How does Faith Establish the Law? (Romans 3:31)

The Bible makes some interesting comparisons between faith and law:

  • We are justified by FAITH, not by LAW (Rom 3:28, Gal 2:16)
  • Abraham and his heirs are blessed on account of FAITH, not LAW (Rom 4:13-14)
  • You can live by FAITH or LAW (Rom 4:14)
  • No one who relies on the LAW is justified for the righteous live by FAITH (Gal 3:11)
  • The LAW is not of FAITH (Gal 3:12)

Summary: You can live by faith or law but not both. It’s one or the other. But what about this…

Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. (Rom 3:31, KJV)

The scriptures declare again and again that faith has nothing in common with law, and living under one nullifies the other. So what is Paul saying here? Is he contradicting himself when he says faith establishes the law? Here’s the same verse in another translation:

Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. (Rom 3:31 , NASB)

Like most grace preachers, Paul was slandered as someone who spoke against the law. He was labeled with the dreaded A-word: antinomian, meaning anti- or against the law. This is his response to that baseless accusation.

Sidebar: If you have never been accused of being an antinomian, perhaps that’s a sign you’re preaching a different gospel from Paul. Personally, I get accused of being an antinomiam on an almost weekly basis. For the record, I am for the law. I agree with Paul who said the law is holy, righteous and good (Rom 7:12). And I also agree with him when he says the law is not for the righteous but the sinner and ungodly (1 Tim 1:9). The law is a signpost to Jesus (Gal 3:24).

Paul says again and again that we are to live by faith, not law, but living by faith does not make one anti-law. On the contrary, it is by faith that we establish or support the law.

How do we establish or uphold the law? By trusting in Jesus who kept the law perfectly and by whose perfect sacrifice we are made righteous:

So the law was put in charge of us until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Gal 3:24-25, TNIV)

Those who trust in their law-keeping performance may scorn those of us who are walking by grace, but the fact is we are 100% lawful while they are the lawbreakers.

You do NOT establish the law by:

  • trying to keep it (you can’t)
  • adopting it as a standard for holy living (it’s a recipe for inferior living, see Heb 10:1)
  • mixing it with grace (you’ll end up lukewarm and alienated from Christ)
  • thinking your rule-keeping pleases the Lord (trusting in your flesh never pleases him)
  • posting it on your Sunday School wall (it’s a ministry that condemns!)
  • telling yourself “it’s part of our Christian heritage” (it never was!)

You DO uphold the law by putting your faith in the One who fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the law on your behalf and who offers you his perfect righteousness as a gift.

Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Rom 10:4)

Romans 3:31 says we uphold the law by faith. Period. If you’re not convinced, it may help to look at the verse in context:

  • verse 28: You are justified by faith, not by law
  • verse 29: In any case only one nation received the law, yet God is God of all
  • verse 30: God will justify both the Jew and non-Jew by faith
  • verse 31: Does that mean God’s gift to the Jews was wasted? Not at all! As long as you end up with Jesus, then you uphold the law

The Jews were misusing the law. They thought it made them righteous and pleasing to God. Paul wrote to correct this:

No one is righteous. All have sinned and fall short – even the law-loving Jews. The law doesn’t make you righteous; it makes you conscious of sin so that you may be justified freely by grace. (my paraphrase of Romans 3)

Live by the law and you dishonor both it and Jesus. According to Romans 7, living by the law is spiritual adultery. It’s cheating on the One who died to set you free from the law’s heavy demands .

The law points to Jesus. If you are relying on Christ and his perfect work, then you uphold the law and honor the reason for which it was given.

___________

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67 Comments on How does Faith Establish the Law? (Romans 3:31)

  1. Moses Kawuma // August 31, 2017 at 12:22 am // Reply

    Brilliant as always Paul. Keep up the great work.

  2. This is God speaking to me.

  3. I love your posts and they have really helped me. For some reason it’s so hard for me to wrap my mind around it at times. If the law is a signpost to Jesus, and serves that purpose, then maybe this is why every preacher in town preaches a mixed grace gospel? They think they need to throw some law in there with the Grace message seems like.

    • You are so right about that, they tell us we are saved forever that nothing can snatch us out of Gods hand but they still add some Law to it. They don’t know what lukewarm means! And if they do they don’t want us to know.

