What did he mean by “apart from the deeds of the law?” Was he saying that one who follows a pattern of life that is apart from—or contrary to—the teachings of the law is pleasing to God?
Let’s carefully follow his reasoning. Only a few verses later he asks and answers a crucial question: “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31).
The New Revised Standard Version renders Paul’s powerful words: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” The New English Bible translates Paul’s meaning even more clearly: “Does this mean that we are using faith to undermine law? By no means: we are placing law itself on a firmer footing.”
Biblical scholar Dr. Brad Young explains: “The words ‘place on a firmer footing’ is a far better translation of the meaning of the words in Greek. The Greek term histemi, ‘stand’ or ‘place on a firmer footing’ is the equivalent of the Hebrew word kiyem, ‘cause to stand’ or ‘make to stand through proper interpretation.’ Paul desired to place Torah [the law] on a firmer footing through faith” (Paul the Jewish Theologian, 1997, p. 97).
Paul is in complete agreement with how the Bible defines sin—that sin is disobedience to God’s law (1 John 3:4). He explains that “by the law is the knowledge of sin”—it tells us what sin is (Romans 3:20). He summarizes the matter in these words: “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12). And in explaining that faith in Christ is needed to be forgiven of sin, he shows that the law is still valid.
The validity of the law, however, does not take care of the problem that people will not obey it. God lamented of ancient Israel, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29).
Yet under the New Covenant, a new mind and heart (that comes through the indwelling faith of Christ through the Holy Spirit) makes true obedience possible (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13; Galatians 2:20). Faith thus enables obedience!