Faith of Abraham

Rom 4:1-12

SS Lesson for 07/18/2021

 

Devotional Scripture: Gal 3:6-14

Lesson Background and Key Verse

Background from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary

During Paul’s ministry, a key issue concerned the role of the Jewish law for Christians who were not of Jewish descent. At the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, the famous Jerusalem Council had already recognized that Gentiles would be welcomed into the church without being required to keep the Law of Moses (Acts 15:7-11, 19-21, 28-29). This included forgoing circumcision, which symbolized the entire law for Jews (see Romans 4:9). Circumcision was perhaps the most honored of all Jewish traditions. The rite began with Abraham, the forefather of the entire nation of Israel (see Romans 4:1). Jewish men had proudly borne the mark of circumcision for hundreds of years, a physical sign of their separation from Gentiles. The traditional adversaries of Israel were called uncircumcised, an epithet spit out in scorn (example: Jeremiah 9:26; see Romans 4:9). Any foreigner who wanted to be accepted into Israel had to be circumcised (Exodus 12:48). To be an uncircumcised Jewish man was to be expelled from Israel and thus not part of the nation (Genesis 17:14). Gentiles did not welcome the idea of circumcision as a condition for worshipping God. The physical act of circumcision was culturally repugnant and physically painful. In the Roman world, this hesitation resulted in Gentiles who were attracted to Judaism to be identified as “Godfearing” (Acts 17:4, 17) in contrast with a “convert” (Matthew 23:15), who converted fully. The “God-fearing” chose to honor the Lord. However, they were excluded from full participation in the temple or synagogues because the men in these families had not undergone circumcision. Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, during which time the Holy Spirit came to a group of Gentiles (Acts 10:44-48), was the beginning of a new understanding about what would and would not be required in the church (11:15-18). In part, the discussion of what Jewish customs to retain in the church—and require of Gentiles—was a discussion about the relationship between faith and works. Though these two concepts can be held in tension, most Christians understand that works flow out of faith (James 2:14-26). We are “saved, through faith, not by works” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The work that we do for Christ is faith manifesting itself in our lives (2:10); it is not an attempt to save ourselves. Paul’s discussion of Abraham considered in our lesson text today is an example of this fact. Paul ended Romans 3 with a crescendo that emphasized that people can be pronounced righteous only through faith (Romans 3:30). But this raises an important question: What about the ancient and hallowed Jewish law, the law that Moses received from God Himself?

 

Key Verse: Rom 4:3

For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness"

 

Commentary from the Bible Knowledge Commentary

4:1. Paul introduced his illustration of Abraham with the first of six occurrences of the question, What then shall we say? (6:1; 7:7; 8:31; 9:14, 30) He referred to Abraham as our forefather. (“Forefather” is used only here in the NT.) Undoubtedly this was to distinguish Abraham’s physical ancestry from his spiritual fatherhood, mentioned later in 4:11-12, 16. What had this patriarch discovered in this matter? What lesson could Paul’s readers learn from the biblical record of Abraham’s experience?

4:2-3. The Rabbis taught that Abraham had a surplus of merit from his works that was available to his descendants. Paul built on that idea and agreed that, assuming that Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about (cf. boasting or bragging in 2:17, 23; 3:27). But, Paul insisted, his boasting could only be before other people, not before God. If a person could establish his finite righteousness by works—though that was impossible—he could never boast of it in God’s presence. Paul then turned to an authority his readers would acknowledge and asked, What does the Scripture say? He quoted Genesis 15:6, which states that Abraham’s faith in God and His promise was credited to him as righteousness. Because he believed, God imputed righteousness to his account (“credited,” elogisthē, from logizomai, is an accounting term). Paul had quoted this verse before (Gal. 3:6).

4:4-5. The apostle then discussed the significance of this Scripture quotation. He pointed out that a worker’s wages are what are owed him because he earned them, and are not graciously given to him as a gift. Conversely, a person who is not working but is believing on (these participles are in the pres. tense) God who justifies the wicked (asebē, “the ungodly, impious”; cf. 5:6), his faith is credited as righteousness (cf. 4:3). Abraham was the latter kind of person as the Scripture stated. He was justified not because he worked for it but because he trusted God.

