The book of Romans is a wonderful book, and it does for me what no other book in the Bible does for me. It’s the book where the Apostle Paul laid out his systematic theology, and it’s built precept upon precept to clearly reveal to us how Christianity is structured. Chapter 3 verses 21 through 31 is his presentation of the concept of ‘Justification by Faith’; that marvelous doctrine that we’re right with God because of who He is and what He has done that is offered to us as a free gift with no strings attached through faith. As a Jew, Paul knew that if he really wanted to fortify his argument about ‘Justification by Faith’, the place that he would go to would be the Pentateuch, which is the Jews considered the most holy part of Scripture. And so chapter 4 is really an amplification of the theme ‘Justification by Faith’ put on Old Testament basis. I think it’s important to know that this doctrine of ‘Justification by Faith’ is not a New Testament doctrine. This has always been how God has dealt with men from the Old Testament past. That’s how He worked with Abraham who lived 400 years before the Law. Abraham was made ‘right’ or ‘justified’ by God even before Circumcision. The ‘Law and ‘Circumcision’ are the two main pillars of Jewish pride which Paul is going to eliminate as far as a way of being ‘right’ with God. Paul, here in chapter 4 is going to spell out to us how is a man right with God, or how is a man saved, or how do you know you’re going to heaven, or how is a man brought into a right relationship with God?
First of all, we’re going to define four major Biblical words that are used over and over in this passage. The first word is ‘right standing’, other translation has ‘righteousness’, or justification – all the same word, same root. The second one is the word ‘credited’; you might have the word ‘imputed’. The third one is the word ‘faith’ (which we can find on an Old Testament basis). The fourth word is found in verse 13, – ‘the promise’. Now let’s look at the beginning of verse 1, “What then shall we say that…” – this is a diatribe which Paul so skillfully employs in Romans as well in Galatians; Paul is supposing someone is going to be an objector, and so he answers the supposed objections all the way his letter. So here’s the first objector: “What then shall we say that Abraham,…” – you see the Jews said “I’m right with God because I’m a Jew; I’m right with God because my ancient forefather was Abraham”. Now if you’ll look at Luke 3:8, John the Baptist reprimanded the self-seeking Jews as he said, “Don’t tell me you’re born from Abraham, because that’s not what’s going to get you into kingdom of God. So the Jews were depending on being in the racial line of Abraham. There are some people today think they’re saved because their names are written on some church roll some place, or think they’re saved because their parents were Christians, or think they’re saved because they read the Bible. This is a good analogy; these Jews thought they are right with God based on their racial lineage, based on who they are, but in reality they are lost. I believe this chapter is the cutting edge of the Gospel that cuts us under every excuse why man can save himself. If you will read Genesis 11:27 through Genesis 25:11 where the Bible talks about the life Abraham, and where God changed his original name Abram to Abraham. God the meaning of his name from ‘the exalted father’ to something very significant, ‘father of many nations’, or ‘the father of a multitude’. That’s so significant in the life of Abraham because if you will read Galatians 3:16, you will find out that the true seed of Abraham is by faith and not by racial descent. And his descendants are as innumerable as the stars in heaven, and as countless as the sands of the sea. That’s how many children Abraham has. It has nothing to do with racial descent, it has everything to do with faith descent. That’s what we’re talking about here.
Notice in verse 2, “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God.” – this is a first class conditional statement (assumed to be true), which the New Living Translation renders quite succinctly, “If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way.” Paul was saying in a roundabout way that Abraham was justified not because of who he is. You know, we often have the mistaken notion that Bible characters are super saints. There are no super saints, there are just turkeys saved by grace. We have built these people up in our mind to bigger than life. I submit to you God’s people are just human beings warts and all. Let’s look at Abraham; Abraham is called the father of the faith, and yet he is just a fool at times like most of us. And why is that? Well, God said, “leave your kinsmen and follow Me” (cf. Gen. 12:1-2), and he took his father and his family with him. He disobeyed a direct order from God. And when in Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan, his faith in God gave way to fear; lying to the Egyptians and Pharaoh about his true relationship with Sarai his wife lest he would be killed by them. He failed to trust fully in God’s promise that he would be a father of many nations. Well, that’s not all about the flaws in Abraham’s character. First of all, he was a polytheist; there was no goodness in him. He was not an unusually righteous man, he was a polytheist just like his father. When God called him and finally told him he’s going to have a son, you know what Sarah did? She giggled, and Abraham laughed, and then he said ‘I’m going to help God out, so I’ll just take my wife’s handmaiden”, and consequently that started all the trouble and enmity in Abraham’s family. Abraham is a not a giant of faith. Abraham is a man whom God picked to bless the world through.
