jesus. This righteousness comes “through faith”, showing that faith is the means by which this righteousness is received. Secondly, this righteousness comes through faith “in Jesus Christ”. What does “faith in Jesus Christ” mean? A clue comes in the next phrase, “for all who believe”. The Greek word “faith” in verse 22 is “pistis”, which means “reliance”, “trust”, or “belief”. The Greek word “believe” in verse 22 is “pisteuontas”, which means “one who relies on/ trusts in/ believes in”. So therefore, “faith in Jesus Christ” is what a believer does: he “relies on Jesus Christ”, or “trusts in Jesus Christ”. In other words, this passage is saying that God’s righteousness is manifested, or given to, people who depend on Jesus Christ.
Now look at verses 23-25a:
…For fall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
Let’s take this passage as our second block of evidence: that we receive something by faith, namely, justification by God’s grace. I take this from the words we “are justified by his grace as a gift”, continuing after the parenthetical clause, “to be received by faith”. That will raise the question, for many readers, “What does ‘justified’ mean?” The answer is that actually these verses are saying much the same thing about “justification” that the previously quoted verses were saying about “God’s righteousness”. When someone depends on Jesus Christ, God gives that person His righteousness as a gift (by grace). Not that the recipient is immediately practically righteous, but that God credits that person with righteousess with the result that the recipient no longer has to try to earn God’s favour through good works: he is now considered “righteous”.
Lastly have a look at, “so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (v 26b).
What does this mean? Just this: that the reason God has “manifested His righteousness,” which He credits to people who depend on Jesus Christ, is in order that not only is God proven to be “just” (i.e., He did not merely wink at sin, or turn a blind eye to it, but dealt with it by piling the once-for-all penalty for sin on Jesus Christ–which is what is meant by “propitiation” in verse 25), but also the One who “justifies”, or credits righteousness to, the one who depends on Jesus Christ. Just and Justifier.
Now we can consider the words we began with.
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. (v 27)
We could draw out the meaning of this verse by asking the first question backwards: “Do works of obedience to the Old Testament Law exclude boasting?” The answer is no. Works of obedience to the OT Law would be a good reason to boast. But the beginning of the verse says that our boasting is excluded. We have no grounds to boast. If not because of good works in obedience to the OT Law, then by what? The answer is by the way faith works.
And there’s the question: how does faith work? What does faith accomplish? The answer from this passage has proven to be very clear. Faith is dependance on Jesus Christ and what He did, which results in God crediting righteousness to the dependant recipient of grace. More simply, when we trust in Jesus, God counts us righteous. What role does “trust” itself play? (We could ask the same of other synonyms of “trust”, e.g., “dependance”, “reliance”, “belief”, “faith”.) Simply this: it depends on what Jesus already did. “Faith in Jesus Christ” is to depend on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for all that we need to be justified, counted righteous, reconciled with God. I can summarize it this way: the law of works is what people try to obey in order to justify themselves before God; faith, on the other hand, is what people must have in order for God to justify them by His grace. Let me try to explain this further.
Let’s compare the two parallel ideas presented in verse 27: there is something called “a law of works” and something else called, “a law of faith”. If “faith is a law”, then so is “works”. Therefore, if faith is a law, then works is also something that can be employed to achieve a gauranteed result. But what do you get from works in obedience to the Old Testament Law? Nothing. Because “Works” are is not a “law”. What about faith then? We read the words, in verse 27, “…the law of faith”. So how can I say that “faith is not a law”? Think of it this way:
– The Law of Works is defined as a series of laws which require works in order to be obedient. And so,
– The Law of Faith is defined as a gift of grace which requires faith in order to be obedient.
For this reason, Paul writes, in Romans 1:5, that his apostleship was given to him to “bring about the obedience of faith”. The only sense in which faith is a law, then, is that whenever a sinner has faith in / believes in / depends on / relies on Jesus Christ, he or she will be saved from their sins and justified by God’s grace. This is God’s promise: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13).
Faith is not a law in the sense that gravity is a law. Rather, the one place in the Bible that uses the phrase, “the law of faith”, Romans 3:27, shows that faith is a law in the sense that telling the truth is a law, or worshipping God alone is a law, or fidelity to one’s spouse is a law, or obedience to parents is a law: it is what obedience requires of us in response to what God has done, in Christ, on the cross.