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. Paul was referring to initial justification upon repentance and faith—God considering us righteous on the basis of faith prior to works of obedience. But 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 Romans 3:31Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yes, we establish the law.
American King James Version×).
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 1 John 3:4Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
American King James Version×). He explains that “by the law is the knowledge of sin”—it tells us what sin is (Romans 3:20 Romans 3:20Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
American King James Version×). He summarizes the matter in these words: “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12 Romans 7:12Why the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
American King James Version×). 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 Deuteronomy 5:29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
American King James Version×).
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 Jeremiah 31:31-34 31 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband to them, said the LORD:
33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, said the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
American King James Version×; Hebrews 8:7-13 Hebrews 8:7-13 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. 8 For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: 9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, said the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: 11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. 13 In that he said, A new covenant, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away.
American King James Version×; Galatians 2:20 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
American King James Version×). Faith thus enables obedience!
(This article was adapted from our free Bible study guide book The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God’s Law . Be sure to request or download it to learn more about the relationship between grace, faith and works.)