Notice as it says in verse 3, “What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” – right standing, righteousness, justification – all these terms have one root; it means a measuring reed, a standard. It means a standard by which to compare everything else. And the standard in the Bible is not that you’re better than your next-door neighbor, or you know your Bible better than someone else. The standard in the Bible is that God is the standard by which everything will be judged. He is the standard and none of us measure up to that kind of standard. That’s when the Bible can say unequivocally, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (i.e. Rom. 3:23). All of us don’t make up to His character. Now, that’s why every Hebrew word for sin means deviation from a standard; missing the mark; falling short; being crooked; being perverse, all mean deviation from the standard. I believe does teach that if you keep all the Law from birth till death, and your character’s like God, you can go to heaven. The problem is, nobody can stand up to that righteousness. Now notice if you would, the word ‘credited’ is an accounting word in Greek. What it means is that they have two lines of figures: you have a balance of what people owe you, and then you have you owe people. Two different accounts, and it’s like someone taking an account book and on the side that says balance, do they write ‘the righteousness of God in Him’. That’s not something you owe, it’s something that’s been given to you, it’s something ‘due’ you. Not ‘due’ in the sense of your worth, but ‘due’ because it’s been written on the side of the ledger that means this has been credited to your account. This is an asset. Now, it doesn’t mean we are like God in our actions. It means we are positionally in Christ, the Righteousness of God. Think of 2 Corinthians 5:21, “and God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”. Do you catch that? This is based on who we are in Christ and what He is, and not we are. Now to be Biblical, i want to say to you, hopefully we’re going to move from ‘positional’ to ‘possessional’; we’re going to move from faith to lifestyle, and that’s very important (to combine those two). Now, “…credited to him as righteousness” (aorist passive, once and for all by an outside agent) means righteousness has been imputed to him. That means, even when I played the fool, my salvation is not dependent on how big a fool I am, my salvation is dependent on who Jesus Christ is and what He has already done. What I have accepted by faith what has been given to me by God and is secure in Him, not in me.
Notice as it continues in verse 4, “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.” – the Jews would say, “Well we’ve been circumcised, we’ve kept the Old Testament Law, we read the Torah, we attend the synagogue (does that sound strangely familiar?); they’re going to start telling God what a wonderful person they are, and why God should love them, and how much they deserve from God. And Paul’s going to start, when a workman gets his pay, he is not considered to be from the point of view of favor, but it’s an obligation. But a man who does no work but simply puts his faith in Him who brings the ungodly into right standing with Himself receives the righteousness of God as a gift from God. It may surprise you but the word ‘faith’ is a word that we use all the time, as when we say “Amen” as the end of our prayer. It is a Hebrew term that comes into Greek as ‘Amen’ and transliterated into English as Amen. The word ‘amen’ in Hebrew is from the root, ‘to be firm’, ‘to be secure’. So it meant something secure, stable, permanent. Now as we use the term today, it came to mean ‘I agree’ or ‘I affirm’, but the Biblical usage is ‘to be sure’, ‘to be trustworthy, ‘to be loyal’, to be permanent’, ‘to be stable’, and ‘to be immovable’. Now do these adjectives of immovability refer to us, or to God? You see, we tend to put faith in us. I hear preachers say all the time, “if you have enough faith God will do this”. Have you ever wondered why Jesus said, “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains?” Well, because we don’t really need more faith. It’s not how much faith we have, it is the object of our faith – Jesus Christ. Faith in the Old Testament is the trustworthiness of God. We trust God’s trustworthiness. That’s what faith is. Faith in respect to man is always a response to. Faith is not morality, faith is not theology, faith is not emotions. Faith is primarily relationship – relational. A good analogy is our marriage vows; we pick someone whom we think is God’s will for our life. I made some real promises to my bride to love, honor, trust, obey till death do us part, period. I didn’t know everything about her but I looked that woman in the presence of God and said, “I love you until I die” period. That promise I made to her will stand no matter what her character flaws may be revealed in time (well that goes vice versa) because that promise was a relationship. You see, I’m not married because I have a piece of paper that says I’m married. I’m married because I’m in a faith relationship with my wife through Christ. Now, that’s how I’m saved through Christ. I’m not saved because i have a baptismal certificate. I’m not saved because my name is on the church roll. I’m not saved because I do certain things. I’m not saved because I pray and read the Bible. I’m saved because I have a faith relationship with Jesus, a carpenter of Nazareth who I believe is God Incarnate. Faith is trusting in the trustworthiness of God. It is not an act. It is a response – that’s very, very, very important!
