Ch 3 starts by anticipating a question - "Ok, Paul, you are telling us that this gospel of yours is powerful, that it actually works salvation
(1:17-18). Well what about the Jews? They received all these promises of old, these benefits, these signs, and yet you also seem to be saying that there is no real difference between them and the Gentiles - was there any tangible value to circumcision and the law, if it could not keep them from being condemned by God (just like the Gentiles, who didn't have those things?"
And P answers this by saying - "Absolutely! Of course there is value!" (3:1-2) The real problem, it would seem, is not that circumcision and the law have not worked, but rather that they have not worked as we expected them to
. It's not an issue of their impotance
, but rather of our expectations
. The purpose of the law is not to justify, but to convict, to stop our mouths because we realize that there is no one righteous (especially not ourselves) (19-20). This is just as true for the Gentile as it is for the Jew (even though the law takes a different expression for each).
vs 21+ - If the law simply convicts then (and there are none righteous, as a result), how then can anyone be saved? The answer, of course, is that God's righteousness [not just his legal justice, although that's a part of it (cf. Col 2:14), but also his goodness, his rightness, his kingdom] is has been revealed in a new and surprising way (although its not really new, since the Law and the Prophets were pointing to it all along) (21) - this righteousness comes through faith in Christ to all who believe (22). Couple of considerations here...
- classic Christian emphasis on the 'problem of sin' often gets dissed these days (and in some ways, rightly so; after all, this is an organic, wholistic, practical, concrete salvation - never simply abstract, intellectual, or theoretical) - that said, it seems pretty hard to deny, though, that personal sin is at least part of the equation - and the problem here is not merely ethical (that some people aren't acting right) - it goes much deeper than that (NO people act right, the law is meant to convict of that, and "belief" in Christ somehow addresses that)
- this 'righteousness' is seen as something we a) lack, b) desperately need for salvation - we "fall short" of God's glory (23) (and the glory we were meant to have as those created in his image) - we are "justified" (24) (made right, restored) by a) grace, b) which is given to us, c) through some kind of "redemption" which is located in Christ Jesus - so it would seem that salvation consists of some kind of transfer - where something that resides in Christ (and doesn't reside in us) is somehow applied to us, by faith.
- this 'by faith' part (25) is key - it demands some kind of attitude towards Christ - an allegience, an identification, an "I'm with him" way of thinking, where we see ourselves as his followers. Faith in some generic goodness of God towards all men is simply insufficient.
vs 25-26 - this "salvation" which God has provided actually serves to demonstrate God's own "righteousness" as well - on the one hand, it answers the question raised earlier in Ch 1 "why isn't God acting against ungodliness and unrighteousness" (cf. 1:18). And the answer of course, is that he is - not simply by judging against it, but also by overcoming it. And the way that he overcomes it is by bearing the punishment which that unrighteousness deserves - so God is just (punishing all sin, measuring out justice for all wrongdoing) and justifier (he actually saves sinners, just as he promised) (26). As Anselm says, "Why is the incarnation necessary? Because only man ought to pay our debt, but only God is able to pay it. Hence the need for the god-man Jesus Christ..."
It seems very difficult to me to do justice to this text without arriving at something fairly similar to a classic reformed understanding of justification (eg. Luther and Calvin). We are justified by grace, through faith, and even that is a gift of God (Eph 2:8-10).
vs 28 - it's important to point out that this "justification by faith" is not a matter of something we possess, which thereby justifies us on its own - faith is an instrument of our union with Christ - Christ is the one who justifies us, and we are united to him through faith. We are justified by our faith union with Christ. We use this same sense, then, when we talk about "sanctification by faith" and "worship by faith" - we are not talking about something that exists alone within us (eg. if I just have enough faith, I'll be sanctified), but rather, we are using biblical shorthand - just as we are justified, so too we are sanctified and our worship is perfected, all by our faith union with Christ. His righteousness becomes our righteousness. So too, his sanctification becomes our sanctification. His perfect worship perfects our own worship. All that is his becomes mine, and all that is mine becomes his.
Faith is not just the entry point to the Christian life, it IS the Christian life, start to finish, because faith alone unites us to Christ.