Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. Romans 3:31 NASB
Nullify/Establish – What in the world is Paul talking about? Isn’t faith independent of the Law? Doesn’t the Law simply lead us to faith? Don’t all those rules and regulations merely point out how much we need to be rescued by grace? How can Paul possibly say that faith establishes the Law?
One of the biggest doctrinal roadblocks separating Jews and Christians is the Christian view of the Law. Ever since Origen, Chrysostrom and Augustine, Christian theology has proclaimed that grace set aside the Law. According to this teaching, the Law was incapable of rescuing men from sin. It was nothing more than a spotlight illuminating the hideousness of our unholiness. Fortunately, Jesus removed the curse of the Law in His sacrificial death and we, as Christian believers, no longer live under the impossible demands of those ancient Jewish ways. Nearly all denominations teach that Paul rejected the primacy of the Torah and converted to Christianity, articulating replacing the Law with grace.
But this verse is a real thorn in the flesh for Law vs. Grace theology. Paul boldly proclaims that faith makes the Law stand (the Greek verb is histemi). Faith fixes, makes firm, sets in place, the Law (the Torah). This claim seems to be 180 degrees from the idea that faith replaces the Law. What’s going on here?
Did you notice that the crucial verbs in this sentence have a legal ring to them? “Nullify” (Greek katargeo) means “to render inactive, to cause to cease, to terminate.” These are just the kinds of words you would associate with a legal contract. In fact, if I don’t do what is required in the contract, I breach it. The only way out of a contract is either to fulfill the requirements or to have it rendered null and void. But notice what Paul says. Faith does not render the Law (Torah) null and void. Faith does not set aside the Law. In fact, Paul is so adamant about this point that he uses the enhanced negative expression me genoito alla (May it never be – but [the strongest form of “but”]). This is the idiomatic expression “God forbid!” Anyone who thinks that faith makes the Torah null and void is crazy!
Instead (really with a lot of !!! since it is alla in Greek), faith establishes Torah. How does faith do this? Well, if you were Jewish, it would be obvious. Faith is doing what the Torah requires. That’s why faith establishes Torah. By doing what the Torah instructs me to do, I become a living example of the reality of faith. My trust in God’s word, and the subsequent practice of that word, makes faith obvious to the world. Do I have faith? Look at my life! If I am observing Torah, then you know that I have faith because that’s what faith means. There is no separation between believing and doing. If I have faith, I do what God asks me to do. Conversely, if I am not doing what God asks me to do, then I don’t have faith no matter what I may claim about myself. Faith is the application of trust in God to my daily behavior. Faith works.
It’s just like any other legal contract. I accept the arrangement God offers. I agree to live by the terms of the contract. By the way, He didn’t have to offer it to me but He did anyway. That’s grace. But faith is fulfilling the contract because I trust what He says.
The Hebrew idea of faith cannot be divorced from obedience. A person who does not obey does not have faith, just like a person who does not honor a legal contract cannot claim the benefits. Go ask Paul of Tarsus, P.A.
Topical Index: faith, Law, katargeo, nullify, histemi, establish, Romans 3:31