  4. This is absolutely superb. I am virtually forced to reblog it 🙂

  5. Romans 7:5 establishes three things concerning the law.

    1.) Living by the law is living in the flesh.
    2.) Sinful passions are aroused by the law.
    3.) Living by the law causes us to bear fruit unto death.

  6. I’ve heard it said that it is good to follow the ten commandments (law). (And I also see memes on facebook about putting the ten commandments back in school.) I know in the scripture that Paul says that the law, of course, is not evil. But, if it would be mentioned that no one is justified by the law, then they would say that’s true – “The ten commandments don’t save you, BUT they keep you safe”. Have you heard that one before?

    I think it’s JESUS that saves you and keeps you safe.

  7. Great post, by the way! 🙂

  8. As a side note. Coming from a Word of Faith background they often interpreted this passage that Faith is a Law. That it will always produce or work because it’s a Law. I’m glad you shared on this passage. Thanks for new insights.

  9. Good comparison; I like it. Thanks for writing this post.

  10. I was recently studying Romans 3, picked up these very points, Paul. One of your best.

  11. Great article Paul, I also love the TNIV version of Gal 3:24-24. It’s good to wake up in the morning to this and coffee, very refreshing. I feel great when I’m accused as apostle Paul was. It simply confirms for me that I am preaching the gospel.

  12. Michelle French // August 31, 2017 at 7:56 am // Reply

    This is just what i wanted to hear.

  13. Brandon Petrowski // August 31, 2017 at 9:41 am // Reply

    It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Well said. It baffles me how people can miss this, and yet I have been there myself. So glad that God did not let me stay there. Thanks Paul for your faithfulness in championing faith. 🙂

  14. I love being Son-conscious. Jesus did it all.

  15. Jared Westendorp // August 31, 2017 at 9:46 pm // Reply

    Great truth here to wake up and start the day, thanks. I agree that the law is honored by saying it is a perfect work and the cross and resurrection is honored when it is beheld as a perfect work. One work is greater than the other. Choosing which work to believe in for righteousness has made all the difference.

  16. Paul, do you have anything thing written on FREE WILL. Thank you.

    • My views on the subject? I agree with the One who said “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” I also agree with Paul who said, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

    • Be free. All our determination to keep the law produces the opposite effect. We don’t need the ten commandments in all our class rooms (it was put under the mercy seat!) rather we need John 3:16 – For God so loved YOU that He gave his only begotten son that whosoever shall believe in him shall not perish but shall have eternal life. Blessed be your journey.

  17. About that “antinomian” accusation. All it means from some people is that you do not agree with then 100% so you must be a rule hating rebel on the fast track to hell. Others have been fogged by teachers who say that that talking against the Law handed down to Moses means you are against basic morality. Still others think that without the 10 commandments Christians would all be out running around committing adultery, bowing before idols and murdering. Those poor folks have no concept that we are not self made men before God. They have been robbed of the truth that the old man is dead and we are a new creation in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit.
    At the least it is an accusation from the unenlightened and at worst slander from modern day Pharisees.

  18. The WORKING “OUT” of the LAW OF “FAITH”. PICTURE THIS. in the world we are born and the umbilical supply is cut off. IN KINGdom birth a SPIRITUAL UMBILICAL (trust in supernatural physical supply) is ATTACHED NEVER TO LEAVE OR FORSAKE US. The supply is always there uless we constrict the flow. The flow is faith going out from within and receiving supply of all things promised. we do OUR PART “have faith” and in return the UMBILICAL SUPPLY WILL “BE”. We crimp supply with relying on our ability as “default” reaction to negative circumstances where faith as “default” RELIES/TRUSTS in the PROMISES of LORD SPIRIT. The PREMISE of the PROMISE is is we are listening with “EARS to HEAR” what LORD SPIRIT is speaking a His solution in solving, restoring “all things” that TRY TO COME AGAINST US IF WE ARE LISTENING.

  19. If there is only no condemnation for those who don’t sin, then why should there be any condemnation for those who don’t sin? Jesus bore all our condemnation and wrath on the cross!

  20. Thank you pastor for the message. I thank God who saved us from impossible road to heaven and made us heirs to his Kingdom. Am glad i came across you pastor Paul.