4:6-8. This fact about Abraham was also true of David, whose description of God’s gracious dealing with him Paul quoted from Psalm 32:1-2. A person, like David, to whom God credits righteousness apart from works, is blessed. Such a person’s sins are forgiven and covered. And instead of his sin credited (logisētai) to his account, God credits (logizetai; cf. Rom. 4:3) righteousness to him.

4:9-10. Paul again raised the question of the Jews’ special position (cf. 2:17-21a; 3:1-2). The way the question is worded in the Greek suggests the answer, that this blessedness is for the uncircumcised (Gentiles) as well as for the circumcised (Jews). But in response Paul turned again to the example of Abraham. He repeated the authoritative scriptural declaration that Abraham was declared righteous on the basis of his faith. Then Paul asked whether Abraham’s justification occurred before or after he was circumcised. Answering his own question, Paul stated, It was not after, but before! (The Gr. has lit., “not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.”) Abraham’s age when he was declared righteous (Gen. 15:6) is not stated. But later when Hagar bore him Ishmael, he was 86 (Gen. 16:16). After that, God instructed Abraham to perform the rite of circumcision on all his male descendants as a sign of God’s covenant with him; this was done when Abraham was 99 (Gen. 17:24). Therefore the circumcision of Abraham followed his justification by faith by more than 13 years.

4:11-12. Therefore, Paul argued, the sign of circumcision was a seal of Abraham’s being declared righteous because of his faith which he received while he was still uncircumcised (lit., “in uncircumcision”). Circumcision, as a “sign” or “seal,” was an outward token of the justification Abraham had already received. God’s purpose was that Abraham be the father of all who believe and are thereby justified. This included both the uncircumcised (Gentiles) and the circumcised (Jews). Jews must do more than be circumcised to be right with God. They must also walk in the footsteps of... faith, like Abraham (cf. 2:28-29). Obviously, then, the rite of circumcision, which many Jews rely on for salvation, contributes in no way to one’s status before God. It gives them no special standing before Him because they must be declared righteous on the basis of faith in God.

4:13. The Jews also considered the Mosaic Law, a special revelation of God’s standards for human conduct, as the basis for their special standing before God. Therefore Paul turned next to it, declaring, It was not through Law (“not” is emphasized by its position at the beginning of the Gr. sentence) that Abraham and his offspring (lit., “seed”) received the promise that he would be heir of the world. God’s promise in Genesis 12:1-3 preceded the giving of the Law by several centuries (cf. Gal. 3:17). Being “heir of the world” probably refers to “all peoples on earth” (Gen. 12:3), “all nations” (Gen. 18:18), and “all nations on earth” (Gen. 22:18), for through Abraham and his descendants all the world is blessed. He is thus their “father” and they are his heirs. These promises of blessing are given to those to whom God has imputed righteousness, and this, Paul added once again, is by faith. Believers of all ages are “Abraham’s seed,” for they enjoy the same spiritual blessing (justification) which he enjoyed (Gal. 3:29). (However, God has not abrogated His promises to Abraham about his physical, believing descendants, the regenerate nation Israel, inheriting the land [Gen. 15:18-21; 22:17]. These promises still stand; they will be fulfilled in the Millennium.)

4:14-15. As Paul explained, if Jews could become heirs by obeying the Law, then faith has no value (kekenōtai, “it has been made empty”; cf. the noun kenos, “empty, without content,” in 1 Cor. 15:10, 58). Also the promise is worthless (katērgētai, “has been made invalid”). The reason this would be true is that Law brings wrath (lit., “the Law keeps on producing wrath”) as a consequence of disobedience. No one can keep the Law fully; therefore God, in wrath against sin, judges those who disobey. Paul then stated a related general principle: And where there is no law, there is no transgression. A person may still be sinning in his action, but if there is no command prohibiting it his action does not have the character of a transgression, an overstepping of a prohibition (cf. Rom. 5:13).

