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Romans 4 (web)

Saving Faith

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 15:6)

4:4 Now to him who works, the reward is not counted as grace, but as debt.
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 in uncircumcision,

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 the circumcision,
but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham,
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 be."(Gen 15:5)
4:19 Without being weakened in faith, he didn't consider his own body,
already having been worn out, (he being about a hundred years old),
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 righteousness."
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.

Discussion Questions

How do you resolve the conflict between Romans 4:2,3 and James 2:21-24?
Who is the "wicked"(NIV) or "ungodly"(WEB) it is referring to in vs 5?
Is righteousness something which is earned, like a wage?
Does the Bible consider "working" and "believing" to be in the same category?
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 or after?
Can we say that the sign of water baptism is a seal of the righteousness of the faith that we have while still being unbaptized?
Are those who live by the law heirs of the righteousness which comes by faith?
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 2:21-24

And yet Paul's point is that 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 reasoning.

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."

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 4:4,5 Now 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 2:8,9

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 4:9-12 Is 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 4:13-15 It 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 4:16,17 Therefore, 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 17:15-19

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 11:17-19 "By faith 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

Rom 4:22-25 This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." (Gen 15:6) The words "it was credited to him" were written 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

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Jul 31,2020