Romans 4:1-15
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Paul, having established that we are all sinners, each one of us, and that righteousness that comes by way of works will never come. Having just made known to us in Chapter 3 that we have a way to be righteous before God and it has nothing to do with our works but has everything to do with Christ's works and our receiving them by faith. Now points out to everyone but specifically the Jews that this is how it's always been. Using two of the arguably most prominent men in the old testament Paul reveals from the old testament that God's plan then is the same as it is now as both Abraham and David will testify of righteousness apart from works. That righteousness comes by grace and is received through faith and is not on the basis of works.


What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? - Romans 4:1


The fact that Paul uses Abraham as an illustration would most definitely strike a chord with the Jews. Abraham was who they identified with. "Our forefather according to the flesh," Similar to how Christians identify with Christ the Jews identified with Abraham (John 8:39, Matt. 3:9). What's interesting to us Gentiles here is that Paul is about to point out that the old testament and the new testament preach the same message. Righteousness comes by grace on the basis of faith.


For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. - Romans 4:2


In other words, if Abraham played a part in his own salvation he would have some measure to boast (brag) about. Some have viewed salvation as a handshake deal where God agrees to do one part if we agree to do another but again, this would given us reason to glory along side God. "but not before God." He wouldn't be glorifying in God He would be glorifying in his own works as to put himself a contender with God. While Abraham may have been able to boast before men as to somehow fool them or contend with them, before God who sees all he would not have a leg to stand on. Plus, to boast or to brag before God is ridiculous. That's like lighting a candle and placing it next to the blazing sun and saying "look at that candle shine!".


For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” - Romans 4:3


"For what does Scripture say?" Paul jumps straight into scripture and here he's drawing his fellow Jews and gentiles to the authority of scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17, 2 Pet. 1:20-21). In other words it's as if he's saying "don't just take my word for it, you hold to scripture, look at what they say!" "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." This is perhaps one of the most profound statements of righteousness based on faith from the old testament. This is quoted from Genesis 15:6. Turn to it. Notice that's only 15 chapters into the first book of the old testament. Why is that important? Because the law hadn't even been implemented yet and yet Abraham was right before God! What did Abraham find? The same thing that Paul just led us into thus far in Romans. That that is the favor of God, that is righteousness, is credited to a person on the basis of them having faith. If anyone ever wants to know the formula to obtain righteousness, there it is, straight from Genesis 15:6.


Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. - Genesis 15:6


Read before it, read after it. Righteousness was gifted to Abraham and it came only by way of gift. Why was it gifted? Because "he believed in the Lord". This gift was prior to the law and even if the law had been there is no rule Abraham followed, there is no service he rendered, nor a ritual performed. Yet God, apart from any work, credited to him righteousness! We see the same exact gift offered in the same exact way in the new testament.


12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. - John 1:12-13


Notice the formula hasn't changed. God gifts the right to become children of God on what basis? "To those who believe in His name".


Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. - Romans 4:4


A gift earned is no longer a gift but becomes a wage. Paul is making it clear from the old testament that the righteousness credited to Abraham (and to us) is a gift. If it had come then or now on the basis of works than we and the bible would have been in error calling it a gift. It would not say it was credited to Abraham but rather it was owed to Abraham. Notice in John how great of a gift we are receiving, "to become children of God!" Such a gift is far to lofty to be earned by us, as proven in Romans Ch. 1-3 we've all fallen short (Rom. 3:23). On the contrary, we should be leery to demand what is owed us.


23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23


A gift, in order to be a gift, has to be free. Any time a gift is earned it is no longer a gift but is payment. Notice the gift being given here in Romans 6:23, "eternal life!" and the cost? Well, as all true gifts are, it's "free". So what's our role with this gift then? What do we do? What's our part?


But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, - Romans 4:5


Remember what we read in John 1:12? "But as many as received Him". So what's our part? To receive the gift. How do we receive it? By believing "in Him who justifies the ungodly" if even in His name (John 1:12). It's not complicated. Jesus died for your sins, believe it. That's it! It's very simple yet very profound and because it's an out of this world gift that comes by way of faith it causes many to stumble (1 Cor 1:18-2:2). In preaching the simplicity of what Paul is stating here has brought me rebukes in the past. To preach faith is to invite people to accept the cop-out from their responsibilities. This rebuke is nothing new however. It's the same rebuke Jesus received from Peter when the Lord knelt to wash Peter's feet (John 13:8).


Question: Does this mean I have a free ride, a free ticket, it doesn't matter what I do as long as I believe in Jesus Christ?


