Chapter Four

Verses 1,2

1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

    This chapter, like chapter three, begins by questions being asked regarding the value of what had transpired before the introduction of the system of faith. In chapter three, even though the law of Moses did not make the Jew superior, there was benefit in being a Jew because he could be used to serve all humanity. The third chapter emphasized the "righteousness of God" as the way of justification rather meritorious works.
    Paul begins now to show that justification by a system of faith was not an unheard of idea in God-man relationships. He asks something about the most revered of all the ancestors of the Jews, Abraham. The very mention of Abraham and anything that had to do with Abraham would immediately receive attention from the Jews. Abraham had been taught of God to be circumcised (Genesis 17:10-14). Ever since that time the descendants of Abraham had relied heavily on the fleshly act of circumcision denoting them to be special. Indeed, they were special, but not always in the sense they supposed. But the fleshly act of circumcision was not that which made Abraham justified before God. This was not that by which Abraham "found" or obtained favor with God. In fact, God had called Abraham, when still named Abram, as far back as Genesis, chapter twelve. He had repeated the promises to Abraham several times (see Genesis 15) before ever mentioning circumcision. Circumcision was a "token of the covenant" (Genesis 17:11), not the reason for making the covenant. The pressure of this point was inescapable upon the Jews. Whereas the Jews relied so heavily upon their circumcision, even their venerable ancestor was not so justified. Indeed, Paul reasons if the works of Abraham or if a system based on works had been the basis of his justification he would have had reason to boast of his own righteousness. But such was not the case, "not before God."
    It would be a mistake to consider the term, "works," in the sense of obedience here. The context makes the term "works" refer to a system of meritorious works, like the Mosaic law or moral law, in contrast to the system of faith. That this is true is further in evidence in another discussion of the justification of Abraham in James, chapter two, which we will discuss with the next verses.

Verses 3-5

3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

    Paul again quotes from the Old Testament. Here again we see the predictive element of the Old with reference to the New. He quotes from Genesis 15:6, "And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness." What the reference means in Genesis is what it means in Romans. At that time in the life of Abraham God had called him and he obediently responded to that call. See Hebrews 11:8. Had Abraham been called and refused to obey God, could he have been counted righteous? Indeed not! The faith by which Abraham served God was a faith that demanded obedience to that which was commanded him. His faith required obedience to law. The blessing of justification for Abraham was based on a system of this kind of faith. It is the height of the ridiculous to think for a moment Abraham could have been pleasing to God without obeying whatever God required of him. When we turn to James, we see James quotes the very same Genesis passage that Paul quoted regarding the justification of Abraham. Whereas Paul stressed how his justification was by a system of faith in contrast to a system of meritorious works, James stressed how this system or law of faith required obedience to the commands in that system. In fact, James becomes so specific as to say, "... by works was faith made perfect." (James 2:22). He goes on to show how the absence of the works of obedience would have made the faith of Abraham a dead faith (James 2:26).
    To summarize, Abraham believed and trusted in the Word and promises of God. He was obedient to what the Lord required of him. Because of his belief plus obedience, he was justified. This is what the system or law of faith includes. Abraham's justification was not based on a system where he could be so good as to merit God's favor. He could not earn what he received. All he received was given him, but upon condition that his trust responded in obedience. So teaches Paul and James, and there is absolutely no contradiction, but complete harmony between them on this matter.
    The same idea is conveyed regarding our own justification in Ephesians 2:8,9. Obviously, there are different kinds of works being considered by these two inspired passages. This is evident since one says, in essence, "Abraham was not justified by works," and the other says, "Abraham was justified by works." The first spoke of a system of merit; the other spoke of obedience to the commands required in the system of faith or law.
    What Paul has just said regarding Abraham only verifies the principle of which he now speaks in verse four. If a man could merit what he gets from God, God would owe it to him and it would not be the result of God's unmerited favor or grace. But as verse five makes clear again, the one who is justified is not the one who relies on his meritorious works, but the one who relies on the system or law of faith given by God's grace. Then what he lacks is supplied. Even though lacking in personal righteousness, his faith, being properly placed in Christ and acted upon in obedience, is the means of obtaining what otherwise he could not obtain. One can see most clearly that Paul is giving honor and credit for man's justification to the One to whom it belongs -- God.
    It would seem, therefore, especially to the Jews but also to the Gentiles, that they may as well terminate any arguments they had regarding superiority or inferiority. They both were dependent upon a system similar in principle to the one that had made Abraham acceptable before God.