  21. well said.. I thank God for using pastor Paul to preach His word especially to me, I can see the light now which comes from the Calvary. I am free

  22. Matheus Almeida // September 5, 2017 at 6:08 am // Reply

    Man, you are so much blessed!

  23. Kevin Grollins // September 5, 2017 at 12:09 pm // Reply

    Great! Interesting to see what Paul has to say on this subject! I have just one question though on something I don’t understand. What did Jesus say on the subject of the law? And isn’t lawlessness a bad thing in the Prophets and matthew 7? I don’t get it, are we really understanding Paul, or is peters warning in 2 peter for us? I’ve really struggled with this over the last year.

  24. Delmont Cable // October 3, 2017 at 5:02 am // Reply

    Actually, we’re justified (made blameless) by Christ’s perfect blood. Our faith has nothing to do with it. It can accomplish nothing.

  25. My friend and I have asked this question…

    • Please note it is our policy to only publish short comments discussing the article above. You may find articles closer to your question in the archives. Alternatively, or you could post your question on E2R’s Facebook page. Thanks.

  26. How are we to understand that the law is made for sinners according to 1 Timothy 1:9 but then Paul says that he is chief of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:15??? Can someone please explain. I’m just trying to reconcile everything together.

  27. Paul, the problem that is never really adequately addressed is why was the law given in the first place?
    In my experience most teaching on this heads toward it being rather arbitrary which has a devastating effect on how people perceive the nature and character of God.
    Everything that the Lord has done to set me free from religious striving has caused me to realize that there is nothing arbitrary about Him at all, every detail of this universe and reality we live in was done so a particular reality could exist – us in relationship with Him.
    In that way the Law IS part of our Christian heritage because it was the very vehicle that God used to expose the problem that manifested after we asserted our own authority through the tree of knowledge.
    God gave us the law to prove to us once and for all that even with the best version of “good and evil” we, in our autonomy, would not be able to keep it. We then used the law God gave us to murder His son which was game set and match, we killed the Son of God with very mechanism that brought Him into the world, our sin was complete.
    Paul said the law was given so that sin would increase, the culmination being putting Jesus on the cross. You are perfectly positioned to reach a lot of people, I encourage you with all of my being to delve into these things, (if you haven’t already) suddenly those “tricky” bible passages all start to make sense.

  28. Law= Fear
    Faith=Trust
    Which one do you prefer to be motivated by?
    Does God want you to fear Him or trust Him?
    The law gets you to trust yourself.
    Faith is trusting God.

    • Keeping the Torah is not about performance. It’s about total devotion. If God expected the Israelites to keep the Torah “perfectly,” it’s this kind of perfection he was seeking. The idea that the Torah is about performance, measuring up to a standard every waking second of the day, does not come from the Bible. It comes from a misinterpretation of the Bible which originated with Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon and John Calvin.

      • You seem to think that law-keeping means something other than law-keeping. It’s very simple; the Israelites’ devotion was measured in whether they kept the commands or they didn’t (Deut 28). And yes, perfect law-keeping was required (James 2:10). A Holy God has zero tolerance for sin.

      • Paul Ellis – The Bible says King Josiah kept the whole Torah. How do you explain that?

        “Holy” has nothing to do with zero tolerance for sin. Holy is the opposite of common/profane (Leviticus 10:10). When the Bible describes God as “holy”, what’s meant is that there’s an appropriate way to regard and approach God, because of who he is. God and everything associated with him must be treated, approached, handled with extra reverence.

        Consider this passage: “You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with it and then cover up your excrement. Because the Lord your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you” (Deuteronomy 23:12-14).

      • The Bible identifies several people as “blameless,” but I’m not sure what this has to do with the above article. I sense you disagree with it, but I’m not sure how. Perhaps you could clarify.

      • Paul Ellis – νόμον is very specifically the Torah of the old covenant…

      • Is there something in the article you disagree with? Please note, I only publish comments relating to the articles being discussed. Thanks.

      • Paul Ellis – Yes there’s something in the article I disagree with. By “law” you seem to mean a general and legalistic way of trying to please God. You seem to be saying this is a legitimate way, a way that can be chosen by anyone, but that it’s also an impossible way; and that there’s an alternative way, which is grace…

      • Allow me to clarify: by law I mean the law of Moses and any other law you may substitute.

