4:1 What then will we say that Abraham, our forefather, has found
according to the flesh?
4:2 For if Abraham was justified by works,
he has something to boast about, but not toward God.
4:3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." (Gen
4:4 Now to him who works, the reward is not counted as grace, but as
4:5 But to him who doesn't work,
but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.
4:6 Even as David also pronounces blessing on the man
to whom God counts righteousness apart from works,
4:7 "Blessed are they whose iniquities are
forgiven, Whose sins are covered.
4:8 Blessed is the man whom the Lord will by no means
charge with sin." (Ps 32:1,2)
4:9 Is this blessing then pronounced on the circumcised, or on
the uncircumcised also?
For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.
4:10 How then was it counted? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?
Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
4:11 He received the sign of circumcision,
a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was
that he might be the father of all those who believe,
though they be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might
also be accounted to them.
4:12 The father of circumcision to those who not only are of
but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father
which he had in uncircumcision.
4:13 For the promise to Abraham and to his seed
that he should be heir of the world wasn't through the law,
but through the righteousness of faith.
4:14 For if those who are of the law are heirs,
faith is made void, and the promise is made of no effect.
4:15 For the law works wrath,
for where there is no law, neither is there disobedience.
4:16 For this cause it is of faith,
that it may be according to grace, to the end that
the promise may be sure to all the seed,
not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of
the faith of Abraham,
who is the father of us all.
4:17 As it is written, "I have made you a
father of many nations." (Gen 17:4)
This is in the presence of him whom he believed:
God, who gives life to the dead,
and calls the things that are not, as though they were.
4:18 Who in hope believed against hope,
to the end that he might become a father of many nations,
according to that which had been spoken, "So will your seed
4:19 Without being weakened in faith, he didn't consider his own
already having been worn out, (he being about a hundred years
and the deadness of Sarah's womb.
4:20 Yet, looking to the promise of God,
he didn't waver through unbelief,
but grew strong through faith, giving glory to God,
4:21 and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was
able also to perform.
4:22 Therefore it also was "reckoned to him for
4:23 Now it was not written that it was accounted to
him for his sake alone,
4:24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be accounted,
who believe in him who raised Jesus, our Lord, from the dead,
4:25 who was delivered up for our trespasses,
and was raised for our justification.
How do you resolve the conflict between Romans 4:2,3 and James
Who is the "wicked"(NIV) or "ungodly"(WEB) it is referring to in vs
Is righteousness something which is earned, like a wage?
Does the Bible consider "working" and "believing" to be in the same
Can one "believe" without working?
To obtain the righteousness which is by faith, must one "believe"
without working to earn such a righteousness?
vs 6-8 What does it mean for faith to be credited as righteousness
apart from works?
vs 9-15 Was Abraham first reckoned righteous before he was
circumcised or after?
Are Christians reckoned righteous by faith before they get baptized
Can we say that the sign of water baptism is a seal of the
righteousness of the faith that we have while still being
Are those who live by the law heirs of the righteousness which comes
vs 16-17 What does it mean "that it may be by grace"?
Are you one of Abraham's offspring?
vs 18-25 List qualities of Abraham's faith and how these should
apply to the Christian's faith.
Faith Imputes Righteousness
Rom 4:1-3 What then
shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this
matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had
something to boast about— but not before God. What does the
Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it
was credited to him as righteousness." (Gen 15:6)
In contrast James writes, "Was not our ancestor Abraham
considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac
on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working
together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the
scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it
was credited to him as righteousness," (Gen 15:6) and he was called God’s
friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not
by faith alone."James
And yet Paul's point is the Abraham was justified by faith alone
apart from works as he says in verse 8. Now to bring out this
contradiction further, consider how each man uses Gen 15:6 in his
Note the context of Gen 15:6
Gen 15:5 Then He brought him outside and said,
"Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number
them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be."
JUSTIFICATION Gen 15: 6 And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Paul noted that between when the promise was given in Gen 15:5 and when
Abraham was justified, the very next verse, Abraham did nothing but
believe. Paul uses this as the precedent for justification under the
gospel. Namely that when one hears and believes the promise, apart from doing anything, that person is justified by faith ALONE.
