“Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? 2 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. 3 For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” 4 When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. 5 But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners. 6 David also spoke of this when he described the happiness of those who are declared righteous without working for it:
7 “Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sins are put out of sight.
8 Yes, what joy for those
whose record the Lord has cleared of sin.”
9 Now, is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it also for uncircumcised Gentiles? Well, we have been saying that Abraham was counted as righteous by God because of his faith. 10 But how did this happen? Was he counted as righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised! 11 Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised. So Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith but have not been circumcised. They are counted as righteous because of their faith. 12 And Abraham is also the spiritual father of those who have been circumcised, but only if they have the same kind of faith Abraham had before he was circumcised.13 Clearly, God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith. 14 If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless. 15 For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!)16 So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For Abraham is the father of all who believe. 17 That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him, “I have made you the father of many nations.” This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing.18 Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” 19 And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb.20 Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. 22 And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. 23 And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded 24 for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” (Romans 4:1-25 NLT) Paul uses Abraham as the example of salvation by grace through faith because he was the founder of the Jewish nation and was greatly revered by the Jews and many wrongly taught that he was perfect in his obedience to God.
In verses 1-8 we see that Abraham was justified (saved) by faith not by works. “If his good deeds (works) had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. 3 For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” (vv. 2-3) This is a reference to Genesis 15:6 where God promised Abraham a son in his old age and descendants as many as the stars in the heavens. His faith was faith in God’s promise, and in God’s ability to provide that which He promised. This is also true of our faith in God for salvation through Jesus. It is not our great faith but the greatness of our God, His love and sacrifice, to forgive us for our sins and give us the very righteousness of Christ and eternal life. And then Paul uses David (another OT hero of the Jews) as an example of how God not only imputes righteousness to us (as He did with Abraham) but does not impute sin to us.“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.8 Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin.” (vv. 7-8) This is from Psalm 32 where David confesses his sin of adultery and murder knowing that there was no sacrifice provided for in the Law that could cover his sin. So by faith, David grasped salvation (forgiveness of sins) through God’s grace. Both the imputation (credit) of righteousness and the removal of sin are seen in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, (the removal of our sin debt as Jesus bears it for us) so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (in Christ we receive His perfect righteousness).” So through the miracle of justification (salvation) God declares us both 1) not guilty and 2) righteous.
In verses 9-12 we see that Abraham was saved before he was circumcised. “Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised.” (v. 11) By Jewish definitions, Abraham was really a Gentile when he was saved. Likewise, baptism or receiving The Lord’s Supper are outward signs that do not save us. Sacraments are an outward sign of an inward reality (salvation) that has already occurred.
In verses 13-16 we see that Abraham was saved apart from keeping the Law. Moses and the Law came over 400 years after Abraham. “So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For Abraham is the father of all who believe.” (v.16) Abraham was justified by faith, apart from works, the Law, or circumcision.
Assurance of salvation – 18 “Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” 19 And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb 20 “Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. 22 And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. 23 And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded 24 for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (vv.18-24)
[Ken Boa’s commentary on Romans 4 and the assurance of salvation – “Once God gives you eternal life, it is by definition eternal and it can never be lost. If what you have is lost then it was never eternal. Also, it is not just eternal; it is a new quality of life as well. It has both elements in it. The point is that it is His life, the life of Christ, in you. It is like the gift of forgiveness. You can’t give it back. You can’t say you don’t want to be forgiven any more. He has already given you the gift. What you do with it is another matter. You see the point here? Once you entrust yourself, once you have a new birth that is it. It does not mean, therefore, that the person can think he has all the insurance and go off and do what he pleases. That would really be evidence that they really didn’t grasp the nature of the Gospel. If a person now has the idea that he can sin with impunity and have no contrition, then I begin to question that he understood the gift of salvation. So my view here is that this is a gift and because it is not earned, it cannot be lost. If nothing we can do will earn it, then the question is, is there anything we can do to un-earn it. My point is this: if we could lose our salvation by committing a specific sin, how big a sin would it need to be? The answer is that if sin can cause us to lose it, then any sin will do. There are two objective bases for your salvation and there are two subjective bases for your salvation. The objective ones concern 1) the work of Christ and 2) the Words and promises of God on our behalf. That is the objective bases. In other words you are not just putting your hope in mid-air. You are putting your hope in a Person Who lived in space and time and Who accomplished something very specific. There is objectivity; the Scriptures reveal who He is and tell us what He has done. We are not now looking at something and saying it sure would be nice. Christ was an historical figure and primary historical documents attest to His work, His life, and His resurrection. And, as we have gone over in the past, the evidence for His resurrection is pretty powerful. It far exceeds that of the attempts used to overcome it. The point is simply this: those are the objective foundations; the promises of God in Scripture and the work of Christ on our behalf. But, there are also two subjective dimensions. One of them is the internal witness of the Spirit of God. Paul mentions this in Romans 8:16 when he says that, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” Also see 1st John 3:24: “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us by the Spirit whom He has given us.” Here John alludes to the second subjective basis; that you walk in obedience to Him. None of us can do that perfectly. The point is that there is a desire to do so and you return to that desire. If a person, then, now does something that he knows is wrong, and continues to do it with impunity and no conviction, then I question whether he really understood to begin with. That is why James says, “You show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Works are the evidence of your faith. Works don’t save us, but they show evidentially that our faith is real. So, there are two subjective and two objective dimensions and they go together.”]
Abraham’s faith goes beyond saving faith – “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” 19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.” (Hebrews 11:17-19) Abraham believed God could create a child (of promise – a supernatural birth) even through an old man and old woman and then later raise this son of promise from the dead because God had promised that it was through Isaac that the Messiah would come. And God would one day bring forth that Messiah through a supernatural birth (the Virgin Mary) and raise that Son from the dead with supernatural power: “This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. 2 God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. 3 The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, 4 and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:1-4 NLT)
Abraham had an eternal perspective on life, God’s perspective on life, and though he never saw the many descendants God promised him or possessed the land God promised him (the promised land) he died in faith and faithful obedience because he died believing in the goodness of God. “And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. 14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. 15 If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. 16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:12-16)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. What two blessings of salvation by faith does God give us as seen in verses 1-8 and in 2 Corinthians 5:21? Explain the difference in the two.
2. What outward signs do some churches equate with salvation through grace by faith? How do these two verses refute this – Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:3?
3. The unbelieving Jews believed that you had to keep the Law in order to be saved, to be right with God. How does Paul use Abraham as an example to refute this?
4. What are the two objective bases for the assurance of salvation and what are the two subjective bases? Does James disagree with Paul on the subjective bases? Explain your answer. See James 2:18 and 1 John 3:24.
5. How did Isaac’s birth and “type” of resurrection foretell the Gospel? See Galatians 3:8.
6. What motivated Abraham to remain faithful to God to the end? See Hebrews 11:12-16; 24-26. How does or can this motivate our faithful obedience?