Verses 6-8

6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

    Another highly respected ancestor of the Jews is called to testify as to the way one is justified before God. This time it is David, and Paul quotes David's words in Psalm 32:1,2. Being justified is called "blessed." The man who is justified is surely blessed. God counts a man righteous, but not by a system of works such as that under which Jews and Gentiles had formerly lived. Justification is by and through a system of faith, the gospel. In that way man's sins are forgiven and thereby covered. Rather than counting sin against man, God counts him righteous. This righteousness is the righteousness described several times in this book; already reality when man aligns himself with the "law of faith" first mentioned in chapter three, verse twenty-seven.
    It is worth adding here that our sins must be covered if we ever expect to see God in all His glory in heaven. The only way our sins can truly be covered is that they be forgiven. Inasmuch as forgiveness takes place in the mind of God, we are dependent on God forgiveness. God will forgive our sins and not count them, not reckon them, not impute them against us if they are forgiven. Forgiveness is available to us by and through the system of faith, grace, blood, law and obedience that God has devised and delivered through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Verses 9-12

9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: 12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

    Is Paul following some pattern in chapters three and four, or is it merely coincidental that he has presented his two main points in the same order in each chapter? It really does not matter. In chapter three he had first extolled the "righteousness of God" separate from law, and then emphasized the universality of the system of faith. In chapter four he has already stressed how justification is by the system of faith, and now he proceeds to emphasize the universality of it by asking if this blessedness previously discussed belongs only to Jews, the circumcision. He notes it belongs to the Gentiles, the uncircumcision, as well.
    The faith of Abraham was the means of obtaining his righteousness, his justification. It was so counted before he was circumcised. He was yet uncircumcised when he was counted righteous by the system of faith which applied to him. Circumcision was the sign or seal, the assurance, of his righteousness that he obtained while yet uncircumcised. It seems God deliberately made Abraham righteous before circumcision so the very arguments then raging between Jew and Gentile would never have to be raised. He made Abraham righteous before commanding Abraham to be circumcised because the whole procedure involving Abraham was a foretaste, a symbol, a type of that which was to come. Abraham is the father of the believer, whether Jew or Gentile (Galatians 3:28,29). He is the father of all those who walk in the same principles of the system of faith as did he. It matters not whether one be a Jew or Gentile. One is a spiritual descendant of Abraham if he has placed his obedient trust in the system of faith given by the grace of God that is based on the merit of the blood of Christ. Abraham placed his trust in a system of obedient faith. This system required belief plus obedience. We cannot state this to often. The system of faith is not "belief only." It is true for us today that the system of faith which applies to us requires belief and obedience.
    One inescapable emphasis is the act of circumcision has no spiritual effect in the plan of salvation now revealed in the gospel. Again we call attention to Galatians 5:6; 6:15 and Acts 15 to document this truth.

Verses 13-17

13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: 15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. 16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might 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, 17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

