Summary: In this sermon we consider some unreliable evidences of saving faith.
When I was a seminary student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School I had a class with D. A. Carson, Professor of New Testament. Dr. Carson was teaching us that God saves sinners by his grace, and that there is nothing that we can do to earn salvation.
One student challenged Dr. Carson and said that we contribute faith towards our salvation. The student argued that God had made everything possible for our salvation, but that we had the ability and the power to exercise faith by ourselves.
Dr. Carson asked the student a series of questions.
Eventually he asked, “So, what is the difference between the person in heaven and the person in hell?”
“Faith,” replied the student.
“And where does that faith come from?” asked Dr. Carson.
“From the believer,” said the student.
“So, the believer in heaven can then boast that he had the wisdom to exercise faith while the unbeliever did not?”
“Yes,” was the reply.
Dr. Carson then pointed the student (and the rest of the class) to our text for today in which he showed that in heaven there is no boasting at all. Even though faith is what separates the believer in heaven from the unbeliever in hell, the fact is that even the faith that we have is a gift to us from God. Faith is not something that we can exercise apart from the grace of God.
Let’s read our text for today, which is Romans 3:27-28:
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:27-28)
Imagine for a moment that heaven was full of people who had earned the right to be there, rather like a political dinner where supporters pay $1,000 a plate just to eat in the presence of the political candidate. Can you picture the arrogance and boasting that would fill heaven?
One person would say, “I am so proud that I had the insight to realize that choosing to be in heaven was better than slipping into hell.”
Another would say, “I am the only person in my family who was smart enough to become a Christian!”
Or someone could say, “I can’t believe that so many people were so stupid that they could not choose heaven!”
As soon as I say those statements, you know that they sound ludicrous.
If anyone got into heaven by his or her own ability, then heaven would not be heaven at all.
No. When we get to heaven, we will hear this instead, “I am so glad that God extended his grace towards me. I am a sinner who deserved to go to hell. I deserved God’s wrath and judgment and condemnation. But, instead, God forgave me and gave me the gift of faith. Thank you, God!”
There will not be a trace of boasting for the simple reason that entrance into heaven is limited strictly to those who have been justified by faith.
The entrance to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is surprisingly low and for most people decidedly inconvenient. Watching scores of visitors pass through one day, Pastor Stuart Briscoe inquired why such an impractical entrance was retained. He was told that many years ago there used to be a large entrance but the nobility rode into the church on their horses.
The authorities decided that church was no place for horse-back heroics and that a low entrance that brought everyone down to the same level was far more appropriate. Briscoe agreed and gladly stooped low in order to pass through the door.
Only those who will, by faith, receive justification from the hand of a just God who made it all possible will enjoy its eternal benefits. Receiving something you could never earn and do not deserve is grounds for humility, not arrogance. Gratitude, not boasting, is the language of the redeemed.
The cross proves the utter futility of our coming to God in our own way and power.
“Then what becomes of our boasting?” Paul asks.
In answer to his own question, he declares unequivocally, “It is excluded” (3:27a).
Because the power of salvation is in the cross of Christ alone, we have no cause for self-congratulation or self-satisfaction— much less for the self-exaltation that is now so widely proclaimed under the guise of the gospel.
Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians in 1 Corinthians 1:26, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”
Paul was, of course, using those descriptions purely on the human level, because in God’s sight and by his standard, no person is wise, powerful, or noble.