DO WE THEN NULLIFY THE LAW
THROUGH FAITH: nomon oun katargoumen (1PPAI) dia tes pisteos:
(Ro 4:14; Ps 119:126; Je 8:8,9; Mt 5:17; 15:6; Gal 2:21; 3:17, 18, 19)
Why does Paul make this statement
about the Law at this point? He knows that in view of the fact that he
has been arguing that a man is justified apart from keeping the Law, he
would undoubtedly be accused of being against the Law (anti-nomianism).
He refutes the hypothetical charge as absurd.
As MacArthur explains...
Salvation by grace through faith does
not denigrate the law, but underscores its true importance: (1) by
providing a payment for the penalty of death, which the law required for
failing to keep it; (2) by fulfilling the law’s original purpose, which
is to serve as a tutor to show mankind’s utter inability to obey God’s
righteous demands and to drive people to Christ (Gal. 3:24); and (3) by
giving believers the capacity to obey it (Ro 8:3, 4). (MacArthur,
J.: The MacArthur Study Bible Nashville: Word Pub)
(katargeo from kata = intensifies
meaning + argeo = be idle from argos = ineffective, idle,
inactive from a = without + érgon = work) (Click
in depth study of
literally means to reduce to inactivity. The idea is to make the power
or force of something ineffective and so to render powerless, reduce to
inactivity. To do away with. To put out of use. To cause to be idle or
useless. To render entirely idle, inoperative or ineffective. Cause
something to come to an end or cause it to cease to happen. To abolish
or cause not to function. To free or release from an earlier obligation
Here katargeo means to make ineffective the power or force of
the Law. Someone has written that katargeo is pictured by
phrases like "pull the teeth out of," or "declaw."
The Amplified Version renders it do we
"make the Law of no effect, overthrow it or make it a dead letter?"
Phillips explains it this way
"Are we then undermining the Law by this insistence on faith?"
Paul undoubtedly knew that he would be accused of antinomianism (being against the law) for
arguing that a man was justified apart from keeping the law.
The detractors might argue something like this:
“If men have never been
saved on any other basis than faith in God, then the Law not only is
useless now but was always useless.”
The problem is that they have a misunderstanding of the purpose of God's Law.
It was never meant to save us but to show us that we need salvation.
O, how many times this happens in
serious theological discussion! You take a stand on some truth and
someone says, "Oh, but if you believe that, then you can't believe this.
You are nullifying this truth to hold that other truth." Someone has
been taught, perhaps, that if you believe in the sovereignty of God in
conversion, then you must nullify human accountability to believe. So
they say, "You are nullifying human accountability." Or, if you say you
believe in the providence of God over all things - from the turning of
hairs white or black to the fall of every bird from the sky - someone
will say, "Then you are nullifying prayer - why pray if God rules all
things so completely?" But just because someone cannot see how two
truths can fit together doesn't mean they may not fit together. So it is
here in this text. Someone is saying, "Paul you are nullifying the Law.
What you teach is abolishing the Law of God." Paul does not agree with
this. (See full sermon text
Justification By Faith Establishes the Law)
MAY IT NEVER BE: me genoito
Again Paul responds with the powerful
repudiation, “A thousand times no,” is the idea. Let not such a thing be
William Newell rightly
"It is the constant cry of those who
oppose grace, and most especially that declaration of grace that our
justification is apart from law-apart from works of law-apart from
ordinances, that it overthrows the Divine authority. But in this verse
Paul says, "We establish law" through this doctrine of simple faith.
To illustrate: In the wilderness a
man was found gathering up sticks to make a fire on the Sabbath day.
Now, the Law had said, "Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your
habitations on the Sabbath day." How, then, was this Law to be
"established"? By letting the law-breaker off? No. By securing his
promise to keep the Law in the future? No! By finding someone who had
kept this commandment always, perfectly, and letting his obedience be
reckoned to the law-breaker? No, in no wise!
How then, was the Law established?
You know very well. All Israel were commanded by Jehovah to stone the
man to death. We read:
"And they that found him gathering
sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.
And they put him in ward, because it had not been declared what should
be done to him. And Jehovah said unto Moses The man shall surely be put
to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the
camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned
him to death with stones; as Jehovah commanded Moses" (Numbers
Thus and thus only was the
commandment of Jehovah established-by the execution of the penalty.
Paul preached Christ crucified: that
Christ died for our sins, that "He tasted death for every man." And that
Israel, who were under the Law, He redeemed from the curse of that Law
by being made a curse for them. Thus the cross established law; for the
full penalty of all that was against the Divine majesty, against God's
holiness. His righteousness, His truth, was forever met, and that not
according to man's conception of what sin and its penalty should be, but
according to God's judgment, according to the measure of the sanctuary,
of high heaven itself!
The Jew, prating about his own
righteousness, went about to kill Paul, crying that he spake against the
Law; whereas it was that very Jew who would lower the Law to his own
ability to keep it, instead of allowing it its proper office; namely, to
reveal his guilt, curse him, and condemn him to death, and thus drive
him to the mercy of God in Christ, whose expiatory death established law
by having its penalty executed! (Romans: Verse by
Spurgeon's Morning and Evening Devotional on Romans 3:31
When the believer is adopted into the
Lord's family, his relationship to old Adam and the law ceases at once;
but then he is under a new rule, and a new covenant. Believer, you are
God's child; it is your first duty to obey your heavenly Father. A
servile spirit you have nothing to do with: you are not a slave, but a
child; and now, inasmuch as you are a beloved child, you are bound to
obey your Father's faintest wish, the least intimation of his will. Does
he bid you fulfil a sacred ordinance? It is at your peril that you
neglect it, for you will be disobeying your Father. Does he command you
to seek the image of Jesus? Is it not your joy to do so? Does Jesus tell
you, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect"?
