Romans 4


The Righteousness Of Abraham

“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.” Romans 4:1-8

How was Abraham ‘saved’, i. e. declared righteous? Not by works. Romans 4:1-8 (v.2). Not by ceremonies (circumcision). Romans 4:9-12 (v.10). Not by law-keeping. Romans 4:13-25. (v.13)

The word ‘Hebrews’ relates to the origin of the race, Abraham. The word ‘Hebrew’ means ‘a crossing over’. Abraham crossed from Mesopotamia to Jordan, Genesis 11:31.

The word ‘Israelites’ comes from Jacob whose name was changed to Israel, Genesis 32:28.

God’s people were first called ‘Jews’ after their captivity, Ezra 4:23.

Moses was the father of their religion whilst Abraham was the father of their race, Genesis 14:13 / Genesis 15:7. 

Abram the Hebrew, the man who crossed over the Euphrates River.

Genesis 15:14-16 lists the sins of the Amorites, Ezekiel 16:3 / Ezekiel 16:45. Father was an Amorite which refers to Abraham and mother was a Hittite refers to Sarah. Abraham wasn’t a Jew, he was an Amorite. Paul wants to prove what righteousness means. God’s righteousness is higher and never changes. The righteousness of God means God is the standard of righteousness.

And so Paul gives the example of Abraham. He is answering the Jew who would be thinking that Abraham earned his justification. Paul showed in Romans 3 that law by itself will not justify. The only way law would justify is when one keeps it perfectly.

The same is true of works. Works (works alone) justify only when one does all of the works perfectly and commits no sin. Of course, no one measures up to this and is thus in need of a Saviour.

‘According to the flesh’, the arrangement of the phrases in the original Greek is, ‘Abraham our father by flesh.’ Paul is simply asking, ‘What has Abraham our father according to the flesh found regarding justification?’

‘By works’ the only way for one to be justified by works (apart from faith) is by working perfectly.

‘Has something to boast about’ means he could boast because he obtained it himself, and not by God’s grace. Paul has already shown that under the system of faith, every reason for human boasting is excluded, Romans 3:27.

‘But not before God’ means under the system of faith, all glory belongs to God, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’ is a reference to Genesis 15:6. See also Galatians 3:6 / James 2:23.

How was Abraham justified ‘without works’ according to Paul, and ‘by works’ according to James? The works that Paul speaks of are works that ‘make faith void’, in other words, ‘works alone without faith.’ Paul is showing that works alone will not justify, and James is showing that faith alone will not justify. Paul included walking in the steps of faith that Abraham had.

Romans 4:4 tells us the only way for one to be justified by works alone is by doing works perfectly. If he did works perfectly, justification would be owed to him as a debt. ‘Does not work’ means ‘to him who does not work perfectly.’ Man cannot be righteous (justified) by law or works alone.

‘His faith is credited’ shows the blessing of being justified by faith. One is saved although his works are not perfect. Paul is simply revealing ‘justification by faith’ as opposed to ‘justifications by works’ or ‘justification by law.’

‘David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works’. Faith is the thing counted, justification is the end for which it is counted.

‘Apart from works’ means apart from or without perfect works. Under the Gospel system, we can be justified even though we have sinned.

What could David have done to make up for his adultery and murder? Micah 6:7-8. He was truly blessed when he was forgiven.

Romans 4:7-8 are a quote from Psalm 32:1-2. The person to whom God counts justification without works is the person whose iniquities are forgiven.

Forgiveness does not result from human works, but from grace. He is forgiven even though his works are not perfect. Hence, to count justification without deeds is to forgive without perfect obedience.

‘Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them’ means God counts sin to the sinner so long as he is a sinner, but when forgiven, they are not counted, the forgiven sinner is righteous. Our justification is not by our own righteousness (works), but by the death of Christ.

His death counts for our death, and we are righteous because of what He did for us, and not because of what we have done for ourselves. This is how God imputes righteousness to the sinner. In other words, God places the sinner in right standing with Him through means of the sacrificial death of Christ, Philippians 3:7-9. God sees us as righteous. God says your right, right in all aspects, speaking and doing.

Believing puts you in the right place where God can save you, John 1:11-12. When you believe you have the right to take the step to become a child of God. Righteous of God through faith.

“I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:14-17

1. I’m a debtor to Jew and Gentiles.

2. Not ashamed of the Gospel.

3. I’m ready. Righteousness means rightness, being right with God. The righteousness of Christ means clothed with Christ.

Summary of Romans 4:1-8

Righteousness is not given on the basis of works (works alone, meritorious works), but on the basis of faith, a faith that takes God at His Word and follows it as did Abraham. If one can earn his salvation by works, he would have no need for Christ.

