The Law Makes the Promise Worthless—Romans 4:14

“For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless…” (Romans 4:14)

Because I write so extensively about grace and trusting in Jesus’ provision of a right-standing with God by stressing that our behavior has nothing to do with this standing. I get many emails reminding me of the importance of living well (i.e., following rules, the law, or the 10 Commandments, or the rules we make up as Christians).

Sometimes, I feel this makes people uncomfortable as they think that I am saying, we can live however we want, steeped in sin, and it doesn’t matter.

No, it does matter for many reasons (many of which Paul will get to in Chapter 6). However, nothing—again I say, nothing—nullifies the grace of God faster than believing that we somehow can sway God’s opinion of us by our behavior.

I lived for years trying to do the right things, but in the back of my mind, I always thought that God was just waiting for me to mess up. I fully believed I was saved by grace, but that is where it ended. After that starting point, it was up to me to be good, do good, and not mess up.

This mentality kept me sin-conscience and afraid of God. As Paul observes, living this way made God’s promise of grace worthless in my life.

The law was given for an appointed time (Gal 3:23), but Paul stresses the law was never able to impart life (Gal. 3:21). In fact, it brought wrath (Rom. 4:15). And now the faith has come, we are no longer under the law’s supervision (Gal 3:25). Meaning, the law doesn't dictate how we should live, faith does!

Remember, “if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless….” (Don’t believe me, just read Paul’s statement about his own self-righteousness and how meaningless it was in Philippians 3).

Here’s the deal: when I had no understanding of how fully God accepted me because of Jesus, and how He saw me as completely righteous because of Jesus, then everything I did was done from a place of want and trying to earn something from God.

However, when I started to understand this righteousness (or right-standing with Him) that God offers by faith, just as He did for Abraham, now everything I do comes from a place of gratitude.

See the difference?

The behavior might be the same, but the motivation is different. And in reality, I have more motivation for living well now that I know I am loved and accepted by God than I ever did under the condemnation of following the rules.

Where today has your behavior made the promises of God worthless?

Identify one way you could trust in His faithfulness?

How does this change the motivation behind your behavior?

Previous: Romans 4:13  Next: Romans 4:15

Original article published July 6, 2009.

Juli Camarin

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