In contrast James tries to prove that works (in particular works of
faith) are a necessary prerequisite in addition to faith before a person
is justified. And thus for James, Abraham was not justified until he
did a work of faith. James refers to an event many years later in Gen 22
as that work. And thus for James Gen 15:6 was not fulfilled until Gen
22. For James cannot bring himself to believe that a person can be
justified by faith alone.
In fact, given the rhetoric that James uses, it appears that James is
intentionally responding to Paul's statement, opposing it with his own
idea. And this is great divide between Catholic and Protestant theology.
Though each claim to embrace both Paul and James, Protestants interpret
James in light of Paul, and Catholics interpret Paul in light of James.
My position, along with Martin Luther, is that James is simply wrong.
Luther writes of the Epistle of James, "it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works 2:24).
It says that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered his son
Isaac (2:20); Though in Romans 4:22-22 St. Paul teaches to the contrary
that Abraham was justified apart from works, by his faith alone, before
he had offered his son, and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15:6.
Although it would be possible to "save" the epistle by a gloss giving a
correct explanation of justification here ascribed to works, it is
impossible to deny that it does refer to Moses' words in Genesis 15
(which speaks not of Abraham's works but of his faith, just as Paul
makes plain in Romans 4) to Abraham's works. This fault proves that this epistle is not the work of any apostle."
The good news is that by simply believing the gospel, one is
justified. Thus the Christian lives not to obtain nor maintain one's
salvation status, but rather is lived as a saved person, with confidence
in God's promise and the joy of knowing their fate is certain, their
salvation secure, not being based upon one's performance.
Don't Work to be Justified
Rom 4:4,5Now when a man works, his wages are
not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to
the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked,
his faith is credited as righteousness.
If you work; you earn a wage; you have a right to get paid; your
employer is obligated to pay you. But salvation through faith in
Jesus Christ is not like that. There is no work that you do to earn
it. It is given as a gift which is received by faith and is not
conditioned upon doing anything but simply believing.
Though after having been saved by faith, there are works which God
has us to do, such works are not a requirement for salvation.
Christians are not to work in order to be saved from God's wrath. "When the kindness and love of God
our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things
we had done, but because of his mercy." Titus 3:4,5 This is in
contrast to some denominations that add work requirements to
salvation. For some say, for example, that one must be water
baptized to be saved. And likewise some put works requirements in
order for one to maintain one's salvation status - same thing. For
not all alleged "Christians" have embraced the idea that salvation
is a gift given by faith, but rather something they earn as a reward
for good behavior or one's involvement in ceremony. Paul writes,"it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and
this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so
that no one can boast."Eph
God doesn't justify good people. For good people have no need to be
justified. But God does justify the wicked. And that is what we all
are, though perhaps few acknowledge that fact. When the wicked put
their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, they are made right with God
as one receives a free gift of which one doesn't earn.
God Credits Righteousness Apart from Works
Rom 4:6-8 David says the same thing when he speaks of the
blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart
from works: "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will
never count against him."(Ps 32:1,2)
Psalm 32 continues, "When I kept silent, my bones
wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night
your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat
of summer. <Selah> Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did
not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my
transgressions to the LORD"— and you forgave the guilt of my sin."
Ps 32:3-5 Through faith in Christ, God credits righteousness to people
without regards to what they've done. The quote is from a Psalm of
David, Psalm 32, which is much like his Psalm 51 which is "A psalm of David. When the prophet
Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with
Bathsheba." Ps 51:1
Not only had David committed adultery, but he also murdered
Bathseba's husband Uriah. Those are the kinds of things he meant by
"transgressions" of which the Lord would never count against him.
Consider the events in your own life, the bad things you've done of
which the Lord may hold against you. Now believe in the Lord Jesus
that all such things will never be held against you. "For I will forgive their
wickedness and will remember their sins no more."Heb 8:12
Righteousness Not Attained by Ceremony
Rom 4:9-12Is this blessedness only for the
circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying
that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under
what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was
circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he
received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness
that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he
is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in
order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also
the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who
also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham
had before he was circumcised.
