Romans 4

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather 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 counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Observation

  • Abraham was not justified by works.
  • If Abraham were justified by works he would have had something to boast about.
  • Even if Abraham were justified by works, he would have nothing to boast about before God.
  • Abraham’s believing God was counted to him as righteousness.
  • When something is worked for, the wages are paid because they are due, not as a gift.
  • Belief is not a work.
  • Those who believe on God rather than working for righteousness, their faith is counted as righteousness.
  • God justifies the ungodly.
  • David described the blessedness of God imputing righteousness through faith.
  • Blessed are those who lawless deeds are forgiven.
  • Blessed are those who sins are covered.
  • Blessed are those whom God does not impute sin.
  • The blessing comes to both the circumcised and uncircumcised.
  • Abraham received the blessing before he was circumcised.
  • Abraham received the sign of circumcision while he was uncircumcised.
  • Abraham is the father of all who believe rather circumcised or uncircumcised.
  • The promise to Abraham and to his descendant, that Abraham would be heir to the world, was not made through works but through faith.
  • Faith is voided, if the promise was through works.
  • The law brings wrath.
  • Since the law bring wrath, the promise would have no effect if it were through works.
  • Where there is no law there is no violation of the law.
  • Righteousness is through faith so it might be according to grace.
  • The promise to Abraham is according to faith so it may be assured to the seed of Abraham.
  • The promise is not to the seed of Abraham who are of the law but those who are of the faith of Abraham
  • Abraham is the father of us all before God.
  • God gives life to the dead.
  • God calls things into existence.
  • Abraham was about 100 when he received the promise of an heir.
  • Sarah’s womb was “dead” when Abraham received the promise of an heir.
  • Abraham’s body was unable to produce seed when he received a promise of an heir.
  • Abraham did not waiver at the promise of God.
  • Abraham was convinced what God had promised God was able to perform.
  • When Abraham received the promise he was strengthened in the faith.
  • When Abraham received the promise he gave glory to God.
  • Righteousness was imputed to Abraham not only for his sake for also for our sake.
  • Righteousness will be imputed to us who believe in God.
  • God who raised Jesus from the dead.
  • Jesus died because of our offense.
  • Jesus was raised for our justification.

Interpretation

Some have incorrectly thought Paul is talking about the futility of trying to obtain righteousness by following the Ceremonial Law of Moses in this chapter. This is because Paul refers specifically to circumcision. As a result this chapter is passed over by many because they think it applies only to first century Jews. This chapter applies to each of us, Jew and Gentile, and for all time.

Paul makes clear in this chapter there is only one way righteousness is obtained. That one way is by faith. In addition, Paul demonstrates this has always been the case, both in the Old and New Testament. Righteousness was never obtained by works, works of the Mosaic law or any other kind of works. As the reformers in the 16th century said it is “sola fide,” by faith alone. It is a gift from God. I think the key verse for this chapter is, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due” Paul goes on to say later in the chapter “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring” The means by which God dispenses His grace is faith. We do nothing to earn God’s favor.

You might argue that we are called to believe or have faith, therefore in the finally analysis it is something we do, i.e. believing, which brings about our righteousness. Paul here, and in other epistles, makes it clear your faith is not something you do. Even your faith is a gift from God. “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Verse 5) Also in Ephesians “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Your salvation is a gift from God. You do not earn it in any way. It is received through faith and even that faith is a gift from God. In order to support his argument Paul uses the example of Abraham.

Abraham believed God. His belief was count to him as righteousness. He had done nothing to deserve it. When God called Abraham, he was not more righteous or more holy or more religious than anyone else. God called Abraham for God’s own purpose. Abraham had nothing to with his being chosen. He brought nothing of his own. Abraham simply believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Since Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness, it follows that he was not otherwise just.

If righteousness exists in anyone by works of the law, righteousness already existed in them for them to be able to do the works of the law. But righteousness by faith is a foreign righteousness. It is derived from someone else. Therefore, righteousness by faith is rightly called imputed righteousness because it is from Christ’s righteousness.

Why do not our works count as anything? Our works are infected with our sinfulness. Therefore no human work whatsoever can please God. But the righteousness that comes through faith is a righteousness which comes from Christ. Once we are cleansed in that manner, our works of righteousness are truly righteous, because it is Christ’s righteousness rather than our own.

The passage Paul quotes “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” comes from Genesis 15:6. Here the word “believed” is not confined to any particular expression, rather, it refers to the whole covenant of salvation, and the grace of adoption. Abraham obtained this adoption by faith. In the Genesis context, the promise is of a future heir and that God would give Abraham many descendants. But Abraham’s belief was grounded upon gracious adoption by God. Salvation without the God’s grace is not promised, nor is God’s grace given without salvation. Therefore, when we are called to God’s grace and hope of salvation, we have Christ’s righteousness given to us.

Paul’s argument showing Abraham was saved by faith rather than works is made strongly. First, Abraham received the promise before circumcision and even before the written Law of Moses. Next, Paul takes the argument even farther. If adherents to the law, or only those who deserved the promise, received it no one could feel confident that the promise was theirs. Faith then would be void because the impossibility of keeping the law. Faith disappears when we are anxious about the goodness of God. Faith is not a simple knowledge of God or His truth. It is not simply being persuaded that God exists, that His word is true. To be sure, these things must exist for faith to exist. But faith is a sure knowledge of, or trusting in God’s mercy. This only comes through the gospel. Faith brings peace of conscience with regards to God and a rest to our mind.

The law brings wrath. There is no grace in the law. The law only shows what ought to be done. It provides no power to actually do it. The more we are taught what is right and do not do it, the guiltier we are. Those who know God’s will and either ignore it or go against it deserve a heavier punishment than those who violate the law through ignorance. This is why the promise cannot come through the law. The law only brings punishment.

Since the law brings wrath we are left with trusting in God’s grace, that is faith. The promise rests on grace (v16). Since it rests on God’s grace, that is God alone, we can be assured of the promise.

Application

Who can claim they what they have done, achieved, strived for, etc. is deserving God’s promise, no one. Granted some of us may be better than others but even the best of us have fallen short of what we are called to do and to be. Therefore, each of us relies on the grace of God.

We are polluted with sin. We can prepare a beautiful meal and present it to our guests. But if we are polluted with a disease such as typhoid, the meal too is polluted regardless how beautiful it appears. It is not a good meal. Nothing we do is actually good until we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ and the disease is removed.

Circumcision did not bring righteousness to Abraham. Rather it was a seal of the covenant or promise of God to Abraham. While circumcision was important, God even threaten to kill Moses’ sons because he did not circumcise them, it did not remove sin or bring righteousness.

Rest is the knowledge that God promised. God keeps His promises. Relax and be at peace. God is at work.

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