ABRAHAM AND DAVID DEMONSTRATE RIGHTEOUSNESS APART FROM WORKS
Abraham is declared righteous through faith.
Paul now addresses the question raised in Romans 3:31. “Does the idea of justification through faith, apart from the works of the law, make what God did in the Old Testament irrelevant?” To answer this question Paul turns to Abraham, the most respected Jew of Paul’s day.
Paul points out that if Abraham was justified by his works, then he would have something to boast about. Boasting of our accomplishments is nothing before God and has the tendency to come before God. God must be first in life above all else because God is the giver of life and for all He is the life. Boasting before God is nothing to our credit because even if our works could justify us we would still fall short of God’s glory. What man could keep the whole law of God? If we break one law, then we have broken God’s law and therefore fall short of God’s glory. Only one man, Jesus, have completely submitted to God’s Law. Abraham was called the ‘friend of God’ (Isaiah 41:8). He was a righteous man (Isaiah 51:1-2). He might have been able to boast to other people. But he could not boast to God his Creator
The scripture does not teach that Abraham was righteous by his works. It is clearly written in Genesis 15:6, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith. In Paul’s day the Jewish teachers believed that Abraham was justified by his works, by keeping the law. Ancient passages from the rabbis says: “We find that Abraham our father had performed the whole Law before it was given” and “Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord.” For Abraham to have done that he would have to have kept it by intuition or anticipation. Paul does not state that Abraham was made righteous but that God accounted him as righteous. Our justification is not God making us perfectly righteous, but counting us as perfectly righteous. Once God counts us as righteous then He begins to make us righteous and it culminates in our resurrection. “Counted” is logizomai. It was used in early secular documents; ‘put down to one’s account, let my revenues be placed on deposit at the storehouse; I now give orders generally with regard to all payments actually made or credited to the government.’ Thus, God put to Abraham’s account, placed on deposit for him, credited to him, righteousness . . . Abraham possessed righteousness in the same manner as a person would possess a sum of money placed in his account in a bank.” (Wuest) “Moses [in Genesis] does not, indeed, tell us what men thought of him [Abraham], but how he was accounted before the tribunal of God.” (Calvin) Righteousness is not just the absence of evil and guilt it is a positive good. This means that God does not only declare us innocent but also righteous.
A distinction made between grace and works.
The principle of grace is opposite to the principle of works. Grace deals with the free gift of God and works has to do with earning our merit before God. Wuest on charis, the ancient Greek word translated grace: “Signified in classical authors a favor done out of the spontaneous generosity of the heart without any expectation or return. Of course, this favor was always done to one’s friend, never to an enemy . . . But when charis comes into the New Testament, it takes an infinite leap forward, for the favor God did at Calvary was for those who hated Him.”
If one was to base his righteousness on works then the feeling would be that God is in debt to that person. The outcome of which is that God then would owe that person a favor for their good behavior. This works thinking creates the assumption that God owes us our salvation or blessing because of our good works. This does not mean that we are to be slothful in our service towards God. “The antithesis is not simply between the worker and the non-worker but between the worker and person who does not work but believes.” (Murray)
We cannot approach God on the principle of works, as our works could never meet God’s standard. Righteousness is given to the one who believes upon Him who justifies the ungodly. It may cause us pause that God justifies the ungodly, as we would think that He would only justify the godly. Jesus’ work on the cross makes it possible for God to justify the ungodly. This does not mean that God is pleased with the ungodly and no one is justified because of their ungodliness, but are justified despite their ungodliness. Morris quoting Denney: “The paradoxical phrase, Him that justifies the ungodly, does not suggest that justification is a fiction, whether legal or of any other sort, but that it is a miracle.”
Abraham’s faith was accounted to him as righteous, but this was not a special arrangement just for him. We can enter into this relationship with God also. When comparing the Old and the New Testament we must understand that there are no two ways of salvation. One in the Old Testament is being saved by works and the other in the New Testament is being saved by grace through faith. In both covenants, Old or New, whoever has been saved is saved by grace through faith, through their trusting relationship of love with God.