And then in verse 5, Paul comes back to these words again – trusts, justifies, faith, righteousness, “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness”. Do you know where this quote comes? From back up there in verse three; when God told Abraham he’ll have a son, Abraham tried every way in the world to get that son. But through a promise, through a miracle Sarah balked and griped, but Abraham did believe God even though he couldn’t explain it, and even though he thought he’d have to help God out. That’s not powerful faith, but it’s saving faith because of the promise God made, Abraham believed. You see, faith is really trusting in the statements that God makes. If God is not true, if God has overstated His case, if God has told us an error, none of us are saved. O, but when what God’s told us is accurate, we can depend on it, we can die on it, and come to life again.
Now, the rest of this chapter is just the same old thing over and over again; not with works, without things Abraham has done. And then he quotes David in verse 6 and following; what about David? David is called ‘a man after God’s own heart’. But David was initially a robber, he has committed treason against his own country, and then when he finally became king, he lusted after another man’s wife, got her pregnant, then tried to trick her husband into coming home so he’d get off the hook. The husband was more loyal than David, so David premeditated Uriah’s death with his own army, then he covered it up for over a year until Nathan put his finger on David’s nose. That’s the man God says is ‘a man after my own’ heart’. You might want to read Psalm 32 and Psalm 51, and see David in the exact same light or the exact same sins we ordinary sinners find ourselves in. I’m so glad David is saved because if a jerk like David can be saved, there’s hope for us. O, ‘a man after God’s own heart’ acting like that, that is the proof of faith and righteousness, the promise of God. Now it continues, as you look at the words down through here, “…Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness”. Then notice it goes into the idea of ‘circumcision’ which is the Jew’s big proof, and it says, “No! it’s faith”. And looking at verse 13, “…that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” – there’s that fourth term, ‘the promise’. How do I know I’m saved? Because i got goosebumps running down my spine? But there are days when I don’t get goosebumps. There are days when I don’t feel saved. There are days when I have a fight with my wife, and on and on. So, how do I know I’m saved? It’s the Promise of God why I know I’m saved! “For whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32); “But whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:15); “for as many as received him to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believed on His Name” (John 1:12); “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28). If those are lies, I can never know I’m saved. God has made me some promises, and I’m going to stand right there come hell or high waters and till the Second Coming is cancelled! I’m right with God because of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done; not because of who I am, or what i have done, nor how much faith I can muster. I stand on the promises of God made to Abraham, and to his seed; “that he would be heir of the world (not the Jews alone), but through the righteousness that comes by faith”. Verse 14-15, “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” (cf. Romans 3:25; 5:13). That’s a very unusual concept, but very important. So, it is conditioned on faith, that it might be in accordance with God’s unmerited favor so that the promise would be enforced to all the descendants of Abraham, not only of those of the Law, but to all those who belong the faith group. If being a Jew is necessary to get to heaven, I’ll never make it. But praise be to God, the door of faith has been opened to the Gentiles. I’m glad Jesus came. Let’s look at it again, the promise is enforced “…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”. The God of creation, the God and only God is the One who allowed me to be a part of His family. Everything i have in Christ is by the agency of God. Now let us go down a bit further in verses 21-22. All those major words right there in verse 23, summed back up about being credited to him, and then we have a Christological statement in verse 24 and 25, “…who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death…” – this a legal term that means delivered over to punishment, or delivered over to justice. This is in fact the vicarious substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. It was our penalty; we deserve to be beaten for who we are, but Jesus took the beating. When God said, “the soul that sins, it shall surely die”, He was absolutely certain that His word is true. But wonderful and marvelous grace of God – He died in our place, and then He gave us His righteousness as a free gift by faith. Yes, Someone did die, and His Name was Jesus, and the means was the cross. Paul couldn’t believe it himself. ‘How can anybody who is cursed by God be the Messiah?’ That’s exactly what God’s plan is – the curse for our sins fell on Jesus. God gave Him up for death because of our shortcomings, and was raised to life to give us right standing with God. In 2 Corinthians chapter 5:21 we read the marvelous passage, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Thank God I’ve never heard better Good News in all the world, that Jesus died for me and you, and we can be right with God based on who He is and not on who we are. I know I’m going to make it to heaven not because of my goodness but because of Your goodness, O Lord! Thank You Lord!