4:16. Paul then drew his conclusion. Therefore (lit., “On account of this”) the promise comes by (ek, “out of”) faith so that it may be by (kata, “according to the standard of”) grace. Responding in faith to God’s promise is not meritorious, since the promise springs from His grace, His disposition of favor toward those who deserve His wrath. The human exercise of faith is simply the prerequisite response of trust in God and His promise. Since faith and grace go together, and since the promise is by grace, the promise can be received only by faith, not by the Law. Another reason the promise is by faith is so that it may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring, not only the Jews (those... of the Law) but to all who exercise faith in God. If the promise were fulfilled for those who keep the Law, then no Gentiles (or Jews either) could be saved! But this cannot be, because Abraham... is the father of us all, that is, all who believe (cf. “our” in v. 1; also cf. Gal. 3:29).

4:17. Paul then supported his conclusion in verse 16 with scriptural authority, quoting God’s covenantal promise from Genesis 17:5. The fact that believers in this Church Age are identified with Abraham and God’s covenant with him does not mean that the physical and temporal promises to Abraham and his physical descendants are either spiritualized or abrogated. It simply means that God’s covenant and Abraham’s response of faith to it have spiritual dimensions as well as physical and temporal aspects (cf. Rom. 4:13). The quotation is in effect a parenthesis. Therefore the latter part of verse 17 connects with the close of verse 16: “He is the father of us all...” in the sight of God. (The words He is our father are not in the Gr., but are added in the niv for clarification.) God... gives life to the dead and calls things that are not (lit., “the nonexisting things”) as though they were (lit., “as existing”). Identifying God in this way obviously refers to God’s promise in Genesis 17 following the statement quoted above that Abraham and Sarah would have a son of promise when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 (Gen. 17:17, 19; 18:10; 21:5; cf. Rom. 4:19). That he would be the ancestor of many nations seemed impossible in his and Sarah’s childless old age.

4:18. Though humanly there was no hope of ever having a child, the old patriarch believed God’s Word. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed. God honored his faith, and he became the father (ancestor) of many nations. This was in accord with God’s promise, So shall your offspring be (a quotation of Gen. 15:5).

4:19. Verses 19-21 restate in specific details the first part of verse 18 about Abraham’s hope. Abraham without weakening in his faith... faced the fact (lit., “considered carefully”) that his body was as good as dead (some Gr. mss. add the word “already”), a reference to the patriarch’s advanced age (Gen. 17:17; 21:5). Abraham also considered carefully that Sarah’s womb was also dead. She was unable to conceive a child, as had been demonstrated through their life together (cf. Gen. 16:1-2; 18:11) and as was certainly true for her at age 90 (Gen. 17:17).

4:20-21. In spite of the humanly impossible situation, Abraham did not waver through (lit., “by”) unbelief. “Waver” (diekrithē) means “to be divided” (sometimes trans. “doubt,” as in James 1:6). The patriarch was strengthened in his faith (lit., “was empowered [enedynamōthē, from endynamoō] by means of faith”). God, responding to Abraham’s faith, empowered him and Sarah physically to generate the child of promise. Also he gave glory to God, that is, he praised God by exalting or exclaiming His attributes. Abraham was fully persuaded that God had power (dynatos, “spiritual ability”) to do what He had promised. What confidence in God this spiritual forefather possessed! He “in hope believed” (Rom. 4:18); he was not weak in faith despite insuperable odds (v. 19); he was not divided in his thinking by unbelief (v. 20a); he was empowered by faith (v. 20b); and he was fully persuaded God has the ability to do what He had said (v. 21).

4:22. Paul concluded his illustration about Abraham by saying, This is why (dio kai, “wherefore also”) it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham’s response of faith to God and God’s promise to him was the human requirement for God’s justifying Abraham, for God’s declaring that Abraham stood righteous before Him. No wonder God credited such faith with righteousness!

