Romans 4:1-25

Romans 4:1-25

by | May 25, 2002 | Uncategorized

Romans 4:1-3 – Every false religion of the world is founded on some form of salvation by works. The entire fourth chapter of Romans is devoted to Abraham, whom Paul uses as an illustration of the central biblical truth that man can become right with God only by faith in response to His grace, and never by works.

There are several reasons for Paul’s choosing Abraham as the supreme example of salvation by faith. Abraham lived about 2,000 years before Paul wrote this letter, demonstrating that the principle of salvation by faith rather than by works was not new in Judaism.

Paul used Abraham as the example of justification by faith because Abraham was the Old Testament’s supreme example of a godly, righteous man who is acceptable to the Lord. He is the biblical model of genuine faith and godliness.

The majority of Jews in Paul’s day believed that Abraham was made right with God because of his own righteous character. They believed God chose Abraham to be the father of His people Israel because Abraham was the most righteous man on earth during his time. The rabbis, for example, pointed out that the Lord called Abraham “My friend” (Isaiah 41:8). Habakkuk 2:4 was often rendered, “The just shall live by his faithfulness,” rather than “by his faith.”

Instead of understanding faithfulness as being a fruit of faith, they had the idea that justification could be earned through one’s efforts to be faithful. In the same way, the rabbis interpreted Genesis 15:6 as referring to Abraham’s faithfulness rather than to his faith.

By using Abraham as the supreme scriptural example of justification, or salvation, by faith alone, Paul was storming the very citadel of traditional Judaism. By demonstrating that Abraham was not justified by works, the apostle demolished the foundation of rabbinical teaching, that man is made right with God by keeping the law, that is, on the basis of his own religious efforts and works.

If Abraham was not and could not be justified by keeping the law then no one could be. Conversely, if Abraham was justified solely on the basis of his faith in God, then everyone else must be justified in the same way, since Abraham is the biblical standard of a righteous man.

Romans 4:1-3 – Paul begins by asking a question that will cause us to consider what the basis of Abraham’s justification is.  Paul brings Abraham into the picture because he knew that the greatest of Jewish patriarchs was used by the rabbis as the ultimate example of man’s being justified by works.

Paul will demonstrate that Scripture clearly teaches that Abraham was saved by his faith alone.  If Abraham was justified by works, then he has ground for boasting in himself. Even if we did great works no man is ever qualified to glory before God.

How can one who is created boast before the one who created him and the One who sustains him? Abraham was justified by believing God. What happened was this. Abraham believed God, and God took Abraham’s belief and counted his belief as righteousness. In Genesis 15 Abraham’s faith was in the promised seed and that is what justified him.  It was faith in Messiah Galatians 3:16 tells us.

It was not Abraham’s works, but his faith that God counted as righteousness. It was all an act of God; therefore, all glory belonged to God, not to Abraham.  God is perfect; He is perfectly righteous. No man can achieve perfection; therefore, no man can live in the presence of God. However, God is love. So what God does is take a person’s faith and counts that faith as righteousness.

Not just any faith but faith in the work of Christ on his behalf.  Why does God justify a man through faith? God loves His Son with a perfect love. Any person who honors God’s Son by believing in Him is accepted by God. That is, God takes that person’s belief and counts it as righteousness.  The expression “was credited is the word in Romans 4:22, in some versions is rendered “imputed.” The word occurs frequently in the Scriptures.

Romans 4:4-5 Paul illustrates the concept of faith righteousness by the example of a working person.  Works mean debt. When a man works, someone owes him something. If a man could work for righteousness, that is, work so that God would owe him righteousness, then God would owe man. But God, being God, is completely self-sufficient; therefore, He cannot be put in debt to any man. He cannot be made or forced to do anything. It is the “ungodly” who believe who are counted righteous (Romans 5:6).

The man who admits he is ungodly is the man who rejects self, sensing his need for godly help in spiritual matters. He is ready to give himself up and honor and glorify God alone. Therefore, he centers and wraps his whole life around God, depending solely on God for righteousness.

In the same way the man who doesn’t admit he’s ungodly, who does not reject self and sense the need for godly help is the man declared to be self-sufficient and self-righteous. Therefore, he is pronounced unjustified, not so much because God rejects him as the fact that he has already rejected God both with regard to salvation and sanctification.  (Proverbs 20:6;30:12;Matthew 7:21;Hebrews 3:12).

Romans 4:6-8 Still another example is David’s blessed man. A person can look at prophecy, at the man described by David and see clearly that justification is not by works but by faith (Psalm 32:1-2). The blessed man is the man who is counted righteous without works. If God credits and counts a man righteous “without works,” then we know that man is not justified by works, but by faith. Therefore, the blessed man is the man who has righteousness credited to him not because of his works, but because he believes God.

Lawlessness (sin) exists despite all the works and efforts of men to eliminate it. No matter how hard we try, lawlessness still exists. If lawlessness is to be handled, it has to be handled by God and God alone. It is not the acts of men, but the act of God that justifies men and does not count sin against them. Justification—complete deliverance from sin and condemnation—comes from God and from God alone, not from some act of man (Isaiah 38:17; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 55:7; Psalm 130:4).

