The Jews put a lot of confidence in their heritage. In fact, at one point in a conversation with Jesus, the Jewish leaders boasted that they had Abraham as their father (Matt. 3:9; Luke 3:8). To a Jew, Abraham was the beginning of their race, the father of them all with whom God chose to establish His covenant – through which the Jews sought their own justification.
Abraham’s righteousness was apart from works – Rom. 4:1-8
Abraham’s righteousness was apart from circumcision – Rom 4:9-12
Abraham’s righteousness was apart from Mosaic Law – Rom 4:13-25
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?
In chapter 3, Paul established that justification is a free gift that can only be had by faith. So now Paul deals with Abraham, someone in whom the Jews put a lot of confidence. He was called a “wandering Aramaean” (Deut. 26:5) and a friend of God (2 Chron. 20:7; James 2:23). The Lord appeared to him and established His covenant with him (Gen. 17:1-14; 18:1). Most scholars put him around 1900-2100 B.C.
The Jews believed that Abraham was uniquely righteous and had better grounds than most to boast.
For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
Justified by works
Paul continues dismantling the works-righteousness mentality by stating that Abraham has nothing to boast about before God.
But not before God
This deals with the vertical, not the horizontal. The vertical is between God and man. The horizontal is between people.
The order of occurrences in Abraham’s life was first faith, then works, then circumcision.
False religious people often say that Abraham proved his faith by his works and, therefore, works are necessary for salvation.
Islam “Then when the Trumpet is blown, there will be no more relationships between them that Day, nor will one ask after another! 102 Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy, they will attain salvation: 103 But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls, in Hell will they abide,” (Surah 23:101-103).
JWs “there are four requirements for salvation: “Many have found the second requirement more difficult. It is to obey God’s laws, yes, to conform one’s life to the moral requirements set out in the Bible. This includes refraining from a debauched, immoral way of life. 1 Cor. 6:9,10; 1 Pet. 4:3, 4.” (Watchtower, Feb. 15, 1983, p. 12)
Mormonism “One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation” (Miracle of Forgiveness, Spencer W. Kimball, p. 206)
Roman Catholicism that which is necessary for salvation includes the church (CCC 846), baptism (CCC 1257), penance (CCC 980), sacraments (CCC 1129), service and witness to the faith (CCC 1816), keeping the ten commandments (CCC 2036 and 2070), and detachment from riches (CCC 2556).
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Paul says works did not justify Abraham, but faith.
Gen. 15:6, “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
The Jews would react to this statement negatively because they were so entrenched in their works righteousness mentality.
The Jews sought their justification through the 613 commandments found in the Old Testament.
The 10 Commandments were a covenant document penned by the finger of God that was kept in the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle. It was proof to the Jews that God had chosen them to reveal his will and His Law. They were supposed to keep that Law, and so they learned to boast about their ability to keep it and achieve righteousness.
But the justification Abraham had was by faith – before God revealed the Law through Moses.
The crediting of righteousness is by faith. To credit is a legal term, as is righteousness which is in relation to the Law.
Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor but as what is due.
Paul is using simple logic. If you work, you are owed what is due.
But Paul distinguishes between what is owed and what is a gift.
Since the Jews looked to the Law to be justified, then their righteousness is something earned. But Paul contrasts the justification of Abraham with that in the previous verse by referencing Genesis 15:6, where Abraham was justified by faith before the Law was ever given.
He is proving to the Jews (and to us) that justification is by faith.
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,
This is a pivotal verse as it is a development of Gen. 15:6, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
We have two options here, work and belief. When you only have two things, and one is negated, the other is by itself. It is alone. Therefore, this verse teaches justification by faith alone.
Opponents of the doctrine that justification is by faith alone will often go to James 2:24, which says, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” They make mistakes.
They set Scripture against Scripture.
They failed to read the context.
James 2 talks about true faith versus false faith that is demonstrated by your works before people (James 2:18). This is not talking about justification before God.
Who does not work
Paul has already stated that justification is apart from the works of the Law (Rom. 3:28).
Rom. 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”
Gal. 2:16, “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”
Gal. 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
It does not say “Law.” It does not say “Levitical law.” It says “works.”
When facing this verse, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox often say that this refers to the priestly Law. This is ridiculous because nothing in the context supports that.
His faith is credited as righteousness
It is not works, nor is it works with faith, that are credited with righteousness. It is faith without works that is credited as righteousness.
To continue the thought from verse 3 (f) above.
The crediting of righteousness is by faith. To credit is a legal term, as is righteousness which is in relation to the Law. Therefore, in verse 5, the one who does NOT WORK is credited with righteousness. So, this is a legal declaration which relates to the Law, which relates to our works.
We are justified by faith without any works of the Law.
Matthew 22:37–40, “And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 “This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works
Paul continues with the argument of righteousness by faith and turns his attention to David, another key figure in Jewish history.
Paul is pulling in the heavyweights. Abraham the father of the Israelite nation. David, the father of the messianic line.
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.”
1. Paul quotes from Psalm 31:1-2
Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.”
It was said of Abraham that he was righteous before the covenant of circumcision was instituted.
To Jews, circumcision was one of the rites that separated them from the rest of the world. It was a blood sign of the covenant relationship between God and His people.
Paul is carefully pointing out that this circumcision was after Abraham’s justification (v. 10), apart from any works.
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