Romans 4:1-25- Abraham and the Law of Faith
Explanation- Paul continues pressing on with displaying the idea of justification by faith and not of works. In this chapter, he uses Abraham as the primary example, who is considered the father, or head patriarch, of the Jewish people. Paul argues that if Abraham were justified by works, then he would have a reason for boasting. The Scripture does not paint a picture of Abraham being justified by the works of the Law but instead says that he, ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’ (Rom. 4:3; Gen. 15:6). This belief in God’s ability despite Abraham’s inability is what God saw and counted as righteous. When one performs a job, he is paid according to the work that he has done. But a man who has done no work must rely on the goodwill of another for provision. In our society, this is looked down upon, but to God, this is the only means by which man can be saved. Reliance on the absolute glory and ability of God to accomplish His purposes despite human interaction and interference is the foundation of God’s plan of salvation. As David said in Psalm 32, ‘Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’ (Rom. 4:8; Ps. 32:2). Sin cannot be counted where faith is present. Faith in the righteousness and provision of God through the Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient to cover a multitude of sins. So in this, God is glorified, and man is delivered from his great burden.
Who then is this blessing reserved for? Is it only meant to be of benefit to the Jews who are offspring of Abraham according to the flesh? Or do the Gentile peoples find inclusion as well? Paul answers this by offering clarification on the subject of circumcision. He raises the question of whether Abraham found justification with God before or after his circumcision. The answer is clearly stated as being after. Circumcision was meant to be an external sign of an inward reality already present. Circumcision was meant to be a ‘seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.’ (Rom. 4:11). In turn, if Abraham found justification before being circumcised, then he is not only the father of those of the circumcision (i.e., the Jews) but also of the uncircumcision (i.e., the Gentiles). Truth be told, circumcision profits a man nothing without the faith of Abraham preceding circumcision, which validates a man’s circumcision before God. Circumcision is ultimately a work of the flesh and is therefore unable to provide man any sort of favor with God in itself.
In turn, the promise to Abraham and his offspring came through faith and not the law. If it were from adhering to the Law’s requirements that the promise found validation, then faith and the promise both become void. The Law can only provoke the wrath of Almighty God and does nothing in the way of saving sinful man. The Law points out sin but provides no remedy for the relief of sin’s wages. Only through the righteousness of faith, apart from the Law’s requirements, can man find peace with God. Abraham believed God against all forms of natural reasoning and trusted that He was able to do that which He promised. Faith counted as righteousness was not meant only for Abraham, but also for those who, after Abraham, would come to believe in the work of God the Father who raised up Christ from the dead. We have faith in the finished work of Christ, which has freed us from our sin and made us justified in the sight of God.
Application- The account of Abraham is one that we should revisit time and time again. Paul (or the Holy Spirit through Paul) saw fit to expand upon the account of Abraham in order to show us how his life of faith directly affects our own. It could be said that the faith of Abraham is the prototype of the faith that we are to have in God. Abraham believed that God was able to do as He promised, and rather than trusting in his own inability, he trusted in the ability of God to do that which he could not do himself. With our eye on Abraham (and more importantly, the God of Abraham), let us walk in such a way of faith that brings glory to our Heavenly Father. He is a God who desires, not our good deeds and sacrifices, but He desires us to trust Him completely. Through this faith, He works in us all things that are pleasing to Him.