Forgiveness is not Acquittal

Thus does grace glorify God.

Romans 3:21-31 (NKJV)

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.

We’re back to May Genoitaw. This time, Paul uses it to keep our understanding of justification by faith from going overboard.

He says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” A natural follow-up question might be, “What do you mean, ‘apart from the law’? Doesn’t the law matter?” Paul words that as, “Do we then make void the law through faith?

Paul’s answer to this hypothetical is, “Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” Luke 7:47-50 shows this principle in action.

Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (NKJV)

Is Jesus telling the woman that she didn’t do anything wrong? Certainly not! When he said, “Your sins are forgiven,” he confirmed that she had sinned.

Forgiveness is not acquittal; forgiveness affirms the law and the guilt of the one forgiven. Judges can go easier on people who plead guilty because the law and the crime are no longer at issue.

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul says this even more emphatically; excluding boasting is the purpose of salvation by grace through faith. Imagine that. What is God up to?

God’s choice to save us from the fate we deserve does not overrule the primary objective of His glory. Nothing could be more unglorifying than someone boasting about the grace they’ve been given.

So, what does God do with that possibility?

It is excluded.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.