4:23-24. Verses 23-25 apply the truth about justification and its illustration in Abraham to the apostle’s readers—from the believers in Rome who first read this letter to people today. The divine declaration of Abraham’s justification was written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness. Such an act of justification, however, is not for everyone. It is for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead (lit., “out from dead ones”; cf. 6:4; 8:11). Repeatedly in this chapter Paul referred to Abraham and other believers having righteousness credited to them because of their faith (4:3, 5-6, 9-11, 23-24).

4:25. Mentioning the Lord Jesus led Paul to state again the Savior’s central place in God’s program of providing righteousness for sinful people by grace through faith. Both Christ’s death and His resurrection are essential to that work of justification. He was delivered over (by God the Father; cf. 8:32) to death for our sins (lit., “on account of or because of” [dia with the accusative] “our trespasses” [paraptōmata, “false steps”; cf. 5:15, 17, 20; Eph. 2:1]). Though not a direct quotation, these words in substance are taken from Isaiah 53:12 (cf. Isa. 53:4-6). Also He was raised to life for (“on account of” or “because of” [dia with the accusative]) our justification. Christ’s death as God’s sacrificial Lamb (cf. John 1:29) was to pay the redemptive price for the sins of all people (Rom. 3:24) so that God might be free to forgive those who respond by faith to that provision. Christ’s resurrection was the proof (or demonstration and vindication) of God’s acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice (cf. 1:4). Thus because He lives, God can credit His provided righteousness to the account of every person who responds by faith to that offer. In chapter 4, Paul presented several irrefutable reasons why justification is by faith: (1) Since justification is a gift, it cannot be earned by works (vv. 1-8). (2) Since Abraham was justified before he was circumcised, circumcision has no relationship to justification (vv. 9-12). (3) Since Abraham was justified centuries before the Law, justification is not based on the Law (vv. 13-17). (4) Abraham was justified because of his faith in God, not because of his works (vv. 18-25).

 

Major Theme Analysis

(Scriptural Text from the New King James Version; cross-references from the NIV)

Abraham’s Faith through Belief (Rom 4:1-3)

 

1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?

2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."

 

Belief that leads to justification (1-2)

Belief in the righteousness of God (Rom 3:21-22)

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,

Belief in the justification through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:11)

11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Belief and faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 2:16)

16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

Belief that leads to living by faith (Gal 3:11)

11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."

Belief that leads to justification by faith (Gal 3:24)

24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.

Belief and works working together (James 2:24)

24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

 

Belief that leads to righteousness (3)

A righteousness that brings eternal life (Rom 5:21)

21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

A righteousness that we have in Jesus (1 Cor 1:30)

30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 

A righteousness that God made through Jesus (2 Cor 5:21)

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

A righteousness that we have faith and hope in (Gal 5:5)

5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.

A righteousness that comes from God through faith (Phil 3:9)

9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

 

Abraham’s Faith through Imputed Righteousness (Rom 4:4-8)

 

4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.

5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,

6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered;

8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin."

 

Righteousness through God’s grace (4-5)

A righteous grace that provides sufficiency (2 Cor 12:9)

9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

A righteous grace through God's will and pleasure (Eph 1:5-6)

5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

A righteous grace through God’s mercy (1 Tim 1:13-14)

13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

A righteous grace through justification (Titus 3:3-7)

3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

A righteous grace that results in blessing after blessing (John 1:16)

16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.

 

Righteousness through God’s imputation (6)

An imputation through being in Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:30)

30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 

An imputation through Jesus who bore our sin for us (2 Cor 5:21)

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

An imputation that comes from God by faith (Phil 3:9)

9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

An imputation through the obedience of Jesus (Rom 5:19)

19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

 

Righteousness through God’s forgiveness (7-8)

A righteous forgiveness because God blots out our transgressions (Isa 43:25)

25 "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.

A righteous forgiveness because God is faithful to forgive (1 John 1:9)

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

A righteous forgiveness through Jesus' sacrifice (Heb 10:14)

14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

A righteous forgiveness because God is able to save completely (Heb 7:25)

25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

A righteous forgiveness because Jesus was sacrificed once for all (Heb 9:28)

28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

 

Abraham Father of the Faithful (Rom 4:9-12)

 

9 Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.

