In Chapter 3, we saw as God concluded his accusation against the world and then brought into the discussion Jesus Christ and salvation outside of the Law. Now in Chapter 4, we examine the role faith played in the Old Testament; Abraham, the man God chose to be the Father of the nation of Israel, is the model God uses. Let's pick up reading in Romans 4:1, NASB :
"What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”(Romans 4:1-3, NASB)
The Lord, through Paul's hand, makes it clear that the righteousness Abraham found was not through works, but by trusting the Lord; verse three removes all doubt of that!!! Then scripture examines the concept of faith versus works more carefully:
"Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:" (Romans 4:1-6 NASB)
Faith is not owed anything by the Lord, just as those who have faith are not owed anything by Him either. God chooses to credit righteousness to those that have faith in Him out of his goodness, His promise that those that trust in him should not be ashamed. It's when we forget God's grace and mercy and presume that He owes us something because we believe, it becomes a work. Mercy is not getting what we deserve, and Grace is getting what we don't deserve; neither involve works on our part, but Jesus' alone.
"“BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.” " (Romans 4:7, NASB)
God then proclaims that forgiveness is a blessing and that whoever is forgiven is blessed by the Lord. When we go before the Lord in prayer to ask forgiveness, we would do well to keep that in mind: God doesn't owe us forgiveness, but gives it because he has promised it:
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9, NASB)
God then makes an interesting point using Abraham:
"Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 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." (Romans 4:9-12, NASB)
Even though Abraham and his house would be circumcised, The Lord points out here that he was uncircumcised when God credited his faith as righteousness to him. The circumcision was indeed a seal of the covenant, but it was also a seal of Abraham's faith as well. To the uncircumcised as well as circumcised, he would be a "father" and thus the circumcision was symbolic of how the heart was also to be "circumcised". In short: physical circumcision is not necessary for salvation, which opens the doors to the Gentiles; God effectively cuts off the legalists who would insist upon it, and removes works in total from the mix. Abraham's faith in God was all that was needed then, as is the believer's faith in Jesus Christ (who is God) today.
"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. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation." (Romans 4:13-15, NASB)
The Lord further explains that it was not under the Law that the promise was made to Abraham and his heirs but by their faith. In fact, all the Law can do is accuse and bring wrath and punishment, not promise. Where God says "those of the Law", he does NOT mean those that follow the Law, but those that made the Law their "god" (such as the Scribes and Pharisees, who were more concerned with rules than faith) and paraded their "holiness" around as a work that they thought "saved" them. Jesus punctured that illusion when he said:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:27-28, NASB, emphasis mine)
Since no one is righteous on this planet (God said so in Romans Chapters 2 and 3), any who rely on their own righteousness to save them are still under the Law, and remain guilty. Self-righteousness is comparable to the whitewashed tomb: just as beautiful outside, and just as rank and foul within.
"For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed 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, (as it is written, “A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.”" (Romans 4:16-18, NASB)
Abraham became the model and forerunner not only of the Hebrew race, but for all that trust the Lord, Jew and Gentile alike. As their "father", his faith demonstrated that the Lord does not regard lineage, wealth, power, or any earthly circumstance or position. Abraham trusted the Lord, and though he didn't see all that God promised him in his lifetime, yet he held to his faith in the Lord:
"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; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." (Romans 4:19-22, NASB)
We see here the core of Abraham's faith: even though he knew his circumstances and how formidable they seemed, he still trusted God and didn't doubt Him. Unlike Peter, whom generations later would look at the storm and sink when he tried to walk on the water to meet Jesus, Abraham didn't focus on his circumstances, but instead kept his mind and "gaze" upon the Lord. It isn't that we should be ignorant what happens around us in our lives, but our focus is not to be upon our situation; it is to be upon Christ alone.
Because of his trust, God credited him with the righteousness that would be purchased by Christ's death on the Cross.
" Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification." (Romans 4:23-25, NASB)
God ends this chapter by telling us why he told us this: it was not only written for a testimonial to Abraham's faith, but so we could have an example and know that when we have the same kind of repentant faith that trusts in God alone and nothing else, then we too will be credited with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Jesus was sacrificed for our sin, and raised as a symbol that his sacrifice was accepted and those who have trusted in Him are no longer guilty.
In chapter 5, we'll examine Justification and what happens once someone trusts God and is justified by faith.
Until then, I bid you peace.