David and the blessedness of justification through faith.
King David of the Old Testament knew what it was like to be a guilty sinner. King David knew sins seriousness and knew the goodness of being forgiven. King David also knew how blessed he was to serve a God that imputes righteousness apart from works. If King David was judged on his works alone, then God would have to condemn him. “No sinner, and try he ever so hard, can possibly carry his own sins away and come back cleansed of guilt. No amount of money, no science, no inventive skill, no armies of millions, nor any other earthly power can carry away from the sinner one little sin and its guilt. Once it is committed, every sin and its guilt cling to the sinner as close as does his own shadow, cling to all eternity unless God carries them away.” (Lenski)
King David was in full agreement with Abraham in regard to the idea of imputed righteousness, a goodness that is given, not earned. “Our adversaries the papists oppose the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us; they cavil at the very word . . . and yet the apostle useth the word ten times in this chapter.” (Poole)
Paul quotes Psalm 32:1-2 which speaks of the blessedness, not of the one who is justified through works, but of the one who is cleansed through imputation. God places upon us the righteousness of Jesus and therefore this gift is not based on what we can do for God. Jesus told a story about a tax-collector (a man whose job was to collect taxes for the government) in Luke chapter 18. That tax-collector asked God for mercy (Luke 18:13-14). The tax-collector was humble and he was sincere. He put his trust in God. God does not accuse such a person because of his sins. Instead, God considers him righteous.
Abraham was counted righteous before he was circumcised; therefore he was not counted righteous because he was circumcised.
Because our righteousness is counted to us by faith and not by rituals, the blessedness mentioned in verse 7 can also be given to the uncircumcised Gentiles as well by faith. As we noted before, Abraham was counted as righteous in Genesis 15:6 but did not receive the covenant of circumcision until Genesis 17. This was approximately 14 years after Abraham was counted righteous. This means that Abraham’s righteousness was not counted because of circumcision but based upon his faith. Abraham the father of all who believe was counted by God as righteous before he was circumcised. How then can it be said, as some in Paul’s day did, that Gentiles must be circumcised before God declares them righteous?
To the Jewish people of Paul’s day circumcision was more than a social issue. Circumcision was the entry point for a life lived under the Law of Moses. In Galatians we read, “And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.” (Galatians 5:3)
The Jew used the circumcision as a way to show that they were the true descendants of Abraham. Paul’s argument was that to claim Abraham as your father you must walk in the steps of faith that Abraham had. A circumcised Gentile was not allowed to refer to Abraham as our father but had to make the reference in public as your father in the synagogue. Paul argues that point by stating that through faith we all can address Abraham as our father.
The Jewish readers of Romans must have been shocked to hear Paul call Abraham the father of the uncircumcised people. It is faith and not circumcision that is the link to Abraham. It is far more important to have Abraham’s faith (and the righteousness imputed to him because of it) than it is to have Abraham’s circumcision. William Barclay explains that the Jewish teachers of Paul’s day had a saying “What is written of Abraham is also written of his children,” meaning that promises given to Abraham extend to his descendants. Paul heartily agreed with this principle, and extended the principle of being justified by faith to all Abraham’s spiritual descendants, those who believe, who also walk in the steps of the faith of Abraham.
God’s promise to Abraham was based on the principle of faith, not law or works.
All of God’s conversations with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were before the Mosaic Law, therefore their righteousness was not based on their deeds in the law. Their righteousness was based on God’s declaration of Abraham’s righteousness through faith. “Faith is the ground of God’s blessing. Abraham was a blessed man, indeed, but he became heir of the world on another principle entirely – simple faith.” (Newell)
God’s Law cannot bring us to the blessings of His promises. Certainly this is not because God’s Law is bad, but because we are unable to keep God’s Law. Because man is unable to keep God’s Law it becomes a vehicle of God’s wrath towards man, if men regard it as the principle by which we are justified and relate to God. Paul’s statement, “where there is no law, there also is no violation,” can be looked at in this way. “Transgression is the right word for overstepping a line, and this for breaking a clearly defined commandment.” (Morris) Where there is no line, there is no actual transgression.