10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.

11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also,

12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.

 

Faithfulness not limited to the Jews (9-10)

Intended for all because God wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9)

9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Intended for all because God wants all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:1-4)

1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Intended for all because Jesus came to save the lost (Luke 19:10)

10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

Intended for all because Jesus was sacrificed to justify all men (Rom 5:18)

18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.

Intended for all because God's grace brings salvation before all men (Titus 2:11)

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.

 

Faithfulness of the followers of God (11-12)

Followers of God will have the light of life (John 8:12)

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Followers of God will inherit eternal life (Matt 19:29)

29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

Followers of God will be blessed (Luke 6:22)

22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

Followers of God will have the Spirit of God rest upon them (1 Peter 4:14)

14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

Followers of God have indescribable glory awaiting them (1 Cor 2:9)

9 However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"—

 

Conclusion and Other Thoughts

Commentary Thoughts from Bob Deffinbaugh

Abraham Was Justified by Faith, Not Works (4:1-8)

Paul eagerly probed into the ‘roots’ of the Jews. What was the experience of Abraham in this matter of justification? Was he justified by faith or by works? “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?” (Romans 4:1). If Abraham were found to be saved by his works, then he would have something of which he could boast. And, of course, by implication there would be something in which the Jew could boast. The Jews did mistakenly suppose that Abraham was saved by works. Dr. A. T. Robertson informs us that the “rabbis had a doctrine of the merits of Abraham who had a superfluity of credits to pass on to the Jews.” But the Scriptures make it clear that Abraham could not boast before God because he was justified by faith, not works: “For what does the Scripture say? ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:3).

If justification were on the basis of our works we would face several problems. First, man would have a basis for boasting. Surely this is wrong for we are created and saved in order to praise and bring glory to God, not to boast concerning ourselves. Second, we would then operate under a system of obligation, rather than under grace. Under grace God is free to give us what we do not, in and of ourselves, deserve, while under obligation, God must give us exactly what we deserve—and, who wants that? Third, it is contrary to both Old and New Testament Scripture, for in Genesis 15:6 we are told, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

David agreed with what the Scriptures record concerning Abraham’s justification by faith, apart from works, for he wrote, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven. And whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account” (Romans 4:7, 8).

This quotation from Psalm 32 stresses the negative side of the reckoning which occurs in the justification of the sinner. The sins of the man who trusts in God are not reckoned to him, but are forgiven and forgotten by God. Just as the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us—that is, it is put to our account—so our own deeds are not held against us.

The word “reckon” is an accounting term and it refers to the actual accounting of something either to our credit or our loss. When we are justified by faith, our sins are not reckoned against us, as they should be, but the righteousness of Christ is graciously put to our credit.

I once knew an inmate in the Dallas County Jail who had some way or other induced the record keeper to write on his record that he was accused of another crime and would be coming up for trial soon. This was so he would not be shipped out to the state penitentiary. In the eyes of the law there was an offense charged against him. That offense was ‘reckoned’ to his account. But in David’s case, he had no accusations on his record, even though a sinner, because God had not imputed his sins to him.

So then both Abraham and David give testimony to the same truth: In the Old Testament men were not justified by works, but by faith.

Abraham Was Justified While Still a Gentile (4:9-12)

That Abraham and David (and therefore all Old Testament saints) were justified by faith apart from works was a bitter pill to swallow for the Jews. But Paul is not willing to stop here, for there is much more to be learned from the faith of Abraham. At least the Jews could console themselves in the fact that Abraham was a Jew, and not a Gentile. If Abraham was saved as a Jew, then could the Jews not insist that every man must be saved as a Jew (cf. Acts 15:1f.)? Paul strikes this hope down by showing that Abraham was declared righteous while yet a Gentile.

At first glance we might be inclined to think that verses 9-12 are intended to prove that Abraham was saved by faith and not by works; specifically, not by the rite of circumcision. Although this is true, it is not the main point Paul is striving to prove. The point which Paul is driving at is the universality of justification by faith and that it is not for the Jews only, but for Gentiles.