      • Paul Ellis – So you’re saying that the law of Moses is just one of many legalistic ways to try and please God. By “law” you mean something general and legalistic, in other words.

        I disagree with this.

        ὁ νόμος = Torah. The Torah isn’t a legalistic way to try and please God. It’s not a list of demands with the bar set so high that it’s impossible to keep. It doesn’t police people every waking moment of the day and blow the whistle with every infinitesimal infraction.

        The Torah is a body of laws and instructions meant to teach the Israelites right from wrong. There is nothing legalistic about it. The Old Testament saints were able to fulfill the Torah’s commandments. The Torah is “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12).

        It’s the unspiritual man – he who isn’t under grace – who cannot fulfill the Torah. He can’t do it because sin is his master. He needs deliverance from its power.

      • Saying the law of Moses is not legalistic is like saying rainbows are not colorful. Either you are confused about the meaning of words, or you are diluting the law.

        I maintain that the laws of Moses are laws. They are not mere suggestions or guidelines to live by. They are commandments to be obeyed with dire consequences for disobedience (Deut 28). It is because the laws are laws, that I thank God that we are no longer under the law but grace.

      • momzilla76 // May 9, 2018 at 12:48 pm //

        Might I gently remind you that James says that if we break any of the Laws(meaning the Torah) we are guilty of every single one of them. That sounds very performance to me.
        Scripture describes the Torah as performance for righteousness for the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:25. I fear someone has sold you a fluffy view of the Torah law, making it about emotional zeal and heartfelt passion. There is one true Torah which is the living Word of God Jesus.

      • What James means is that the Torah is One, just as God is One. You cannot be selective about what parts to observe and what parts to ignore. If you’re going to observe the Torah, it must be observed entirely.

        He also says that the Torah can be (and must be) kept by Christians.

      • If Christians are supposed to keep the Law why does the bible say it is a ministry of condemnation and death (2 Corinthians 3:9-10) and that Christians are dead to it (Galatians 2:19). Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the Gentiles a yoke that the Jews couldn’t bear? (Acts 15:10) The law was made to increase sin (Romans 5:20) For something a little more black and white, Christians are not under the law (Romans 6:14) Depending on it is cheating on Jesus (Romans 7:1-6) it brings death (Romans 7:10) and makes you sinful beyond measure (Romans 7:13) the power of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15:56) Anywhere it is preached it produces a mind hardening and heart hardening veil to Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:14-15) To go back to the law after embracing faith is stupid (Galatians 3:1) because it curses everyone who practices it (Galatians 3:10) It has nothing to do with faith (Galatians 3:11-12) The law is a curse Christ redeemed us from (Galatians 3:13) God found fault with it and created a better covenant acting on better promises (Hebrews 8:7-8)
        With all do respect, you can’t actually read the new testament and think that the law produces anything other than sin.
        God made a brand new earth shattering amazing covenant that was to change EVERYTHING and you present no difference. We still have to follow the Torah? Really?

      • Christians don’t have to follow the written code, but they do have to live out the essence of what the Torah teaches…

      • Have too? Or what?

      • Yes they have to. If they made Christ their Lord and they have become slaves of righteousness, they are obligated to live the essence of the Torah. Lords are obeyed, slaves obey.

      • What happens to Christian-slaves if they don’t obey the law?

      • I don’t know, but Christians are under obligation to obey their Lord. Disobedience is not an option God has left open for them. They have no right to disobey, anymore than slaves have a right to disobey their masters. Christians are not their own, they belong to Christ is who is their master.

      • Your law mindset leads naturally to a slave identity, but the good news that Jesus revealed is we are dearly loved children, not slaves.

      • Romans 6:15-23, Christians are slaves of righteousness.

        “Law” is not a mindset.

      • We’re not slaves at all, not even a little bit.

        Paul uses the phrase “slaves of righteousness” as a contrast to what we used to be (slaves of sin), and then quickly qualifies his choice of words: “I use everyday language because of the weakness of your natural selves” (Rom 6:19). To those raised on rules and dead works, the language of freedom is hard to grasp, hence the metaphor.

        There are countless scriptures affirming our freedom and sonship in Christ. Here’s one: “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). We are not slaves; we are sons who freely serve.

      • Paul calls himself a “slave” of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1). Colossians 4:9 also says, “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” Christ is called master, Christians are called slaves.