This does not mean that we have no obligation in our salvation (before becoming a Christian or after). The death of Christ substitutes for the sinner’s death only when the sinner accepts and obeys Him as Lord, Romans 6:16-18 / Hebrews 5:8-9.

While salvation cannot be on the basis of a debt paid for perfect service rendered, this in no way changes the fact that gospel obedience is mandatory in God’s scheme of redemption. Works of obedience (our duty as commanded by God) are therefore not under consideration here.

It is the works apart from faith (works of merit, works alone) that are excluded. Justification (salvation) is always viewed in the Bible as a matter of favour, never a matter of debt, Luke 17:10. We need to do our best, and then cast ourselves on the mercy and grace of God.

“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 circumcision as a sign, 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 then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” Romans 4:9-12

How was Abraham ‘saved’, i. e. declared righteous? Not by works. Romans 4:1-8 (v.2). Not by ceremonies (circumcision). Romans 4:9-12 (v.10). Not by law-keeping. Romans 4:13-25. (v.13)

Why was Abraham righteous?

Because he was circumcised? No. When did he become righteous? Genesis 15, Abraham didn’t become righteous until God made the covenant with him.

Abraham wasn’t righteous because of the law because that came later. Abraham was righteous on the basis of faith not by works, Hebrews 11:19.

Abraham believed Isaac would be raised from the dead and so he was the first person to believe in the resurrection. Genesis 13. Lot and Abraham went their separate ways, Lot choose badly whilst Abraham let God choose.

In Romans 4:9-12, Paul now shows that this blessedness (justification by faith) is not confined to the Jews only.

‘For we have been saying that faith.’ This is the same as Romans 4:3. At what period in Abraham’s life was it accounted to him? Genesis 12:4 tells us that he was 75 years old when he was called. Sometime thereafter, the statement was made. Genesis 15:6 tells us it was before Ishmael was born. And Genesis 17:24 tells us that he was 99 years old when he was circumcised. Ishmael was 13 years old at that time. Genesis 17:25.

Account of the call of Abraham in Genesis 15:6 “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Note that his call came 13 years before his circumcision, Genesis 17:24.

Circumcision was not that which brought justification but was only a seal or sign of it.

‘That he might be the father of all those who believe’ as we know this was a special honour. He was the first to be justified this way. ‘Though they are uncircumcised’ referring to the Gentiles.

‘Righteousness might be credited to them’ means if Abraham was counted righteous by his faith before circumcision (before it was commanded), Gentiles could also (it was never commanded of them).

Abraham is the father, not to those who are merely circumcised, but to those who also walk in the steps of his faith. His fatherhood extends beyond the circumcision to all who imitate his faith.

“It was not through the 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 depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.” Romans 4:13-15

How was Abraham ‘saved’, i. e. declared righteous? Not by works. Romans 4:1-8 (v.2). Not by ceremonies (circumcision). Romans 4:9-12 (v.10). Not by law-keeping. Romans 4:13-25. (v.13)

The promise to Abraham was righteousness through faith, independent of the Law. ‘Heir of the world’ has reference to the spiritual part of the promise, Genesis 12:3 / Genesis 18:18 / Genesis 22:18.

Abraham and his seed were to become heirs of the world through Christ. The spiritual blessing that they were to inherit was in and through Christ. ‘His offspring’ refers to Abraham’s offspring, descendants.

‘Depend on the law’ the article ‘the’ is not before ‘law’ here, but it is in Romans 4:15. The promise was not made because or in consideration of law, but consideration of justification by faith.

Again in Romans 4:14 the article ‘the’ is not before ‘law’. The Jews are under consideration in context. However, the same applies to any law. If law, any law, makes people heirs, there is no purpose for faith in Christ. ‘Faith means nothing and the promise is worthless’ means there would be no value if the blessings were already received.

The promise was made before the law was given. The law was added because of transgressions until the promised seed should come. The law was not the promise, nor was it part of the fulfilment, Galatians 3:17-19.

In Romans 4:15 the article ‘the’ is before ‘law’ here. And so, it refers to the Law of Moses. In Exodus 19 we see the prophet’s ministry began at Sinai with Moses. The people wanted Moses to speak to them, not God. The people didn’t keep the law, the law exposed sin and the law defined sin but the law couldn’t offer forgiveness, that’s why there is a new covenant, Matthew 26:27-28.

Jesus says this cup, new convent, the forgiveness of sins. Notice what it says, for the remission of sins not because of the remission of sins.

The law works wrath both from God and within man. It works wrath from God because man violates it. It works wrath within man because it condemns rather than saves him. Once the law is violated, it knows nothing but the penalty.

In Romans 7:9-23, the great ‘I’ passage, Paul describes his condition as a sinner under law and shows how the law works wrath and brings condemnation.