Was Abraham saved as a Jew or as a Gentile? Was Abraham declared righteous as one who was circumcised or as uncircumcised? Abraham, in Genesis 15:6, was declared righteous on the basis of faith fourteen years before he was circumcised (compare Genesis 15:6 with 17:24). Technically, then, Abraham was saved as a Gentile, and not as a Jew, for he did not enter Judaism by circumcision, nor did he have the Law to keep. What a blow to the Jew who maintained that one could not be saved without becoming a Jew by circumcision and keeping the Law (Acts 15:1)!

What, then, is the value of circumcision? If entrance into Judaism through circumcision does not in any way contribute to one’s justification, what good is it? Circumcision is not the source of one’s salvation, but the sign of it. It is a symbolic testimony to what has happened inwardly in the man who has been justified by faith.

The mere presence of an inspection sticker on your car does not make that car road-worthy, but it does represent in a visible fashion its road-worthiness. On the other hand, putting an inspection sticker on a car with bald tires, a faulty muffler, and no brakes will be of little help in hazardous driving conditions. Circumcision was a seal which attested to the faith of Abraham. It signified that he was righteous in the eyes of God.

The outcome of all of this is that Abraham is the ‘father’ of all who are justified by faith. He is the father of those who are justified by faith and have not been initiated into Judaism and of all believers who are also Jews. Being a Jew or a Gentile has no bearing on one’s justification, nor does the keeping of the Old Testament Laws and rituals. The only determining factor is one’s faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

God’s Promises Are Realized by Faith, Not by Law-Keeping (4:13-16)

In verses 13-17 I see a slight shift of emphasis. The Jews were not only seeking individual righteousness and justification before God, but also participation in experiencing the promises of God to Israel as a nation. In verses 13-17 Paul makes it plain that just as justification is attained by faith, so are the promises of God realized by faith. If I recall correctly, the Jews believed that if there was but one day when the nation would abide within the Law, the Messiah would come. If the Jews thought that they were saved by faith, but received God’s blessing by Law-keeping, Paul lays this error to rest in these verses. “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13).

There would be no need for faith if men became heirs through the Law, and the promise would be null and void, for the only thing the Law can produce is wrath and condemnation (Romans 4:14, 15). So that God can work in accord with the principle of grace, and so that men may have confidence of experiencing the promises of God, it is based upon faith and not on Law (4:16). Since the blessings of God are based upon faith and not on Law-keeping, they are assured to those who are of the Law (Jews) and those who are not (Gentiles), through faith in Jesus Christ. Once again, Abraham is the father of us all, that is of us all who believe by faith in Jesus Christ.

Abraham’s Faith Is Like That Required by the Gospel (4:17-25)

So we must grant that everything we receive from God must be on the basis of faith, but was not the faith of Abraham vastly different from the faith required today? Not at all, Paul informs us, for it was a faith precisely like that required today.

“… in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” (4:17).

Jules Henri Poincare, who in extolling the memory of his distinguished friend, uttered these terrible words: “It matters little what God one believes in; it is the faith and not the God that makes miracles.”

With this Paul does not agree, for he makes it plain that it is the object of our faith that makes all the difference between heaven and hell.

Abraham’s faith was in a God Who could create something out of nothing. So far as his chances of having a child, they were nil. He and Sarah were as good as dead. Yet Abraham trusted God to create something out of nothing, a son from an old man and a barren woman.

Abraham also believed in a God Who could raise the dead. This is evident in his faith in the promise to have a son of his own loins and Sarah, for they were both as good as dead so far as producing children was concerned. “And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4:19). Nowhere is this faith in God’s ability to raise the dead more evident than in Abraham’s willingness to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice (Genesis 22).

In addition, Abraham’s faith was one that did not dwell on the obstacles to faith but on the object of faith. There is a minor textual difficulty in verse 19, some texts leaving out the word “not,” others inserting it. Some texts would thus read, “ he considered not his own body, now as good as dead.” The meaning here would be that Abraham did not dwell on the obstacles, but on God. Other texts say that “ he contemplated his own body now as good as dead …” We would then understand the emphasis to be on the fact that Abraham knew all too well the difficulties, but did not waver in his faith.

