What works was Paul talking about in Romans?

When discussing what the Bible teaches concerning the topic of salvation and faith and practically anything else that may deal with the topic, there are many people in the religious world who adamantly believe and teach that Paul taught a system of justification void of any “works” (i.e. responsibility on mankind’s behalf outside of faith alone) because of what they read in such places as Romans chapters 3 and 4; but what “works” were under consideration when Paul said, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28)? Well, all one has to do is look at what the therefore is there for and you’ll read, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.” (Romans 3:27)

According to Romans 3:27 there is a law of works that stands contrary to the law of faith. Yes, believe it or not, even with faith there is a system, or that dreaded word by some called a law, that has been designed and delivered and delineated by God for man to follow (Romans 16:25-27). But exactly what law of works was Paul talking about that stood opposed to the law of faith (you know, the law which had been previously established by Abraham’s example before the New Covenant was ever given)? It was the Law of Moses, which can be plainly seen if one continues to read after verse 28 where it says, “Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:29-31) Now what law divided the Jew from the Gentile, while condemning sin and the sinner, and also pointed to the blessedness of justification by faith? Any knowledgeable and honest student of God’s word (especially the surrounding texts of Romans 3 and 4) knows it’s the Law of Moses that’s under consideration (Romans 3:19-23, 4:5-8).

When Paul said, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”” (Romans 4:3-4) he wasn’t saying that we, as believers and individuals justified by faith, have no responsibility in acting upon what God has made available; he was saying that Abraham (who lived before the Law of Moses was given) was justified before God without being able to boast about keeping any aspect of Moses’ Law.

The faith that justified Abraham was an assurance (which was displayed through his actions – think Isaac) that God was able to bring a hope to fruition through a birth and a reviving from the dead (Romans 4:17-22). Sound like the sort of faith we’re called to have in Jesus (Romans 4:23-25)?

To sum it up, when Paul speaks of a justification void of works in Romans 3 and 4, he’s speaking of works that derive from the Law of Moses. So to say that Romans 3 and teaches a justification by faith without any requirement (conditions) on the behalf of the believer is to say something about Abraham’s faith that isn’t true! For Abraham was justified without any of the works of Moses’ Law that could merit his salvation, but Abraham was not justified by faith alone when it  came to responding to God’s grace made through the promise concerning his son…and this is also true for us when it comes to our Lord Jesus Christ, the son of God (Romans 1:4).

Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:3-6)