Sometimes it is good to return to core principles of the Faith. Not necessarily to learn something entirely new, but rather to be refreshed and reminded again. Such is the case for our examination of the apostle Paul’s teaching on Abraham’s faith in Romans chapter 4. Let’s explore some main ideas from it in relation to righteousness. The text begins with the words,
What then will we say that Abraham, our forefather, has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not toward God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”Romans 4:1-3
At the end of the third chapter of Romans, the apostle makes reference to the Law of Moses, Jews and Gentiles, circumcision and uncircumcision, and justification. He then turns his focus to the patriarch of the Jewish people, Abraham himself. From reading verse 2, we have an indication of why he does so.
For Paul’s Jewish readers, it is possible that they could think that they were justified by works of the Law. However, the text continues with Abraham being counted righteous after believing, not after completing works of a law. In the verses that follow, Paul elaborates on this thought by discussing the concept of a reward. He recognizes that when someone works, they receive a reward based on what is owed to them. Justification of the ungodly doesn’t work that way.
Now to him who works, the reward is not counted as grace, but as something owed. 5 But to him who doesn’t work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.Romans 4:4-5
The person who is accounted for righteousness has faith that is not associated with one’s own works. Such a one is now reckoned, or considered, righteous because of believing in He who justifies the ungodly. This is available by the grace of God, and not by doing various works.
Through the apostle, the Holy Spirit then turns to another great man of faith.
Forgiveness of Sins Apart From Works
Even as David also pronounces blessing on the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works, 7 “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man whom the Lord will by no means charge with sin.”Romans 4:6-8
If the testimony of the patriarch Abraham wasn’t enough, we now read the words of King David. Verse 6 repeats the concept that this section is seeking to convey. God counts us righteous apart from works, and from the context we understand that this is in relation to the works of the Law of Moses. This is understandable because the Law is what immediately precedes this discussion of Abraham and his faith. Furthermore, After this section, circumcision and uncircumcision are considered. The former was a key command from the Law of Moses.
Having lived generations after Moses, King David speaks of the works of the Jewish Law. Surprisingly, he refers to topics that were not explicitly mentioned earlier in the passage. Verses 7 and 8 include the words, “iniquities,” “sins,” and “sin.” None of which are pleasant to read… except for their connection with being counted righteous. In the two verses, King David refers to,
- Iniquities are forgiven,
- Sins are covered, and
- The man whom the Lord will by no means charge with sin.
All of these are great blessings. In them, we have wonderful reasons to be happy and joyous! Remarkably, these are not in connection with doing enough work to earn these blessings.
This required an incredible change of mind, especially for those who were Jews.
The Circumcised and the Uncircumcised
The apostle’s teachings on these blessings continue on. This time returning back to the context of the circumcised, uncircumcised, and Abraham.
Is this blessing then pronounced on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it counted? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.Romans 4:9-10
As we would expect, the patriarch Abraham’s experience is crucial to the nature of faith being accounted for righteousness. Paul uses the fact that Abraham was counted as righteous before he was circumcised as proof that faith is apart from works of the Law.
Coming to the last two verses of our current consideration, it reads,
He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was in uncircumcision, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they might be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might also be accounted to them. 12 He is the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had in uncircumcision.Romans 4:11-12
Verse 11 reiterates the connection between faith and righteousness, and that it was accounted toward Abraham before he was circumcised. It also explains that the sign of circumcision was actually a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had. The result being that Abraham is the father of those who believe while in uncircumcision, and those of the circumcision.
The fact that we can be counted righteous, and be considered a child of Abraham through the Lord Jesus Christ is remarkable. It isn’t because we earned it through works. Far from it! It is only available through the incredible grace of God! May we never take that for granted. Praise God, for His love toward us is demonstrated in the example of Abraham’s faith being accounted for righteousness!
A Field of Grass and Trees Bathed in Sunlight by Waldo93 from Pixabay.