    This passage must be considered with great caution and remembrance of the context of the book to this point. Otherwise, the message shall be missed.
    The promise refers to a promise that involves the whole world. The promise mentioned here refers to the greatest of the promises given by God to Abraham. God promised Abraham many things, (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18) as one can determine from the study of Genesis, such as being the father of a great nation, his descendants being beyond number, God's watchcare over him by blessing those who blessed him and cursing those who cursed him, and by giving his descendants a land for their own. But the one promise that involved the whole world was the one concerning the seed through whom all the families of the earth shall be blessed. This was a reference to Christ, according to Galatians 3:16. This promise was given to Abraham, not on the basis of any moral law, nor the Mosaic law which had not yet come into existence, but on the basis of one being made righteous by a law or system of faith. The Biblical record shows, of course, that was precisely what happened regarding Abraham. The promise owed no allegiance whatever to the law, Mosaic, moral or otherwise. The promise was made on the basis of the system of faith described in verses one through five. If it were otherwise, then faith is void and not even involved. If faith was not involved, if it was not on that basis of faith, the whole promise is made void. The promise provided a blessing. Therefore, it could not be based on a law of works because a law of works would only produce wrath and punishment, not blessings. If the promise was not based on the law of faith the promise actually is nullified. The law of works produces wrath because man transgresses the law. Transgression is the violation of law; no law -- no transgression! But with law there is transgression. The law of works, a system of works, rather than producing the much needed justification and righteousness, makes the need all the more apparent. Only the grace of God can provide the justification that is needed. The promise of Christ was in essence the promise of salvation for man and justification before God. The law of works could not and did not produce what the promise offered. The promise came by the system of faith. It was a matter of the manifestation of the grace of God. The promise extends to all who place their trust in a system of faith similar to the system of faith by which Abraham was justified and by which he became the father of all who are saved by the gospel.
    Taking a quotation from Gensis 17:5, Paul says Abraham is the father of many nations in the sense that his spiritual children are to be found, not just in one nation like the Jews, but many nations. People of many nations shall be made righteous in Christ. Such had been foretold, as in Isaiah 2:2, "And all nations shall flow unto it." Also, Peter had declared the same thing to be true when he was at the home of Cornelius. Acts 10:34,35, "Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him."
    The last part of verse seventeen is very difficult and comment is made only to a limited extent. Paul had just referred to Abraham as the "father of us all," "all" meaning the saved. He had noted that God had promised him to be the father of many nations and explained "many nations" to mean the saved from whatever nation. God made promises, and in Abraham stands before the Lord as the father of us all. Abraham believed God, and God, who has power to make alive even that which is dead, did just that in making it possible for Abraham to have a descendant, Isaac. "Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead..." (Hebrews 11:12). Isaac was born of Abraham after his normal time of becoming a father and after Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. God was very able to call into being what did not then exist just as by His power He was able to call into being and existence this entire universe. Whatever be the precise meaning in all this, it seems quite sure that it is an exaltation of the power of God with special reference to the manifestation of His power through Abraham and the promises made and kept. This understanding is certainly in keeping with what follows in verses eighteen and nineteen.

Verses 18-22

18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. 19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: 20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

    Even though there seemed to be no reason for hope in such a promise as God gave Abraham at the time it was given, Abraham had faith in the Word of God. Even though his body was "dead" as far as producing children was concerned, he did not consider that a barrier to what God had promised. Even the inability of Sarah to bear children did not cause him to disbelieve the promise of God.
    It must be stated here, in view of the "assistance" Sarah and Abraham tried to offer God through the use of Hagar, that they did not understand how God would fulfill His promises. But Abraham did not doubt that it would take place as God said in spite of every reasonable argument that could be raised against it ever happening. He gave God glory and believed Him and obeyed Him. He was fully persuaded that God would keep His Word and was able to carry it out. He acted on his faith throughout. On this kind of obedient faith his justification was secured. Taking Hagar, Sarah's handmaid, and having a child by her in the name of Sarah, was according to the custom in that land at that time, according to the Nuzi Tablets. But that was not God's way of keeping His promise.

Verses 23-25

23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

    This passage reminds us of Romans 15:1 and First Corinthians 10:11, not that they teach exactly the same things, but informs why some of the writings of the Old Testament have been given to us. The information about Abraham to which Paul referred was not for the benefit of Abraham and for his glory only. It was not just for his sake that God acted the way He did with respect to Abraham. It is an amazing and humbling thought for which we ought be grateful to know that the records about Abraham and how he obtained approval before God are for our benefit. Righteousness was obtained by Abraham by a system of faith. Righteousness is open "for us also." The only difference is that in the system of faith applicable to us (and our faith is in the same God as Abraham served), we acknowledge Christ and how God raised Him from the dead. We depend on Christ for our justification through the system of faith based on Christ. Christ was delivered for the removal of our sins against God. Without Christ and what He did on our behalf there would be no gospel, no system of faith, no offer of grace, no law of faith, no cleansing blood, no justification, no blessedness, no salvation and no eternal life with God. Thus far in this book of Romans all these terms have been used at one time or another to depict and describe what Paul is emphasizing as the results to be gained by and through the system of obedient faith based on the merit of the blood of Christ that is given by the grace of God. This is what God offers to man through His Son and how it is offered. Paul stressed that it is offered to all men alike and on the same terms.
    To summarize, we can already draw the conclusion that salvation from sin for man is obtained by and through a system of God's grace, the blessings being appropriated by an obedient faith, not on works of man's merit, but the entire system based on the merit of the blood of the Son of God. It is a system, then, of grace, faith, law, blood and works of obedience.

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