Asking whether Abraham was Jewish when God reckoned him righteous
would seem to be like asking whether the Pope is Catholic. But in fact Abraham was a
Gentile in Genesis 15:6,
when God credited righteousness to him. Thus Jews have no special
claim on Abraham over that of Gentiles with regards to setting the
example of obtaining righteousness. For he obtained a righteous
standing with God by faith alone apart from the ceremony of
circumcision, which was a controversy in the early Christian
community as the Judaizers attempted to infiltrate the Christian
community with their legalistic dogma.
The sign of circumcision to the Jew is much like the sign of baptism
to the Christian. While neither has any affect on one's salvation
status, these are outward indicators of one's allegiance. Just as
Abraham was reckoned righteous by faith alone prior to receiving
this seal, so also Christian are reckoned righteous by faith alone
prior to water baptism. For salvation is by faith alone, and not by
works of righteousness which we have done.
Abraham is the spiritual father of both Jewish and Gentile
believers. He set the precedent of salvation through faith alone.
Verse 12 is much along the lines of Jesus' response to the
Pharisees, "Abraham is our
father," they answered. "If you were Abraham’s children," said
Jesus, "then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you
are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I
heard from God. Abraham did not do such things." John 8:39,40 and goes on to
tell them, "You belong to your
father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.
He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth,
for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native
language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."John 8:44 And as Paul said
earlier, "a man is a Jew if he
is one inwardly"Rom
2:29a Very few who identify themselves as "Jews" today are
in fact Jews, let alone the false claims of Muslims being God's
people who even more so mimic their father the devil. But this is
also a warning for alleged Christians who call Jesus Lord without
intending to do what he says. The Promise Came by Faith
Rom 4:13-15It was not through law that Abraham
and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of
the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For
if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the
promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is
no law there is no transgression.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the
meek, for they will inherit the earth."Mt 5:5 Such is also affirmed by
the righteous who in the end will declare to the Lord, "You were slain, And have redeemed
us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people
and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth."Rev 5:9b-10 Part of the
promise involves the righteous reigning on earth, of which Jesus
also alludes to in a number of his parables, such as the parable of
the minas of Luke 19:11-27.
Faith is the key. Faith is devalued by those who make salvation
contingent upon ceremony or conformity to rules and regulations.
Infant baptism certainly comes under this category for those who are
under the misconception either that children born of Christian
parents are to be automatically reckoned part of the Church or saved
through water baptism. For there is a complete absence of faith on
the infant's part with regards to such ideas.
The law brings wrath in that it not only brings accountability but
also temptation. For Paul later writes, "Indeed I would not have known what sin was
except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting
really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet." But sin,
seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in
me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead.
Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came,
sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment
that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin,
seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me,
and through the commandment put me to death." Rom 7:7-11
One cannot transgress if there is no law, since the "trans" in
"transgress" refers to crossing a boundary, which in this case is
established by the law. But remember also that we all have a law in
ourselves established by the conscience. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law,
do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for
themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show
that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts,
their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now
accusing, now even defending them.) Rom 2:14,15 But if
hypothetically there were no law, there would be no transgression.
But with the introduction of law, whether that of conscience or
written law comes wrath rather than salvation. Thus salvation cannot
come through law.
Follow Abraham's Example of Faith
Rom 4:16,17Therefore, the promise comes by
faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all
Abraham’s offspring— not only to those who are of the law but also
to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us
all. As it is written: "I have
made you a father of many nations."(Gen 17:4)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.
"For it is by grace you have
been saved, through faith"Eph 2:8a "By grace" is referring to the manner of
God's salvation. "by faith" is the mechanism of God's salvation. If
God is to provide salvation graciously, then it cannot depend upon a
person's performance; it cannot be a function of one's compliance to
rules and regulations.
Concerning the phrase "not
only to those who are of the law" remember he had already
established that unbelieving Jews are disqualified. "A man is not a Jew if he is only
one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical."Rom 2:28 Thus this phrase
Paul uses here in Rom 4:16 is not referring to all Jews, but to
believing Jews. And he goes on to include believing Gentiles.
