Romans 3:27 - 31
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the Law of Faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. 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.
Unless there is any doubt that the language surrounding propitiation / expiation in the preceeding section deals primarily with the debate between Jews and Gentiles, here it is laid to rest. St. Paul, by discussing Christ's recapitulating of the world through the cross, was establishing that the road forward into righteousness was paved by Christ - this means there is no difference between Jew and Gentile since Christ died once for all. We fall short, but Christ, by His righteousness and His death, re-enters communion with us on a level we are incapable of achieving. This being the fundamental problem (that we have killed our ability to know God by our own unrighteousness), Christ demonstrates that "[Boasting] is excluded!" as St. Paul says here.
For how can we boast if we have not accomplished the reparation of our nous? How can we boast when we deserve death from the moment of our sin, yet are given life in which to repent? How can we boast, if we are Jews, that we have the Law when we don't follow the Law, and even if we DO follow the Law we lack the direct experience of God's presence, or even if we have that if we are aware that such a presence is by the will of GOD enacted in CHRIST rather than through our own merit? Boasting is rejected. How? "By the Law of Faith."
Notice here, it is by the Law of Faith that boasting is excluded. The law of faith is contrasted with the works of the law. Both imply action since both are laws. A law is not a belief or a feeling but a code of conduct. The Law of Faith, therefore, is the code of conduct demanded by faith - it is living by faith (as we discussed above). So again, there is no contradiction here between living by faith and being judged by our deeds. Faith demands deeds, and the evidence of these deeds tells us all we need to know about the quality of our faith or lack thereof.
This means that the works (of the Law) cannot be a source for boasting since they cannot heal us, and St. Paul makes this clear, as he describes how God is a God of both Jew and Gentile. It would make no sense to launch into a discussion of how God is a God of both Jew and Gentile if by "works" in verse 27 St. Paul meant "all moral actions" (as some more extreme versions of sola-fide might have it). Rather, St. Paul must mean the cultural norms of the Jewish law - Jewish ethnicity. That is the only understanding of "works" in this passage that fits with St. Paul's discussion of how God is God of both Jews and Gentiles - one God for all people.
How does this not void the Law? Because the Law IS what we do if we have faith - but not the letter of the Law (as if we were all ethnically Jewish), but rather the SPIRIT of the Law demanded by faith. Faith, active in us, confirms the Truth contained in the Law and honors it as God's tutor in preparation for Christ. Faith establishes the Law, but it does not have to submit itself to the Law since LAW doesn't establish faith. Rather, righteousness comes through faith whether that faith is tutored by the Law or not. So faith is what matters.
Romans 4:1 - 5
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 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." Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness...
The discourse continues as above, as now St. Paul will look at a series of key Jewish figures to show their preference for faith-produced-righteousness over legalism and culturalism. Remember that "works" here means Judaic cultural norms (the "Law"). Abraham was circumcised - that circumcision did not produce righteousness in him. Rather, Abraham believed God (had FAITH in God) and THIS produced righteousness in him (was accounted to him for righteousness). His faith caused righteousness to be given to him (or so this metaphor goes). Is this a literal "accounting" (as in, Abraham saw some big cash machine, inserted his 'faith' card and got some righteousness out)? Of course not. This is metaphor. But HAVING faith FORCED Abraham to act righteously. Again, I refer back to the discourse of how, with faith, sin is impossible. I cannot sin if I have true faith in God and His providence. All I can do is love my God, love my neighbor, and offer continual thanksgiving for all things. There is no righteousness superior to that.
If I put stock in the works of the Law, though, I have some "claim" on God and suddenly I consider that God "owes" me something. Legalism has a minimalistic impact on our spirituality - rather than asking what faith demands of me, I do the minimum and expect my reward. Instead of endless love and deep thanksgiving, which stems from faith, I have "systems" of salvation that give me "assurance" of my salvation as though I can demand something from God. This applies whether that Law is the Law of the Jews (and confidence in a covenant to save me, despite my unrighteous law breaking), straight up to the "Law" of something like "baptism" or "easy-believism." ANY time we replace "faith" with some "system" we lose the gospel - whether that system is some magic view of baptism that places salvation on membership in an institution or that system is a revivalist preaching conversion and once-saved-always-saved.
We have no claim on God. Our faith either produces righteousness or it doesn't. Your life manifests what may be known of God, to borrow St. Paul's earlier phrase. Even possessing basic faith cannot, at any point, become a "line" we cross (and enter the category of "saved" whereas before we were "unsaved") because at the point that we make such a distinction we replace the maximalism of faith for the minimalism of debt. We sell the gospel short