Then not because the law commands, but because your Saviour enjoins, you
will labour to be perfect in holiness. Does he bid his saints love one
another? Do it, not because the law says, "Love thy neighbour," but
because Jesus says, "If ye love me, keep my commandments;" and this is
the commandment that he has given unto you, "that ye love one another."
Are you told to distribute to the poor? Do it, not because charity is a
burden which you dare not shirk, but because Jesus teaches, "Give to him
that asketh of thee." Does the Word say, "Love God with all your heart"?
Look at the commandment and reply, "Ah! commandment, Christ hath
fulfilled thee already-I have no need, therefore, to fulfil thee for my
salvation, but I rejoice to yield obedience to thee because God is my
Father now and he has a claim upon me, which I would not dispute." May
the Holy Ghost make your heart obedient to the constraining power of
Christ's love, that your prayer may be, "Make me to go in the path of
thy commandments; for therein do I delight." Grace is the mother and
nurse of holiness, and not the apologist of sin.
ON THE CONTRARY, WE ESTABLISH
THE LAW: alla nomon histanomen (1PPAI):
(Ro 7:7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14,22,25; 8:4; 10:4; 13:8, 9, 10; Psalms
40:8; Isaiah 42:21; Jeremiah 31:33,34; Matthew 3:15; 5:20; 1Corinthians
9:21; Gal 2:19; 5:18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23; Hebrews 10:15,16; James 2:8,
9, 10, 11, 12)
Spurgeon comments that...
There is no one who so much loves the
law of God, and delights in it after the inward man, as the one who is
justified by faith. There is nothing that so honors the law as “the
righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ.” It establishes
for ever the law, even as Christ said to his disciples, “Think not that
I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy,
but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass,
one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be
On the contrary (235)
(alla) is a conjunction indicating contrast marking opposition,
antithesis, or transition.
(histemi) means to cause to stand.
Establish the Law is
paraphrased by Phillips as "We put the Law in
its proper place".
point is that salvation by grace
through faith does not make the Law ineffective, but in fact brings into
clearer focus the real purpose and importance of the Law: The role of the
law in making men conscious of sin is confirmed by
everyone who acknowledges sin and turns to Christ in faith. Writing to
the Galatians Paul explained that...
the Law has become our tutor to
lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. (Galatians
John Piper comments that...
"This is remarkable. He turns the table on his critics. He says, "Not
only do we not nullify the Law when we teach justification by faith
alone apart from works of the Law, but we establish the Law when we
teach this. Justification by faith alone, apart from works of the Law,
does not knock the Law down, it stands the Law up. Getting right with
God by faith, not works, establishes the Law. Now what does that mean? I
think it means that what the moral law of God requires of us, we will
do, if we pursue it by faith, as those who are already justified, and
not by works, in order to be justified. If we get right with God first
by faith alone, and then live in that freedom of love and acceptance and
justification, we will be changed from the inside out and will begin to
love the very things the moral law requires so that they become
established in our lives - not as works of merit, but as the fruit of
faith (1Thes 1:3-note;
2Th 1:11) and the fruit of the
Spirit." (See full sermon text
Justification By Faith Establishes the Law)
MacArthur explains the purpose of the Law writing...
As far as salvation is concerned, the gospel does not replace
the law, because the law was never a means of salvation. The law was
given to show men the perfect standards of God’s righteousness and to
show that those standards are impossible to meet in man’s own power. The
purpose of the law was to drive men to faith in God. In the Sermon
on the Mount, Jesus declared God’s perfect standards to be higher even
than those of the Old Covenant. A person breaks God’s law, He said, not
only by killing but even by hating (Matthew 5:21, 22-note),
not only by committing adultery but by having lustful thoughts (Matthew
5:27, 28-note). If it is impossible to fulfill perfectly the Mosaic
law, how much more impossible is it to keep the standards set forth by
Christ in His earthly ministry.
The cross establishes, or confirms, the law in three ways:
First, it establishes the law by paying the penalty of death, which the
law demanded for failing to fulfill perfectly and completely its
righteous requirements. When Jesus said that He had come not to abolish
the law or the prophets but to fulfill them (Matthew
5:17), He was speaking not only of His sinless earthly life
but of His sin-bearing death.
Second, the cross establishes the law by fulfilling its purpose of
driving men to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul had already declared that “by
the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Ro 3:20). “Whoever
keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point,” James says, “he has
become guilty of all” (Ja 2:10). “The Law has become our tutor,” Paul
told the Galatians, “to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by
Third, the cross establishes the law by providing believers the
potential for fulfilling it. “For what the Law could not do, weak as it
was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of
sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
in order that the requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us” (Romans
8:3-4). (Bolding added) (MacArthur,
J: Romans 1-8. Chicago: Moody Press)