Paul has taught us that both Jew and Gentile are under sin and we cannot be saved by simply keeping the law perfectly because without Jesus and the new covenant that He put into place, we will all be lost. While the Jews had the advantage of having the Law of Moses, they took it for granted. However, under the new covenant, which is for everyone, we learn that every person has the opportunity to be saved because God doesnít show partiality.
In chapter 4, Paul is going to use Abraham as an example to prove his point further. Every Jew would pay attention to Paulís reference to Abraham because he was the man they all looked at for an example.
Romans 4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? †2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. †3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."
Paul is using Abraham to prove that we are not justified through works, but by faith. Abraham is the perfect example to use because every Jew respected him. If Paul could prove that Abraham was justified though an obedient faith rather than the through the works of the Law, then Jews would most likely accept this truth. Abraham is the only O.T. man that is referred to as ĎMy friendí by God (Isa. 41:8). †While Abraham was a faithful servant of God and did what God told him to do, he still had nothing to brag about before God because without God, He would be nothing.
We are the same way. We can be the greatest servants in the world, yet we can never work our way into heaven or have anything to brag about from Godís perspective. Instead, we must learn to be humble servants and be thankful that God allows us to serve in His kingdom and has given us the hope of eternal life in heaven.
I like verse 3 because Paul emphasize the Scriptures. We should always ask this question about what we do, what does the Scripture say? Paul quotes Genesis 15:6. In fact, Paul refers to Genesis 15:6 four times in this chapter. So, we could say that Romans 4 expounds on the meaning of that verse.
All Jews would
be familiar with the background behind this verse. When Abraham was 75, God
told him that He would make him a great nation and that his decedents will be
given the promise land (Gen. 12). In Genesis 16, Abraham was around 85 and
still childless, but God reassures him by saying:
Genesis 15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." †2 But Abram said, "Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" †3 Then Abram said, "Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!" †4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir." †5 Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." †6 And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. †
Donít miss the importance of verse 6. I want to point out that this was not the first time Abraham had believed in God because many years before this, he believed in Godís message to leave Ur. In fact, the Book of Hebrews says:
Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. †9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; †10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
is the first time in Genesis that Godís Word records that Abraham was counted
righteous by his faith and not by the works of any law. When this statement was
made, it was about 14 years before Abraham was circumcised and hundreds of
years before the Law of Moses. This point is crucial for the Jews to understand
that this great man Abraham was counted righteous through his obedient faith
and not by circumcision or just by blindly following Godís Word because if you
donít have faith in God and you just go through the motions, then you will not
be pleasing to God.
Romans 4:4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. †5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, †
Paul is comparing the difference between law and works and faith and grace. As verse 4 points out, if you work for someone, you expect to get paid because you are rendering a service for that person, thus you are putting them into debt. These Jews, or anyone today who thinks they can work their way into heaven, are basically saying that God owes them something thus putting Him in debt for our works.
Paul says in verse 5 that those who do not work, but believe on God, their
faith is accounted for righteousness, just as it was with Abraham. Itís verses
like these that cause some to teach that we are saved by faith alone and that
no works are required to be pleasing to God, but that is a gross
misrepresentation of what Paul is doing here.
Paul would never say that we should not work and just be lazy people who just believe in God. At the end of Romans, he writes:
Romans 16:12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord.
He also wrote:
1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Paul certainly led by example as he was the hardest working apostle who went to all kinds of places to spread the gospel. Many more examples could be given, including James 2, which proves that Paul is not saying that faith alone makes one righteous or approved by God.
The best way to explain what Paul is saying is by pointing out the contrast he is making in these 2 verses. In verse 4, you have a person who was working for the Lord or whomever for a payday because they feel like they have earned something.
In verse 5, Paul is talking about those who believe in God and trust in Him, but they donít do works to put God in debt as if He owed us anything, but they will work in His kingdom and do what they can for Him because they love Him. The thought of God owing them anything doesnít even come to mind. I mentioned this in our last lesson, but Jesusí explanation explains what Paul is talking about perfectly in:
Luke 17:7 "And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field,`Come at once and sit down to eat '? †8 "But will he not rather say to him,`Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink '? †9 "Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. †10 "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say,`We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'"
Next, Paul uses another O.T. hero:
Romans 4:6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: †7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; †8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin."
There is no doubt that David was not a perfect law keeper and even deserved to be put to death for the adultery and murder he committed. However, David understood that our God is a forgiving God and it has to do with our faith in Him and not perfect law keeping. Paul quotes Psalm 32:1-2 in which David expresses his thankfulness that God has forgiven him for what he did with Bathsheba. He says his sins were forgiven and covered, but even more important is that God shall not impute those sins. In other words, when we repent and are forgiven of our sins, they will not be held against us.
Basically, David is being used as another example to show that we are justified by an obedient faith and not by perfect law keeping. Next, Paul uses Abraham again to prove his point.
Romans 4:9 Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. †10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. †
The question is, can Gentiles be forgiven by God or is forgiveness only for Jews? Now, the Jews might say itís only for them, but they would be wrong. Paul points them back to Gen. 15:6 again showing that Abraham was considered righteous because of his faith.
Paul makes another powerful point regarding circumcision because the Jews were very proud of circumcision, and they thought it was their salvation, even though it was done to them when they were 8 days old. However, Paul is blowing their minds right now because they probably never thought about what Paul has just asked. Donít forget, when Gen. 15:6 happened, it was almost 14 years before Abraham was circumcised, which is why Paul asked the question, ďHow then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised?Ē †††
As they read this question, I could just image the confusion it caused them because circumcision was everything to them, yet if they were honest, they would have to agree with Paulís answer.
Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. ††
It was important that Jews understood that not only was Abraham considered righteous by his faith and not by perfect law keeping, he was considered righteous many years before he was circumcised.†
Paul explains the purpose of circumcision.
11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, †12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.
Circumcision was not something that saved the Jews, it was a sign or seal to show that they were Jews. Now some in the denominational world want to say the same thing about baptism, but nothing in this text is talking about baptism. Paul will make it perfectly clear what baptism is all about and how it is absolutely necessary for salvation in Romans 6.
Paul is teaching that Abraham is not just the father of the Jews, he is the father of those who believe. No, this is not talking about faith alone, but an obedient faith because for us to be considered righteous, we must walk in the steps of the faith that Abraham did. All you have to do is to look at his life and you see that he did more than just believe in God. He always obeyed what God told him to do even when it came to sacrificing his son (Gen. 22). No one can ever say that Abraham was someone who just believed in God (Jn. 8:39; Heb. 11:8; Gen. 26:5).
If we are going to be pleasing to God and be counted as righteous, then we too must have an obedient faith.†
Romans 4:13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. †14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, †15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.
Keeping the timeline in mind, we also learn that the promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations happened over 400 years before the Law of Moses would be put into place. So, the promise had nothing to do with the Law of Moses† because it has to do with faith. Paul explains this in another place:
Galatians 3:23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. †24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. †25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
This is why Paul said, 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, †The Law of Moses was never meant to last forever. Instead, it pointed to Christ. Therefore, the Jews could not simply be heirs through the Law because the Law of Moses was impossible to keep perfect. If you sinned one time, then there was no hope for you.
Thanks to God and His wonderful plan for us, He gave us Jesus who was the answer to the Law and its wrath. Not only would faith be made void if all we had was the Law, so would the promise made to Abraham because the promise was made based on faith and not perfect law keeping.†
When Paul says: for where there is no law, there is no transgression, he points out that the Law is what tells us what sin is. If we had no Law, then we would not be able to sin. Some today like to think that we are not under any kind of law, but just grace. If that were the case, then everyone would be saved no matter what they do. The truth of the matter is that man has always been under a law. Today, Christians are under the Law of Christ, and we must follow it. While many verses could be used to prove this concept, one will suffice.
Matthew 7:21 "Not everyone who says to Me,`Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (See also: Rom. 3:27; 1 Cor. 9:21).
If we donít do the will of the Father, then we will not make it to heaven. Paul continues:
Romans 4:16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, 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, "I have made you a father of many nations ") in the presence of Him whom he believed-- God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; †18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be."
We need to
keep these first century Jews in mind who would be reading this and how hard it
would be for them to understand all this even though Paul is making his
argument clear. It would be like someone trying to explain to you how your view
was wrong about something even though you thought your view was right your
Paul states that it is of faith that it might be in accordance with grace (16) because it has nothing to do with the Law of Moses. This promise is for everyone because Abraham is the father of us all. All the Jews would have to think about how God said Abraham would be the father of many nations (plural). The fact that it says many nations, should have been a strong clue to the Jews that Godís promise would include Gentile nations as well.
We know that Abraham believed whatever God told him. He also believed that God could raise people from the dead. He believed that about his son (Heb. 11:19). However, in context, he seems to be referring to how he and his wife were close to death and how his wife was beyond the years to bring forth a child, but God made it happen, which was the beginning of the promise God made to him.
Next, we read:
Romans 4:19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. †20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, †21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. †22 And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness."
Abraham didnít have a perfect faith, but he knew that God always kept His promises. Even when he was 99 years old and God said He would give him a son through Sarah, he did not doubt it even though his body was just about worn out and Sarah was beyond the age for a woman to have a child.
His faith continued to be strengthened over the years. It was this strong faith in God that made him be accounted righteous by God. Once again, Paul quotes Gen. 15:6.
There are many
Christians today who have a weak faith. If they donít get what they want right
now, then they give up on God. They need to look at Abraham and the great
patience he had as he waited for that promised son to be born. I think we can
all relate to Abrahamís wife because she made the same mistake we make
sometimes. When we want God to help us with something, we will take matters
into our hands. If you will remember Sarah did this as she began to think that
God did not intend for her to give Abraham a son so
she thought she would help out by having Hagar take her place, but that was not
We have to realize that Godís timing is not going to always match up with our timing, and there is a good reason for this, but itís hard for us to accept at times.
Letís read the last few verses of this chapter.
Romans 4:23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, †24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, †25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
written to Abraham was not just for him it was for us today as well. Everything
from the Old Testament points to Christ. Just like Abraham, when we have an
obedient faith like he did, and we believe in God and that Jesus was raised
from the dead, and we obey the gospel, we can know that we have salvation. Like
Abraham, we can know that we have been accounted as righteous.
Without Jesus, none of us would be able to overcome our sin problem. He had to die on the cross, and He had to be raised up. Otherwise, His death would be no different than any other man. Thanks to His great sacrifice, we can be justified in the eyes of God. I wish I had time to continue with the next chapter because it goes on to talk about what how great it is to have Jesus as our Savior.
In conclusion, Paul has made a strong case for the Jews to consider. He mainly used Abraham as example to show that that he was considered righteous by his obedient faith not by perfect law keeping, not by the Law of Moses, and not by circumcision. Paul showed that Abraham is the Father of all who have an obedient faith and that all can have their sin forgiven. Of course, he concluded showing that all these things come through Christ by having an obedient faith.