Either way, the point is that Abraham, in spite of tremendous human obstacles, trusted in God to do as He promised. His faith overlooked the obstacles and focused upon the object of faith, God. Because of this kind of faith, Abraham was justified before God.

Now Abraham’s experiences are not without application to us today. For it is the same kind of faith which God requires of men today. We must acknowledge ourselves to be just as helpless to enter God’s heaven by our own righteousness as Abraham was to become the father of a great nation. We must trust God to provide righteousness apart and in spite of us as Abraham trusted God to fulfill the promise of a son. So, also, we must trust in a God who has power over death and the grave. Abraham trusted in the God “who gives life to the dead” (v. 17). So we must trust in Jesus Christ Who was raised from the dead.

Now not for his sake only was it written that “It was reckoned to him,” but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 4:23-25).

So the kind of faith required of Abraham is precisely the same kind of faith required of men today. The Law is in no way set aside, rather, it is reaffirmed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. God’s way of salvation has never been by works, and has always been by grace through faith.

 

      (Adapted from URL:https://bible.org/seriespage/6-old-testament-illustration-justification-faith-romans-4)

 

Extra Thoughts from the Echoes Commentary

Abraham's faith resulted in a righteousness that was credited to him. This is known as the theological idea of "imputed righteousness." Jesus often highlighted the impossibility of attaining righteousness through human effort. In Matthew 5:20, He told His listeners that their righteousness had to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees, who had devoted their lives to keeping the law. And so, the only way for someone to be wholly righteous in the eyes of God was for the Lord to impart, infuse, or impute Christ's righteousness through that person's faith in Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. In order for righteousness to be imputed to the follower of Christ, the unrighteousness, present in the heart of every human being, needs to first be forgiven by God. In this regard, forgiveness is always a necessary precursor to authentic reconciliation. King David often highlights this soul-freeing idea in his psalms, as he experiences the cleansing forgiveness of God, especially after owning up to his own willful disobedience, which often had dire consequences both for himself and for others. Though David showed great respect for God's law, the king knew that simply keeping the law could not earn his salvation.

 

Concluding Thoughts from the Echoes Commentary

Abraham and Righteousness - How does a Christian stand perfect and right before an almighty, holy, perfect God? We will all have a face to face meeting with God at some point. Should we present Him a list noting all our good, earthly deeds? Is that what Abraham did? Scripture said the patriarch was declared righteous by his faith, not by his good deeds. Abraham stands righteous in God's presence right now not because of all the good he performed in life. He's in good standing because God "credited [it] to him" (Rom. 4:3). "Credited" is a banking term, meaning to put to one's account. When a man works, he earns a salary. Money is placed in his account. But Abraham applied no works toward his salvation; he simply trusted God, and the Father attributed salvation to him because of his faith.

 

Saved by Grace through Faith - Whether Old or New Testament believers, both groups were saved by grace through faith. David is another excellent example like Abraham. Although a great leader and king, he committed murder and adultery. David did not experience God's goodness and favor because of his clean living. His salvation was freely given by God, not earned. As David said, and as Paul then quoted, "Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit" (Ps. 32:1-2). Once God forgives a person's sins, that offense is no longer held against the individual. David speaks of the blessedness centered on what God places upon us, not on what we do for God. God declared Abraham is in right standing before Abraham was circumcised. Therefore, his righteousness wasn't based on circumcision, but faith. If we are counted righteous by God because of faith, not because of circumcision (or any other ritual), then the blessedness mentioned in Psalm 32 and Romans 4 can be given to the uncircumcised Gentiles by faith.

 

Good News for Gentiles - Therefore, no one can say (as some did in Paul's day) that Gentiles must be circumcised before God can declare them righteous. Paul emphasized that circumcision of the heart, an inward change, is what matters to God. In Christ, because of His sacrifice, all believers are declared righteous. Like Abraham, even Gentiles can stand clean and upright before God.