"Justification is illustrated in the Old Testament" Page 1 of 6 (series: Lessons on Romans)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Justification is illustrated in the Old Testament.
Romans 4:1-25

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.”
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,
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.

Paul has just firmly established that the righteousness of God is apart from the law (3:21) and that man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law (3:28). He is aware, however, that the Jew will offer the case of Abraham as rebuttal to this teaching. Paul’s own people were still engrossed with the idea that being Jewish ought to give them certain privileges in the eyes of God. Thus, in this chapter, Paul analyzes the principle by which God saved Abraham. The father of Israel is an illustration of God’s message of salvation in the Old Testament.
1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?

Paul opens up this chapter by connecting this argument with what he had been talking about back in the third chapter. The gospel excludes boasting and establishes the Law, as we have seen. Abraham and David confirm Paul’s line of reasoning.

Paul used the example of Abraham to emphasize the significance of faith. Abraham responded in faith to God’s call (Gen. 12:1–3) and "it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3).

Accounted is a bookkeeping term. Abraham’s faith resulted in “balanced books” with God.

Abraham our father reveals that the nation Israel began with Abraham. Paul had encountered Jews who claimed they did not need to have faith in Christ for salvation, because they were descendants of Abraham. Paul countered that argument by showing that Abraham himself was made right with God by faith.
Found according to the flesh. What has he found according to the flesh? Abraham has found that Abraham’s works according to the flesh did not produce boasting, but only shame and confusion. He had nothing to boast about. Don’t get the Idea that I think Abraham wasn’t a great man, because I don’t— he did some great things. But he also did some shameful things, like when he didn’t believe God, and he ran down to Egypt, where he told Pharaoh that Sarah was not his wife. That’s something Abraham could not boast about.

How was Abraham saved? Not by works, but by faith: “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). Salvation is not like wages that you earn or works that you can boast about. Abraham was not saved by keeping the law because the law had not been given, nor was he saved by obeying a religious ritual. It was all by God’s grace!
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

The Rabbis taught that Abraham had a surplus of merit from his works that was available to his descendants. Paul built on that idea, and agreed that, assuming that Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about. But he could only boast to men and not to God. If a person could establish his righteousness by works—although that is impossible—he could never boast of it in God’s presence.

How, then, was Abraham justified? There are only two alternatives: he might have been justified by his good works—a possibility which Paul has previously attacked—or he might have been justified because of his faith.—the only way, according to Paul in which a man can find peace with God. Logic insists that “since all have sinned” (Rom. 3:32), that Abraham had sinned, and since “no human being will be justified in His sight by the works of the Law” (Rom 3:20), Abraham cannot be an exception. He was justified by faith.

3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

As a Hebrew, a rabbi, a member of the Sanhedrin and a Pharisee, Paul knew exactly how to settle a Jewish argument. He could have debated the point, but instead he says, For what does the Scripture say? Paul appeals to the scripture as the final authority. He even personifies it—the scripture is God speaking. In reality, there is no other authority to which he can appeal. This is a lesson we all should learn well. Whenever we are asked for a moral, ethical, or eternal answer, we should always ask ourselves, “What does the Scriptures say?” Abraham was known as the “father of the faithful.” He had great faith, even though his faith failed him at various times, like when he told Egypt’s Pharaoh that Sarah was his sister. However, God stayed faithful to Abraham even when Abraham was unfaithful to Him. He promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. The promise was given to Abraham at a time when he raised a question with God: “… Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless…” (Gen. 15:2). God gave him no assurance other than a confirmation of the promise that his seed would be like the stars. In other words, Abraham simply believed God. He took the naked word of God at face value, and he accepted it. “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” as if it were actually his.

The apostle asked the question “What does the Scriptures say?”, and then he answers his own question by quoting what Moses records in Genesis 15:6. “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” What do we mean when we say that faith was counted unto Abraham for righteousness? The word translated accounted is an accounting term which is used with regard to credits or debits. It means to set to one’s credit or lay to one’s charge. If you authorize your lawyer to write checks on your bank account, and he does so, although the check is written by him and money received by him, nevertheless the amount of the check is charged to you. The Greek word for "accounted", occurs eleven times in this chapter and is translated by various words such as “count,” “reckon,” and “impute.” Abraham was not righteous. Justification never means to make a man righteous. It only means that God reckons and treats a man as if he were righteous.

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