At almost every major turn in the book of Romans, Paul returns to a conversation about the law. Helping the Roman Christians understand how to have a proper relationship with the law was one of Paul’s principal reasons for writing the book. Without a correct understanding of the appropriate relationship with the law, people can’t have the kind of assurance they need for a healthy spiritual life, and the church can never become the kind of community God intends it to be.
The law is vital to the apostle Paul, and his readers must understand its proper function. The appropriate role of the law isn’t to save. God’s promise to Abraham did not come through the law. It comes through faith (Romans 4:13). This has to be the case because if God’s promise came through the law, then the promise would forever fail to be realized (Romans 4:14). After all, no one (except Jesus) has ever perfectly kept the law. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). As a result of sin, the law can only produce wrath for the transgressor (Romans 4:15). When we violate God’s law, we are subject to the just judgment of God’s wrath. Since we all have sinned, we all deserve a judgment of condemnation. If God’s promise comes by the law, then we are all doomed. Paul is clear: the promise can’t come by the law.
Additionally, God doesn’t eliminate the law to bring about His promise. If He did that, He would be eliminating transgression (Romans 4:15). That is preposterous. God has a better solution to the sin problem than saving by law or by doing away with the law and pretending sin doesn’t exist. His solution is to provide a Savior.
God’s promise doesn’t come through the law, and it doesn’t happen by getting rid of the law. God’s promise comes as a gift of grace accessed by faith (Romans 4:16). Since it is a gift of grace accessible by faith, it is certain (Romans 4:16). In a world of uncertainty, certainty is comforting. God’s promise is certain because it doesn’t depend upon our performance; it depends upon God and His good grace. Since our performance is spotty at best, reliance on our obedience will always lead to uncertainty. Uncertainty leads to anxiety and anxiety to despair.
In place of uncertainty, anxiety, and despair, there stands God’s sure and certain promise fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 4:24, 25). His promise is guaranteed to all who have faith. All who access God’s gracious promise by faith are a part of a new community—the trans-ethnic family of Abraham.