Elsewhere Paul writes, "There
is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you
are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are
Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise."Gal 3:28,29
As for God raising the dead and calling things that are not as
though they were, he is about to speak about concerning Abraham's
faith as an example. But these are also characteristic of saving
faith - believing God can raise the dead and to confidently believe
that which we have not yet seen.
Believe God Despite the Circumstances
Rom 4:18,19 Against all hope, Abraham in hope
believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had
been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." (Gen 15:5) Without weakening in his faith, he faced the
fact that his body was as good as dead— since he was about a
hundred years old— and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.
Christian hope is the feeling of anticipation of that which we
believe will come to pass based upon the promise of God, and that
despite contrary circumstances. However with regards to Abraham,
over time his understanding of the promise grew along with his faith
being strengthened. For at first he didn't understand that the
promise was with regards to his wife Sarah having a son.
Consequently Sarah suggested he have a son through her handmaiden
Hagar, which in the long run led to the Arab/Israeli conflict. But
in Gen 17 God also said to
Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her
Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by
her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of
nations; kings of peoples will come from her." Abraham fell
facedown; he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a
man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of
ninety?" And Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live
under your blessing!" Then God said, "Yes, but your wife Sarah
will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish
my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his
descendants after him."Gen
So we see that Abraham's faith was not without skepticism, but in
the end he believed God. Likewise the Christian should seek to
understand the promise of God, not avoiding the implications.
Saving Faith is Fully Persuaded
Rom 4:20,21 Yet he did not waver through
unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his
faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had
power to do what he had promised.
"Waver" is "diakrino" which means to doubt. "He who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown
and tossed by the wind." Jam
1:6b While Abraham grew in his understand and revelation of
the promise, he did not doubt it. The faith that saves is one which
is fully persuaded that God has power to do what he promised. We see
such confidence applied a few years later when God challenges him to
sacrifice his son. Yet Abraham believed God so strongly that he knew
he would not lose his son. For it was promised that Isaac would have
children. Thus we read in Hebrew
Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who
had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only
son, even though God had said to him, 'It is through Isaac that
your offspring will be reckoned.' Abraham reasoned that God could
raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac
back from death." In contrast Israel failed to enter the
promise land due to unbelief, in fear of giants. "So we see that they were not able to enter,
because of their unbelief." Heb 3:19
The faith that saves confidently believes God despite contrary
circumstances. Being fully persuade not only affects one's life, but
one's preaching. The same Greek word "plerophoreo" for "fully persuaded" is used in 2Tim 4:17"But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me,
so that the message might be preached fully through me" As
also the related word for "assurance" or "deep conviction" ("plerophoria") used in 1Th 1:5"because our gospel came to you not simply with
words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction."
And as confidence communicates conviction, so those who are fully
persuade of the truth speak confidently. "And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to
what is written, "I believed and therefore I spoke," we also
believe and therefore speak" 2Cor 4:13
As with Abraham, so with the Christian
why "it was credited to him as
(Gen 15:6)The words
"it was credited to him" were
not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit
righteousness— for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord
from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was
raised to life for our justification.
What is "why"? His faith was "why" it was credited to him, faith
which was demonstrated by his being fully persuaded, confident that
what God had promised he was able also to perform. But again
realized that his being reckoned righteous (Gen 15:6) occurred long before
the demonstration of his faith. Faith apart from works saves. ("God credits righteousness apart
from works"Rom 4:6b)
Though faith will be demonstrated afterwards by one's life.
As for the application of the promise to all believers, and not to
Abraham alone, Paul would seem at first to contradict himself where
he writes in Galatians 3:16 "The promises were spoken to
Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to
seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one
person, who is Christ." But he goes on to explain, "If you belong to Christ, then you
are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." Gal 3:29 And thus the promise
given to Abraham applies to everyone who is in Christ.
Note Paul's reference to the resurrection of Christ from the dead,
which is always mentioned whenever the gospel is preached in the
Bible. The resurrection is the forensic evidence given to validate
the gospel message. "What I
received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ
died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried,
that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" 1Cor 15:3,4