1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 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? "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:

7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. 8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account."

9 Is this blessing then upon the circumcised, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say, "Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness." 10 How then was it reckoned? 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 uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.

13 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. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (as it is written, "A father of many nations have I made you") 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. 18 In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, "So shall your descendants be." 19 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; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what He had promised, he was able also to perform.

22 Therefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written, that it was reckoned to him, 24 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, 25 he who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

COMMENTS

General:

  • In chapters 1-3, Paul laid out the bad news: the entire world, Jewish and Gentile, is lost. In chapter 4 he explains the basis for justification.
    • As someone put it, to be justified means for things to be "just-as-if-I'd" never sinned.
    • The basis for justification is faith, not works. No one can ever work his way to God!
    • Please remember, in writing Romans Paul is being proactive. He is taking positive steps to counter a Jewi-Gentile (Jewish Christian - Gentile Christian) division, should it try to take place in Rome.
  • Abraham was justified when he believed God's promise (v.3).
    • Please see Genesis 15:6, a key verse for the N.T., if you do not already have it memorized.
    • This contrasts with certain Jewish views current in ancient times.
      • “…You, O Lord… have not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who did not sin against you.”  Pr. Man. 8
      • “For Abraham was perfect in all his actions with the Lord and was pleasing through righteousness…” Jub. 23.10.
      • “And we find that Abraham our ancestor had performed the whole law before it was given.” Qidd. 4.14.
      • “The faith with which their ancestor Abraham believed in me merits that I should divide the sea for them.” Mek. Exod. 14.15[35b]
    • Since he had not done anything to be justified, God owed him nothing. There was no obligation on God's part.
    • Like the joyful and forgiven psalmist (Psalm 32), true blessedness comes from unmerited forgiveness (vv.6-8). (As though there were any other kind of forgiveness!)
    • When Abraham was justified, he had not yet been circumcised.
      • This means that we cannot link his right standing with God to works (vv.9-12).
      • Some Jewish Christians (as in Acts 15) insisted on circumcision before baptism, law-keeping before salvation.
        • They were clearly wrong.
        • This is not the same as insisting on obedience and discipleship for salvation. These are part of initial repentance as well as ongoing Christian commitment, and should not carelessly be equate with works righteousness or legalism!
      • Law in v.13 is Torah, the Way or Instruction for covenant Jews.
        • Christians are not saved by following the Torah. Moreover, there is a sharp contrast between live under the Law and life in Christ. See John 1.17.
        • And yet Christians are under the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21, Galatians 6:2).
  • Abraham was right with God before there was any such thing as Judaism, strictly speaking, ever existed.
    • Perhaps a simple chronology would be helpful (dates approximate):
      • 2000 BC -- Abraham lives and is justified by faith.
      • 1400 BC -- The law is given; Judaism begins.
      • 30 AD -- The church and the new covenant begin.
    • Paul is reaching back to a time before the Law for an example of righteousness by faith. Abraham was not the only person who walked with God before Sinai, but he is "father of those who believe." See Galatians 3.
    • The faith of Abraham is illustrated in vv.16-21.
      • This was no passive faith!
      • Nor was he merely giving mental assent to various doctrines. To believe that he would become a father challenged him to the core.
      • His faith was also waiting faith. Patience -- 25 years' work! -- was required. This is a great lesson to us in our fast paced, on-demand world.
    • Abraham was reckoned as righteous (vv.22-25).
      • He is the example of faith for all time.
      • He is also the man through whom righteousness came to all the world. See Genesis 12:3!
      • We should not think that Abraham "became saved" in Genesis 15:6. Rather, he was shown to be right with God at this time. To justify can mean to make righteous, or to demonstrate that someone is righteous.
  • Through all this chapter, Paul is not trying to tell the Romans how to be saved. after all, they were already Christians, as were all to whom the NT letters were written. Rather, he is discussing the foundation of their faith. He will continue to develop his thoughts in chapter 5.

Advanced:

  • For the OT citation in v.7, see Psalm 32. It simply is not true that under the old law people anxiously sweated their way through their religion. They too knew joy and security; they too were justified by faith -- not by works!
  • Abraham appears over 300 times in the Bible. His original name, Avram, means great father. The new name (see Genesis 17:5) means "father of a multitude." That is because the entire planet, through Abraham's seed, potentially had a chance to know God.
  • Learn the key OT chapters in Abraham's life:
    • Birth (Genesis 11)
    • Promises from God (Genesis 12)
    • Clearly justified by faith (Genesis 15)
    • Circumcised (Genesis 17)
    • Faith put to the test (Genesis 22)
    • Death (Genesis 25)
  • Though we are not all sons of Jacob (unless we are Jews), we Christians are all sons of Abraham (or "daughters of Sarah" -- 1 Peter 3), according to Galatians 3-4. Something to think about...

Thought questions:

  • Is there anything I need to believe that truly stretches my faith?
  • Am I patient, willing to wait decades for my prayers to be answered, or do I give up after mere days?
  • Do I understand and appreciate that God had our salvation in mind millennia before we were born?