Answer: Yes. This is why we call it the Gospel which is Greek for "good news". Because it really is good news! And it is beautiful in the eyes of the beholder (Isa. 52:7, Rom. 10:15). As long as you believe in Jesus Christ your belief will be manifested by your works (James 2:14-26) but it is not required of you nor should it be a focus. Focus on Christ, abide in Christ, and the fruit will bear itself naturally (John 15:5, 2 Cor. 5:17, Luke 10:39,42).


just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: - Romans 4:6


David. David is the other in whom the Jews identified with. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit does not miss a beat. Paul is taking two foundational people esteemed by the Jews and pointing out by the authority of scripture, that these two testified of the same gospel. David is a great example of that. His sins compounded from adultery (2 Sam. 11:4) to murder (2 Sam. 11:24). In lieu of that according to Psalm 51 David pleaded with God:


Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge. - Psalm 51:1-4


What's interesting is if you skip down near the bottom of this Psalm David reveals his understanding that God is not looking for works to atone. This not only gives more old testament validity that righteousness is not by works but it gives evidence of David's faith in the goodness of God.


16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. - Psalm 51:16-17


David understood that it was not works or rituals that would please God nor would it atone for his inequity but rather it would be done solely by God's grace according to His lovingkindness through the greatness of His compassion (Psa. 51:1).


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 4:7-8


If works were in play than forgiveness could not be given nor could sins be covered because a laborer is worthy of their wages (Luke 10:7, 1 Tim. 5:18) even if those wages are death (Rom. 6:23). If we are going on the basis of works, that is, what's due us, than what's due us is for the Lord to take our works into account both the good deeds and the sins we've committed and impute them to us. If the law had it's way this would be the case and we'd be found guilty. We often view God like we would Santa Claus. Do good, get rewarded, do bad, get put on the naughty list. But as David is pointing out here in Psalms 32:1-2 there is a blessing that's imputed by God apart from the works. God's not making a naughty list! (1 Cor. 13:5, Psa. 32:2). On the contrary, to those that receive Jesus He credits them with righteousness! (2 Cor. 5:21). A blessing that dumbfounds workers of the law (Luke 15:29). The very same blessing Abraham received!


Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” - Romans 4:9


Paul is asking who the blessing is for that David mentioned? Having established it's a gift "credited" and not a wage "due" Paul is now asking who this gift is given to? He is saying is it only offered to those who are circumcised (i.e. Jews, see Romans 3:1-8) or is it available to the uncircumcised (everyone else) also? Once again he says "look for yourself".


10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; - Romans 4:10


It was credited to Abraham before he was circumcised. What Paul pointing out here is God credited Abraham with righteousness before even the first commandment of circumcision was given to him a couple chapters/years later. This means that righteousness was given to Abraham apart from works because works requirements didn't even exist yet and wouldn't for another 430 years (Gal. 3:17). For Christians this is "cool" to us. For the Jews who were so entrenched works based salvation this would either blow their minds (if they were open to reason) or would frustrate them to no end as it would challenge the very theology they were clinging too.


11 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, 12 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. 13 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. - Romans 4:11-13


Like we discussed previously circumcision was to be a sign representing the seal of righteousness that came on the basis of faith. Not the other way around. The Jews took circumcision to be the seal of righteousness but rather it was a symbol that was to represent the true seal which was righteousness of the faith. Once this fact is accepted it can also be accepted that the pre-circumcision promise made to Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars (Gen. 15:5) would be to all those who followed in like fashion. Not on the basis of works (circumcision) but on the basis of faith.


14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; - Romans 4:14


Question: Why does righteousness by way of the law make righteousness by way of faith void and thereby nullify the promise?


Answer: First look at what Paul is talking about here. Heirs. Heir is someone who inherits something, in this case, inherits the Kingdom of God as His beloved children! Paul is saying here that if we are an heir by the works of the law then faith is of no effect and the promises of God that were made on the basis of faith are rendered ineffectual. Faith in the promise cannot and does not work alongside works of the law. It's one or the other. If God has decreed that we get to heaven by accomplishing the works of the law than it cannot also be on the basis of faith. If you're trying to attain the righteousness of God via works than God cannot credit it to you on the basis of faith as seeking to be justified by the works of the law eliminates trust. This is elaborated on in Galatians 5:4 and Romans 9:30-32. If people can earn salvation than it can no longer be gifted (grace through faith) but it becomes what is due. This nullifies the holy promise of God and converts it to a business deal. If it's a business deal than the law had better lawyers and we'll be found lacking.


15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. - Romans 4:15


If you are seeking to be found righteous by the works of the law than know that this will only bring you wrath because you've failed (Rom. 3:23, 6:23). The law measures our merits and always finds us inadequate. The law is exacting and relentlessly demanding. It does not waiver in it's demands nor does it falter in it's judgement. It is not merciful and it misses nothing. Such regulations are not compatible with forgiveness. You cannot take a violator of the law and grant him the same benefits of a non-violator of the law if indeed the benefit comes by way of the law. The law would not allow it. The law demands we be held accountable for our sins, grace says God does not take in account our sins. Why? Because that's who He is! (1 John 4:8, 1 Cor. 13:5). If righteousness came by way of the law than Christ died needlessly, (Gal. 2:21) faith is without effect and the promise of God to Abraham and his descendants means nothing.


"Where there is no law, there also is no violation." In other words if there isn't a rule that says don't run a red light, then it would be impossible for us to break the law by running red lights. Policemen could watch us run red lights all day long and it wouldn't matter because there is no law. Without law, law enforcement is powerless and useless.


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