Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. Romans 3:31 NASB
Establish – In the 1800’s Duffield and Webb combined their talents to produce a hymn that became a standard battle cry of the Christian army of saints. I don’t know if Duffield and Webb took their lyrics from Paul’s use of histemi, but they could have. The Greek verb means “to cause to stand, to place, to set up, to establish, to make firm, to put.” It is the same verb used metaphorically for the resurrection (to stand again). Paul has just completed a long argument showing that the mere possession of the Torah (Law) is of no consequence when it comes to experiencing God’s grace. All have sinned, with or without the Torah. “Man is justified by faith, apart from the law,” says Paul, quoting Habakkuk. But this leads to the big question. If the Law does not justify me, what good is it? If faith is all that matters, why worry about the Law?
Paul’s answer underscores the lyrics of Duffield and Webb. Faith does not and cannot replace or nullify the Law! God forbid anyone would draw such an erroneous conclusion. Why? Because faith is doing the Law!
How does faith make the Torah stand up? Simple. When I do what God asks me to do, I demonstrate my utter reliance on Him and my trust in His word. But that is faith – to depend entirely on God and what He says. Faith is not the statement of creeds or doctrines. Faith is emunah, trustworthiness, reliability, stability, safety. To have faith is to act in ways that exhibit God’s trustworthiness. Faith is the visible sign of the invisible reality of God’s purposes. The man who has faith shows that he has faith by doing what God asks. His behavior is his faith. Faith isn’t some sort of mental state of mind independent from actions. In the Hebraic worldview, faith is the actions, just as God is His acts of righteousness, goodness and holiness. If we take away holiness, righteousness and goodness from God, we don’t have a god left behind who just doesn’t have those characteristics. If we take them away, there is no God. Just so, if you take away obedience to Torah, you don’t have reduced-calorie faith, a kind of “faith-lite.” What you have is an empty bottle. Nothing. Gone. Faith without works, faith without obedience to Torah (which is what “works” means) is dead! It doesn’t exist.
Now we can see why Paul’s statement is perfectly reasonable. If faith is doing what Torah requires, then of course faith establishes the Law. Anyone who looks at the consequent behavior will see faith because faith is the action of following God’s instructions. Anyone who claims to have faith but does not follow God’s instructions is like the man who buys a six-pack of empty bottles, proudly displaying what a great purchase he made.
Topical Index: stand up, histemi, establish, faith, Romans 3:31