Romans 4:9-10 Most people are religious in that they keep some religious, rituals and rules. This is both good and bad: good in that rituals do cause a person to think about some higher being, but bad in that rituals are usually thought to be the way a person becomes acceptable to God. Scripture teaches that mere ritual is the wrong way for a man to seek acceptance and justification with God. Paul uses Abraham’s circumcision as an example.

The word “blessedness” or “blessing” refers back to the blessed man just discussed in Romans 4:6-8. The blessed man is the man who is justified by faith who is counted righteous without works; whose sins are forgiven and covered and not counted against him. But does this blessing come as a result of the ritual of circumcision only or does it come apart from circumcision.

Abraham was counted righteous when he believed. The word “reckoned” in the original language means to credit, to count, to put to one’s account, to impute. Abraham’s faith was counted for righteousness. Abraham was counted righteous before the ritual of circumcision.

Abraham made his decision to follow God at least fourteen years before he was circumcised. Scripture clearly says, “He believed in the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). He was counted righteous long before he underwent any ritual. His righteousness—his being accepted by God—did not depend on a ritual; it depended on his faith alone by believing God’s word concerning the promised seed.

Romans 4:11-12 Abraham received circumcision as a sign or symbol only. Circumcision was not the road into God’s presence; it only confirmed that he was righteous. It has remained as a sign of God’s promise to Abraham and his offspring of God’s promise to him and his children that remains to this day. Timothy was circumcised by Paul because he would be a better testimony as a Jew (Acts 16:1). Paul, however refused to circumcise Timothy because he wasn’t Jewish.

The Bible never says that rites, rituals, or ordinances bestow anything on anyone. They are merely signs of something that has already taken place. They are merely shadows, not the substance (Colossians 2:16-17). This is not to take away from the importance of rites and rituals.

They are important as the signs and seals of faith. We need to remember that Abraham was not saved by the ritual of circumcision, for circumcision had not yet been given by God as a sign.  But Abraham was immediately circumcised after God established circumcision as the sign of “righteousness by faith.”

Circumcision and all other rituals are a matter of the heart, not a matter of being spiritually cleansed by physical and material substances (Deuteronomy 10:16; Romans 2:28-29). In the New Covenant a sign of our faith is baptism.  A true believer should be baptized after coming to faith. Baptism is one of the first steps of obedience in the believer’s new life in Messiah  (Matthew 3:15; Acts 2:38).

God chose Abraham for two specific purposes:

1) To be the “father” of all believers regardless of ritual and ordinance. The father of the uncircumcised, and

2) he was chosen that he might be the “father” of the circumcised, the religious who “follow in the steps of Abraham’s faith.” It is not just being religious but “walking in the steps” of Abraham’s faith that causes God to accept the religious person (Matthew 7:22-23; Romans 10:2-4).

Romans 4:14-15 In this section Paul discusses the issues that eternal life and the inheritance of heaven can not come by the obedience to the Law. The reason is that no man can live perfectly righteous before God; no man can keep from breaking the law of God at some point.

Therefore every man is  imperfect and under condemnation. If God accepted us and gave us the promise of inheritance because we kept the law, it would nullify the Abrahamic Covenant which came by faith and not by works of the Law.  Our focus then would be on the law and not on the Messiah.

The Jewish perspective was that the law brings righteousness, Paul teaches us that righteousness comes about through faith. What then is the role of the law? It reveals God’s holiness and His expectations for man.  Failure to keep the Law brings His wrath.  When we realize what the Law is and what it does, it fills us with fear of God’s judgment.

This then brings us to God’s solution for our sin, faith in Messiah and His work on the Cross. The typical man of the Mosaic Covenant saw the law as determining life within the covenant, including God’s provision of atonement.  Paul however tells us that were it not for the law there would be no transgression (and so no need of atonement). The primary function of the law is to condemn. Righteousness comes by faith.

That’s why God gave the promise to Abraham the way he did. The promise to Abraham came without any conditions.  It was an act of complete generosity, so that the promise and those who would receive the promise would be its recipients totally by grace.

So those who are Abraham’s descendants, heirs of the promise, are not dependent on keeping the 613 commandments.  The Law shows that we are helpless to keep all of it and points us to our need for the Messiah.

Romans 4:16-17– So the promise of inheritance comes through faith.  Faith brings grace, which by definition is a free gift given without expecting anything in return. It means favor, approval, acceptance, and kindness freely given without expecting anything in return. Grace puts God in the center not man.

And when we make God the center of our lives putting all our faith and trust in Him, God draws near to us. Why? Because when we place ourselves dependent upon God we are honoring God completely, and the man who honors God is always acceptable and heard by God.

It is faith that honors and praises and glorifies God. When God is honored and made the center and focus of our life and trust, we can rest assured God will accept us and give us the promise of His inheritance (Titus 3:7).

Abraham being a father of many nations has relation to the covenant that God made with him in Genesis 17:4-5. He was made the head of many nations, the Gentile world, by the covenant that God made with him. The terms of this covenant can only be fulfilled if Gentiles are reckoned as Abraham’s children.

