Let us review once again the details surrounding God's response of grace. God's initial expression of grace was the creation itself and the placing of man at the head of it. Man, by his disobedience of God's command, rejected this gift and, as a result, experienced a headlong fall from grace that was and continues to be manifested in a cycle of spiritual and moral degeneration. Paul explains in Romans that God responded to this rejection of grace by man with a second offer of grace which he outlines in Romans 3:21-6:23.
In these verses he explains that with this second offer of grace:
- God pays man's moral debt through the death of Jesus (Romans 3:21-25a).
- God offers guilty man forgiveness and regeneration based on faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25b-26).
- God proclaims that salvation is accomplished through a system based on faith in an individual and not one of compliance to a standard (Romans 3:21-26).
Once Paul shows how and why God saves us, he then answers questions that might arise as a result of this teaching. For example, questions involving the role of the Law: "If we are saved on the basis of faith in an individual and not compliance to the rules, what purpose does the Law have, or has it been abolished altogether?" Paul replies that the Law's role is to reveal sin (Romans 3:20) and, as such, will always be necessary in service to the gospel. The gospel does not remove the Law, it reveals its proper purpose and legitimacy (Romans 3:31).
Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.
- Romans 3:31
The next question would naturally come from the Jews. They would ask, "Well, what about Abraham? Did not his compliance to God's will establish his righteousness, and is not this state of salvation reserved only for Jews anyways?" The next section of Paul's epistle deals with this subject.
Abraham and Righteousness — Romans 4:1-25
1What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
Paul states here that Abraham's righteousness (innocence/acceptability) before God was based on faith. This is what Abraham learned through his experience with God (remember the definition of faith we are working with: believing as true what God has said despite indications to the contrary, and acting upon that belief).
4Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
And whose sins have been covered.
8"Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account."
Paul argues that for the one who earns righteousness by compliance to rules, his innocence is not bestowed as a gift but is his wage based on his success at compliance. He is not saying that it is possible to actually do this, only that if it were possible, God would owe it to that person to judge him as innocent, this would only be fair. However, for the person who is declared innocent because he believes God's promise, this is a favor from God not a wage, a favor given because of faith. Paul then refers to a familiar figure and story in Jewish history to make his point.
He quotes the psalmist David, as David echoes the words of a grateful man who has been forgiven on account of faith. In his affair with Bathsheba (II Samuel 11:1-12:25), David was guilty of adultery, premeditated murder in having her husband, Uriah, killed in order to take her as his own wife, and deception in lying to the nation concerning these despicable actions. According to the Law, David should have been removed as king and executed.
However, Nathan, the prophet sent by God to confront David about his sins, said, "You are forgiven" after the repentant king acknowledged his wrong doing (II Samuel 12:1-14). Because he believed the words of the prophet, David was forgiven and allowed to carry on with his life, fully righteous again before God. To be sure, David paid a heavy price for his sins (the child he and Bathsheba conceived died, and there would be continued strife in his family until he himself died), but David was renewed as a righteous man before God. His soul was safe from destruction despite his terrible sins because he chose to believe that God forgave him, and not because he made restitution of some kind for the adultery, murder and lies that he committed (the restitution/payment for his moral debt was paid by Jesus on the cross).
9Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, "Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness."
Now Paul deals with the question, "To whom was this blessing meant for? To Abraham and all his descendants only or to all men?" The Jews read the Word and thought that it was only for Abraham's descendants.
10How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised;
Paul answers this with a question, "When was righteousness offered, when Abraham was circumcised or not?" The answer, of course, is that he was considered righteous at a time when he had not yet been circumcised. The sign (circumcision) that bound all Jews together was given after God declared that Abraham was righteous because of his faith. The unmistakable conclusion from a Jewish perspective was that righteousness by faith was originally offered to a Gentile.
11and 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, 12and 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.
Here, Paul gives a reason for this. Abraham was declared righteous through faith while uncircumcised so that all Gentiles thereafter might identify with him as uncircumcised people who, like Abraham, responded with faith, in order to become righteous. These are his spiritual descendants because they, like Abraham, became righteous through faith.
In the same way, his biological descendants (the Jewish people) became his spiritual descendants, not by being circumcised (this was the sign that they were part of God's chosen people), but by emulating his faith. His true descendants were not those tied to him biologically (Jewish culture) or religiously (circumcision), but those who were made righteous by faith as he was (the advantage of being culturally and religiously related to Abraham was that the revelation concerning righteousness through faith would be revealed to them first through Jesus before it would be revealed to the Gentiles).
13For 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. 14For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.16For 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, 17(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.
Paul reiterates that salvation is obtained for everyone through a system of faith, and all who try to secure it by compliance to rules will fail. Salvation is a promise made to those who believe, and trying to earn it through compliance changes it from a promise to a salary.
"Where there is no law, there is no violation." This means that when one is obtaining salvation without reference to the Law (as one does when obtaining it though faith), that person does not violate the Law by doing so. In other words, the Gentiles who believe do not desecrate the Law by doing so. This system of salvation by faith makes it fair for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.
18In 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." 19Without 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; 20yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. 22Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness.
In this passage Paul reviews the history and context of Abraham's faith. Remember, faith is believing God's Word/promise as true, despite the evidence to the contrary, and acting upon it.
God never gave Abraham a Law, rituals, specific rules of conduct or a moral code. God made him a promise that he would be blessed with a son and that eventually his descendants would grow into a great nation and have their own land. God asked Abraham to believe that He would do this for him. Paul says that Abraham believed God's promise would be fulfilled despite the evidence to the contrary (e.g. Abraham was a nomad in a foreign land and did not own any property; he and his wife grew old and beyond child bearing age without having a natural son). Abraham continued to believe that God would accomplish these things for him, and because he continued to believe despite the evidence to the contrary, God declared him to be innocent/righteous (despite his many failures).
23Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
Paul now brings the matter into the present tense. Abraham is a model for faith, the type of faith that believes God and His promises as well as the reward that these promises bring. Today, Paul says the substance of what we are to believe is different than what Abraham was called on to believe. God's promises to us are not of children or land or descendants. His promises are for forgiveness, bodily resurrection from the dead and eternal life. However, the nature of our response to His promises is the same as it was for Abraham. We are called upon to believe that Jesus' death pays for our sins; believe that God forgives us, declares us righteous and innocent, and will resurrect us from the dead when Jesus returns. Believing God, and believing that what He promises will actually be given to us, this is what makes us righteous.
Summary — Take the Faith Test — Answer Yes or No
- Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and, after dying on a Roman cross and being buried for three days, resurrected from the dead? Do you believe this even though you did not see any of it with your own eyes?
- Do you believe that Jesus, by His sacrifice on the cross, makes restitution to God for all of your sins?
- Do you believe that you are innocent, righteous, acceptable and ready to go to heaven right this moment if God called you now?
- Do you believe that, despite the wrinkles, arthritis, soreness, disease and sure death that you face, God will resurrect you one day to be consciously with Him forever in heaven?
- Have you acted upon your belief by expressing your faith in repentance, baptism (immersion in water) and faithfulness to Him?
If you have answered yes to these five questions, I am happy to say that you have the faith of Abraham and are one of his true spiritual descendants. Your faith has made you righteous in God's eyes just as Abraham's faith did this for him.