‘Where there is no law there is no transgression.’ In context, Abraham could not have been judged for not keeping the Law of Moses because it had not yet been given. The argument seems to be, that where there is no law, there is no transgression, and where there is no transgression there is no wrath (no condemnation for violating the law).

The converse would also be true, where there is law there is transgression, and where there is transgression there is wrath or condemnation. And so he is pointing man to a better system, the system of justification by faith in Christ.

“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 have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.” Romans 4:16-17

How was Abraham ‘saved’, i. e. declared righteous? Not by works. Romans 4:1-8 (v.2). Not by ceremonies (circumcision). Romans 4:9-12 (v.10). Not by law-keeping. Romans 4:13-25. (v.13)

Abraham was saved by faith. When it is ‘by faith,’ grace is necessarily brought into play. If the inheritance depended merely on law, none could obtain it since none obey it perfectly. When it is by faith, it makes it a matter of grace, not of debt.

‘Offspring’ means spiritual seed. ‘The law’, the article is before law. The phrase refers to the Jews. ‘But also to those’ means both Jews and Gentiles are included. It includes all of us who have faith like Abraham.

Abraham was the first to be justified by faith and so he is our father in that sense. The faith of Abraham is the faith that is counted for righteousness. It is the faith that takes God at His Word and follows His instructions.

Paul is here referring particularly to believers, but Abraham was the father of many nations both physically and spiritually. ‘Who gives life to the dead’ we will look at what that means when we get to verse 19. Abraham knew that God could do anything.

‘And calls…’ means God spoke it as though it were already done. He spoke of those nations as existing, because He intended to bring them into existence.

“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.” 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. 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. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 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.” Romans 4:18-25

‘Against all hope’ means against adverse circumstances, against reason. The physical evidence was against hope.

‘Hope believed’ means Abraham believed in the hope of promise. He believe in God when the promise (Abraham’s hope) seemed impossible.

‘Just as it had been said to him’ means it rested on what God had said.

‘Your offspring be’, be what? They would be as numberless as the stars of heaven, Genesis 15:5.

‘Without weakening in his faith’ means his confidence in God’s fulfilling His promises was stronger than his view of any difficulties standing in the way.

‘His body was as good as dead’, and the fact that he was at this advanced age didn’t weaken his faith. Some who are getting old are wise enough to see that they are getting old, some are not, Hosea 7:9.

‘Sarah’s womb was also dead’, she had no child all her life and was now past the age of childbearing. Abraham did not let adverse things affect his faith. He believed God even when it seemed against reason and nature.

God had spoken it, and that was enough for him. It was this kind of strong, unwavering, active faith that was accounted for righteousness. So it will be with us.

‘Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God’ means unbelief did not create staggering doubt. He did not decide against God’s promise through unbelief.

‘Gave glory to God’ means he honoured God as one worthy to be believed and trusted, even when it seemed contrary to reason and nature. He believed God rather than his own human reasoning and judgment, and in so doing, glorified God.

He had faith that God had the absolute power to carry out His promises. He did not doubt that God would accomplish what He had promised.

‘It was credited to him as righteousness,’ this was said about Abraham’s faith on three occasions.

1. Genesis 15:1-6. As quoted in Romans 4:3.

2. Here, at the age of about 100. Romans 4:19-22.

3. At the offering of Isaac. James 2:23.

And so his life was a life of faith from beginning to end.

‘Not written’ means it was not written to just show how Abraham benefitted. It was actually written many years after he had died.

‘But also for us’ shows the importance of studying the Old Testament, so that we, too, might be benefitted.

We want our faith to be imputed for righteousness just as it was for Abraham. To believe on God who raised up Christ from the dead is to believe that Christ was raised from the dead.

‘He was delivered over to death’ means He was delivered up only because God allowed and wanted it, Romans 8:32.

He was delivered up;

1. Because of our sins, and

2. As an offering for our sins. Christ, by His death, paid the sin debt in full, and thus made it possible for us to be justified.

‘Raised to life for our justification’ means Christ arose to consummate this offering and so, the resurrection is an important part of the atonement, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 / 1 Peter 3:21.

Summary of Romans 1-4

Paul has shown that the Gospel is God’s power to save, Romans 1:16-17, all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, Romans 3:9 / Romans 3:23. It is impossible to be justified by law (meaning law apart from Christ, Romans 3:20). It is impossible to be saved by works (meaning works alone apart from Christ, Romans 4:2-8).

Abraham’s faith was accounted to him for righteousness, Romans 4:3 / Romans 4:20-22. What the Scriptures said about Abraham was not said for him alone.

We, too, can be justified by faith, Romans 4:23-25. It is truly sad that many pass up these blessings from God and continue to ‘enjoy’ their sinful life.

Paul basically asks why can’t the Gentiles be saved the same way? Not by law-keeping, not by works, not by circumcision but by faith.

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