Was Abraham justified by his works? James 2:21. Or was he justified by faith and not by works? Romans 4:1-6. Our study this week is central to understanding Paul’s theology of righteousness by faith alone, using a very practical example, that of the life of Abraham. Is salvation by faith alone? Is it faith plus works? Or is it a third option, that brings into the play the issue of good works in the life of the person of faith?
The Laodicean condition is self-righteousness. The Jews of Paul’s day had the same issue. Romans 9-10, which we will study further in a subsequent lesson, clearly state that the Jews sought salvation by work of the law, instead of faith, and trusted to their own righteousness, instead of surrendering to the righteousness of God.
The phrase “righteousness of God” refers to a divinely produced righteousness in the perfect life and atoning sacrifice of Christ, then offered as a gift to the human race, having accomplished the legal justification of the race “In Christ” as the Head of Humanity and the Second Adam. I have often heard, after preaching on the beautiful truth and miracle of righteousness by faith, “yes, but we ALSO have to obey.” That is another form of faith plus works. The Jews in the first century argued for circumcision and the keeping of the law as the means to obtaining justification, and men continually wrestle with the question of their “part” in the plan of salvation.
Romans 4 presents three phases in the plan of salvation.
- The promise of divine blessing (the promise of grace.)
- The human response to that divine gift.
- The divine pronouncement of righteousness credited to those who believe (Justification.)
Paul, in Romans 5, of course reveals the resulting experience of a changed heart and the divine implanting of the Holy Spirit, all predicated on the Justification unto Life obtained for all mankind, to be received by faith alone.
When we understand Romans 4, we begin to truly appreciate salvation as a miracle, as something beyond man’s ability to produce through human effort, and the unspeakable gift that Christ is to the human race. We also begin to see very clearly the universality of the gospel to both Jew and Gentile, as Abraham is the “father of us all.” This clearly negates dispensationalism, the theology that drives the “secret rapture”, and the idea that there is more than one Gospel and one Plan of Salvation.
Paul brings out that in the Old Testament, Abraham believed and it was credited to Him as righteousness, to illustrate that the Old Testament, as well as the new, present the one gospel of grace. Hebrews 4:2 tells us that they had the same Gospel preached to them that we have. To keep a balanced perspective, Romans 3:31 points out that faith does not make void the law of God, but establishes it, because the New Covenant promise, the experience of salvation, was available in the OT as well. See Psalm 40:8, Psalm 37:31, Deuteronomy 5:29, Deuteronomy 6:6. The OT people had the same gospel we do, and the Gospel granted to Abraham was the same given to Israel at Sinai, typified in the sanctuary services which prefigured the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
Be ye mindful always of His covenant; the word which He commanded to a thousand generations;16 Even of the covenant which He made with Abraham, and of His oath unto Isaac; 17 And hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant,
1 Chronicles 16:15-17
Salvation is by grace and not of debt. Paul is arguing that if man had to work to obtain his salvation, it would eliminate the reality of grace, and make the basis of salvation the debt man owed God through sin. He shows that Abraham experienced justification by faith before He was circumcised making it impossible that circumcision was the means of obtaining the grace of God.
And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform.” Romans 4:21
Faith in God is revealed in this text, that we place implicit trust in God, in full surrender that what God has promised, He will perform. COL, p. 333.
“All His biddings are enablings” The key verse which harmonizes faith and works is Galatians 5:6… “A faith which works by love.” Faith works by love and purifies the soul. True faith produces an experience of heart change, giving us new motives, a new focus, and the power of the Gospel to make us sons and daughters of God. Ephesians 2:10. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus UNTO good works, which God has foreordained that we should walk in them.”
A “hidden treasure” in this chapter is the fact that God honors Abraham’s faith, in stating that He did not stumble in unbelief, but was strong in faith. Yet doesn’t that trouble you? The fact is, Abraham DID stumble in unbelief, with Hagar, resulting in the birth of Ishmael, who along with his mother had to eventually be cast out of the camp. The good news is that when we finally gain victory over the unbelief of our life, God does not remember our sin, or hold it against us, but rejoices in the victory. I find tremendous comfort in that aspect of Romans 4.
Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all. Romans 4:16
Christ is the surety of the promises of God.