"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.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. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law."
Reading this verse this morning, I finally understood the cliché. Being in Africa, I have felt true thirst, and have marveled at the relief provided by a glass of water. As my eyes drank in the verse chosen for todays sermon, my soul was quenched of a thirst I had never before experienced. I have prayed that I would desire God, and it is amazing what a couple months apart from good Gospel teaching can do to your soul. I didn't realize how much I missed the Gospel.
So what does it mean? Today in church, this small group of Christians did somewhat of an expository study, which means they asked just eactly that question. What does it mean? I think we as an educated American church could take a lesson from them. They did not seek to fluff up the passage, they just sought to understand the meaning. For faith comes by hearing. So, this is what I came up with as a paraphrase, listening to them:
"Now, God has given us a cleanliness that is not gotten by following the Law; the Law just shows it to us. We are clean when we trust Christ, and anyone who trusts in Him can be clean. Everyone is the same, because none of us are perfect, yet are freely given Christ's holiness to wear as our own.
God punished His perfect Son to show that He is a just God, and make it known that He is the one who judges and gives justice. So, we have no reason to be proud of our works, since it really has nothing to do with our actions. Our leanliness before God is determined by faith, and not the good things we do. Therefore, the race of a person does not determine his ability to be saved, nor does any other outward appearance.
So does that mean we ignore the laws God has set forth? No, we should uphold them."