“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:28; read also Rom. 3:19-27)

This passage from Paul is one of the great passages of the Reformation. It proclaims the truth of the Gospel that we are saved by faith in Christ not by our good deeds, not even by our keeping of God’s Law. We are all sinners and unable to make ourselves right with God even by doing good works. It is the Lord who makes make us right with Him; He justifies us, that is, declares and makes us righteous and enables us to live lives of goodness, love and charity. He does not excuse or ignore sin, nor does He merely forgive it. He atones for it because it is a serious matter to Him: it provokes Him to anger. So great is His anger that nothing we can do will assuage it. So in love, He has taken the necessary steps to make us right with Him by offering up His Son Jesus as our propitiation, our sin offering.

In these verses Paul makes it abundantly clear that the work of salvation is all God’s work, and we human beings add nothing to this, not even the faith to accept it. Even that comes from God as He enables us to see our sinful depravity and our hopeless state and accept what Christ has done on our behalf. As we stand on the edge of the abyss of despair, He reaches out to us with His offer of mercy in the cross alone and grants us the faith to believe.