The traditional Jewish perspective was to interpret the promise in the context of Genesis 17, where it can be argued that Abraham’s circumcision was an act of law keeping.  They then argued that his fatherhood of many nations is through the covenant of circumcision that sets Israel apart from all the nations and leads to the giving of the Law at Sinai.

Paul is demonstrating that one becomes a son of Abraham by what we believe not by what we do.  What is at issue here is not whether Gentiles can be included among Abraham’s descendants along with the Jews who are there through their natural lineage, but how anyone, Jew as well as Gentile, may come to be counted a descendant of Abraham.

Paul’s answer grows with increasing strength as his argument proceeds, that it is by faith, apart from (works of) the law. The fact that believers in the Church 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 eliminated.

God’s covenant and Abraham’s response of faith has spiritual, physical and temporal aspects. He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. The quotation is in effect a parenthesis.

Identifying God in this way refers to God’s promise in Genesis 17 that Abraham and Sarah would have a son of promise when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90. That he would be the ancestor of many nations seemed impossible considering his and Sarah’s childless old age.

Romans 4:18 – Abraham’s justification is important because his faith becomes the standard for all of us. After making the original promise of a son in Genesis 15:4, God waited until it was physically impossible for this couple to have children. Then he repeated his pledge in Genesis 17:5 and so the fulfillment of the promise was impossible apart from God’s intervention.

He “faced the fact” of his physical condition and that of Sarah and “did not waver through unbelief.”  Abraham did stumble in his faith with Sarah with the attempt at surrogate parenthood with Hagar and later in Genesis 17:17 when He laughed at God’s repeating the promise, but God did not hold it against him. One indication that he really trusted God for the fulfillment of the promise is seen in his obedience to submit to circumcision for himself and his household before Isaac was conceived.

This act was a further demonstration of His faith by obeying God in an area that directly affected his reproductive ability. This is a further testimony to others of his trust in God’s faithfulness to His word. If God should fail in this matter, Abraham would be an object of pity by some, of ridicule by others. Abraham was “fully persuaded” that God’s power would match his promise.

Romans 4:19-22  Paul shows us that faith is strong because it looks solely to God and does not depend on human possibilities. It is not that Paul’s faith ignores or denies the historical facts but rather, says Paul, Abraham took them fully into account.  Our faith is weak when it depends on human power.

When faith depends on what man can do (works of the law) it is not the faith of Abraham. Just imagine the personal relationship Abraham must have had with God! To know God so well—loving and trusting God so strongly—that God could give him an experience so meaningful that Abraham would believe the promise without wavering in faith.

(Psalm 37:5)  Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this. (Proverbs 3:5 NIV)  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In Romans 4:20-22 you find the objectives of faith.

The first is in Romans 4:20 – but [he] was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,” {Romans 4:20b NIV} His faith was made strong. Faith grows. Our Messiah said it would. If you have faith like a tiny little grain of mustard seed when we exercise our faith it will grow. When we obey as Abraham did; he believed and obeyed, he was strengthened in his faith and he gave glory to God.

Faith never glorifies man; it glorifies God. It is God who acts, not we. What is accomplished is not something we do on behalf of God; it is God who does it by us and through us, on his own behalf. God, therefore, is thanked; and God is glorified. So faith grows, and faith glorifies God.

In Romans 4:21 Paul says Abraham also was, … fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. That is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” {Romans 4:21-22 NIV} This is the faith that was credited to him as righteousness. Faith grasps the promise. Faith lays hold of what God has offered. As Abraham’s faith grew, he grasped the promise and found himself loved and accepted by God, a friend of God.

Romans 4:23-25 deal with the beneficiaries of faith.  Abraham’s faith as Paul points out was written not just for him alone but also for us today. We look at Abraham’s faith thinking it as something extraordinary, but Paul says it wasn’t; it was ordinary faith.

Anyone can exercise that kind of faith if they want to. You can have righteousness too. You can be a friend of God, have the same kind of value in God’s sight — not just once when you come to faith, but every day, taking it fresh from his hand. Morning by morning new mercies you will see.

All that Abraham had — in fact even more with the indwelling of the Spirit, his minute by minute guidance are ours as well. This verse says the gift of righteousness is for those “who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” He is still the God of resurrection, the God who can raise from the dead.

“He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” So we live by his death and by his life. Now if we believe in the God who raised Jesus from the dead and we are ready to live on the basis of his death and his life for us, we, like Abraham, are heirs of all the world.

All these things are ours, Paul says. If you have a God who can raise things from the dead and who can call into existence the things that do not exist, you are going to have a joy and peace that overcomes the world with all its bad news.  When you have faith in the God who can take something which did not exist, but was called into existence by the God who spoke and it was so.

Then you realize that God can do all things and has promised to care for you just as Abraham his friend.  Life then becomes an adventure, a journey to an incredible destination, and in wonderful journey as you travel there. That is faith, when all things are yours.  Do you have that kind of faith? It can be yours if you will believe God and His Word and walk with Him led and filled with His Spirit.

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