Some sin is not “crossing of the line” of the Law of Moses. Sins root is not breaking the law but in breaking trust with God, by denying the love of God and every caring purpose of every command He gives. Before Adam sinned he broke his trust with God. Therefore, God’s plan of redemption is built on a trusting relationship of love, faith, instead of a relationship of law keeping. If we build our relationship with God on law keeping instead of a trusting love, we go against the plan of God.
Justification according to grace, through faith.
Faith and grace are related as works and law. Grace and law are the principles, and faith and works are the means by which we pursue those principles for our relationship with God. Technically speaking we are not saved by faith, we are saved by God’s grace. The grace of God is appropriated by our faith.
Salvation comes through are faith and nothing else. We only receive salvation by the principle of grace through faith. God’s grace cannot be obtained by our works, whether they be past, present, or future according to God’s promise. Grace is received without regard to anything in the person who receives it.
“Grace and faith are congruous, and will draw together in the same chariot, but grace and merit are contrary the one to the other and pull opposite ways, and therefore God has not chosen to yoke them together. He will not build with incongruous materials, or daub with un tempered mortar. He will not make an image partly of gold and partly of clay, nor weave a linsey-woolsey garment: his work is all of a piece and all of grace.” (Spurgeon)
The promise of God is only assured by His grace. If the law was the bases of our salvation, then our salvation would depend upon our performance in keeping the law. As stated before no one can keep the law good enough to be saved by it. Salvation based on a law promise is not ever a sure thing. If the promise “were of the law, it would be unsure and uncertain, because of man’s weakness, who is not able to perform it.” (Poole)
The relationship we should have with God is according to His grace, not circumcision or law keeping, then that relationship is for those who are of the faith of Abraham, even if they are not of his lineage.
The promise found in Genesis 17:4-5 is not only found in the descendants of Abraham through Isaac, but in his role as father to all who believe. Those believers come from every nation beneath heaven.
The life-giving power of the God Abraham believed in.
It was a supernatural life giving work to make Abraham the physical father of many nations. It also took a supernatural life giving work to make Abraham the spiritual father of many nations.
The life giving power of God is demonstrated by the manner in which He can give life to the dead and call those things which do not exist, such as our righteousness, as though they did. Sarah, Abraham’s wife was barren and of advanced years, yet God opened her womb and brought forth life. If God can open the womb, he can call those who are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) to new life in Jesus. “I’m greatly comforted when God speaks about me as righteous, justified, glorified, holy, pure, and saintly. God can talk about such things before they exist, because He knows they will exist.” (Smith)
God’s life giving power was demonstrated in Abraham not in contrariness’ to hope, yet in hope Abraham believed. Sarah bearing Abraham’s son Isaac helps us to understand the nature of faith. Isaac’s birth was a miracle, but it was not an immaculate conception. It is not that Abraham just waited for God to act, as he and Sarah had marital relations. They had these relations in their advanced years with a trust in God that He would do a miraculous work. “All true believers, like Abraham, obey. Obedience is faith in action. You are to walk in the steps of the faith of father Abraham. His faith did not sit still, it took steps; and you must take these steps also by obeying God because you believe him. That faith which has no works with it is a dead faith, and will justify no one.” (Spurgeon) “Sense corrects imagination, reason corrects sense, but faith corrects both. It will not be, saith sense; it cannot be, saith reason; it both can and will be, saith faith, for I have a promise for it.” (Trapp) “But someone may object and say, that it is not beyond the course of nature that a man should beget children at that age. Though I allow that such a thing is not a prodigy, it is yet very little short of a miracle.” (Calvin)
The character of Abraham’s faith.