        Obedience is not optional for the Christian. Otherwise it’s meaningless to call Christ one’s Lord.

      • ‘For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God’ (Rom 8:15-16). Only a mind captive to the law preaches mindless obedience. Jesus died to set us free and in him we are free indeed.

      • You should not interpret Paul’s words by ignoring what he and other New Testament authors say elsewhere. Please tell us what you make of Paul calling himself a slave (Rom 1:1)…

      • I don’t believe I’m the one ignoring scripture here, since I have written hundreds of articles addressing the very scriptures you ask about. I have even provided links to them in my comments to save you looking them up in the Archives > Scripture Index. However, it seems clear to me that you have no interest in hearing the good news of freedom that is ours in Jesus Christ.

      • Some great points, Jenny. You fit about half of the New Testament in one comment. 🙂

      • We don’t have to follow it but we have to live it out? What are you saying?
        What is the “essence.” Sounds like you are picking and choosing which laws fall under the category of “essence” because I bet you call Jesus your priest and He wasn’t allowed to be a priest under the Torah. He’s from the wrong tribe….
        If it increases sin, brings condemnation and death as well as a veil to Jesus, and is not of faith then I want nothing to do with it.
        It might not be the best idea to share these laws with people especially when it increased sin in even the apostle Paul.
        If you want to preach law you must support and enjoy sin because you are using the tool that increases it and gives it power. Many on this site love grace and hate sin so please don’t try to encourage sin here.
        Oh and I would love to hear the answer to Pauls question. Have to or what?

      • momzilla76 // May 11, 2018 at 11:40 am //

        You are correct in saying that one cannot choose what points of the Law to obey. If you obey one you must obey every single one of them. More than one law is spoken of on James 2. The royal law- love your neighbor as yourself came from Jesus. Some of the 10 commandments are mentioned. Then there is the law of liberty which Peter clearly says(Acts 15) is not the laws given to Moses. Those laws he calls burdens not even our fathers could bear. Romans 7 says that the law stirs up sin and brings death. 2 Corinthians 3:6-11 calls the 10 commandments the “ministration of death” not a law of liberty. We are to speak and do as people who will be judged by the “law of liberty”. Galatians 4:21-5:1 describes what bondage is as well. Listen to scriptures not the traditions of men.

  29. I used to really struggle with this verse. Grace has changed that. Here’s what I see in this verse. Living by faith is a mode of operation where our behaviors and attitudes originate from our spirit union with Christ. When we live out of that union, the Law is unnecessary because our spirit doesn’t need it … it needs Christ. The Law was given to our flesh, not our spirit. Jesus didn’t walk around trying to live up to the law any more than a blue jay has to try to be blue. This is because he lived out of his union with his Father.

    One reason people don’t live by faith is because they have not established the law correctly. They still think there is hope in trying to keep it – they still have confidence in the flesh. The upholding of the law has not happened. We need to let the law be enforced, instituted, installed, enacted against OUR FLESH and find our flesh guilty and put it in jail. That is exactly what we do when we choose to live by faith – when we choose to live from spirit. By choosing faith we are submitting to what the law teaches us. Upholding the law is “siding with” the law and agreeing with its point – that the flesh is a guilty lawbreaker and always will be.

  30. “Law” is a somewhat misleading way to translate the word νόμον. What Paul means by νόμον is the Torah, and Torah means more than law. It’s God’s whole instruction to the Israelites given under the old covenant. The Torah can be kept, provided one is not in bondage to sin. King Josiah, for example, kept the whole Torah (2 Kings 22:2; 23:25). Evidently Josiah was under grace.

    We assert that the Torah stands (ἱστάνομεν, Rom 3:31) by maintaining what is the proper place and purpose of the Torah in God’s progressively revelatory plan of redemption. The Torah was a provisional measure introduced under the old covenant, to teach the Israelites right from wrong and to check sin with threats of punishment, and most of all to show Israelites their need for redemption from sin’s power – all of this until the fullness of time. The Torah was never intended to bring about complete justification for anyone; the righteousness reckoned through the Torah (Psalm 15:2, Ezekiel 18:9) was merely provisional. But now that the fullness of time has come, our faith is reckoned as righteousness, in that we share that faith in common with Christ.

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