Abraham was a man of strong faith but through the birth of Isaac his faith was strengthened. It could be the thought of Paul that Abraham was not only strengthened in his faith but also strengthened by his faith. How we need to be strengthened in faith! “Dear brother, little faith will save thee if it be true faith, but there are many reasons why you should seek an increase of it.” (Spurgeon) “Whenever, dear hearers, you catch any of us who are teachers doubting and fearing, do not pity us, but scold us. We have no right to be in Doubting Castle. Pray do not visit us there. Follow us as far as we follow Christ, but if we get into the horrible Slough of Despond, come and pull us out by the hair of our heads if necessary, but do not fall into it yourselves.” (Spurgeon) “I do not think we shall have many conversions unless we expect God to bless the word, and feel certain that he will do so. We must not wonder and be astonished if we hear of a dozen or two conversions, but let the astonishment be that thousands are not converted when they hear such divine truth, and when we ask the Holy Spirit to attend it with divine energy. God will bless us in proportion to our faith. It is the rule of his kingdom – ‘According to your faith so be it unto you.’ O God, give thy ministers more faith! Let us believe thee firmly!” (Spurgeon)
Abraham did not look at the circumstances of the time he and Sarah were in but trusted the promise of God. Abraham’s faith did not waver and it gave glory to God. This was a huge challenge for Abraham but he remained steadfast in his faith. “When there is no contest, it is true, no one, as I have said, denies that God can do all things; but as soon as anything comes in the way to impede the course of God’s promise, we cast down God’s power from its eminence.” (Calvin)
Abraham was fully convinced in God’s ability to perform what He had promised and held strong to his faith. Many people do not come to Jesus or those that do go no further with Him. They are not fully convinced that He can do that which He has promised to perform. They may think, “It is fine for them but it won’t work for me.” We must reject this kind of thinking as it is a devilish attack upon our faith. This kind of faith sees the work of God done. It sees the work of God done in the immediate (Isaac was born in fulfillment of the promise) and in the eternal (it was accounted to him for righteousness).
Abraham’s justification and our own.
It was not only for Abraham’s benefit that through faith God declared him righteous. Abraham is the example that we are invited to follow. Paul shows great confidence in his statement “It shall be imputed to us who believe” This truth wasn’t just for Abraham, but for us also.
In Paul’s discussion in faith and saving faith in Jesus, emphases is meant that believing the work on the cross and triumph over sin and death is what saves us. Many a false faith for people to believe in but they can never save. Only faith in what Jesus accomplished on the cross and through the empty tomb can save us.
- Faith in the historical events of the life of Jesus will not save
- Faith in the beauty of Jesus’ life will not save
- Faith in the accuracy or goodness of Jesus’ teaching will not save
- Faith in the deity of Jesus, and in His Lordship will not save
For our transgressions Jesus died and was raised up for our justification. The resurrection of Jesus plays an essential part in our redemption because it represents God the Father’s complete satisfaction with Jesus’ work on the cross. Thus proving that it was in fact a perfect sacrifice made by One who remained perfect, even as he bore the sins of the world. The ancient Greek word translated delivered (paradidomi) was used of casting people into prison or delivering them to justice. “Here it speaks of the judicial act of God the Father delivering God the Son to the justice that required the payment of the penalty for human sin.” (Wuest) “Jesus’ resurrection always includes his sacrificial death but it brings out the all-sufficiency of his death. If death had held him, he would have failed; since he was raised from death, his sacrifice sufficed, God set his seal upon it by raising him up.” (Lenski) “Christ did meritoriously work our justification and salvation by his death and passion, but the efficacy and perfection thereof with respect to us depend on his resurrection . . . This one verse is an abridgement of the whole gospel.” (Poole)
In this the forth chapter Paul has demonstrated that the Old Testament does not contradict the gospel of salvation by grace through faith. Instead it is in fulfillment of the Old Testament, and Abraham, justified through faith, is our pattern.