Romans Chapter 4

4:1       What then shall we say Abraham our father according to flesh to have found?

Abraham was the physical, biological ‘father’ of all members of the nation of Israel. When Abraham encountered the Sovereign LORD YHWH, he had not known Him, nor had he lived as a man who did. Abraham had nothing to offer God to compel God’s kindness or to turn aside the outcome of justice; Abraham was not a sinless man.

Abraham’s people lived in Sumer, in Ur of the Chaldees. The area was referred to as Mesopotamia, as well as the ‘fertile crescent’. Historical records show Sumer to have been pantheistic (‘god’ is everywhere) as well as polytheistic (they worshipped several deities).[1] Abraham’s father Terah served idols rather than the living and true God. To put this into perspective, Noah was still alive when Terah was born, while Shem was alive when Isaac was born to Abraham – and possibly was still alive when Isaac’s children were born. Despite the living first-hand witnesses of both the power and the judgment of the living God, and His exceptional grace towards men who were faithful to Him, most, and possibly all, of Abram’s predecessors had abandoned true worship for the pursuit of idols, and Abram grew up in an idolatrous environment influenced by his own father’s pagan beliefs.[2] There is no indication that Abram had a pre-existing inclination toward YHWH God, but he did have an awareness of deity in general. We have no record of what Abram himself believed about God or gods prior to his encounter with YHWH. His response requires that he not have been atheistic – denying the existence of spiritual beings. He also had to appreciate that spirit was meta-physical, otherwise he would have been disinclined to receive communication from something he could not see. His readiness to listen, to believe, and to obey is the evidence that he had a sense of the divine, as well as the knowledge that divinity must be personal, not simply a qualitative state of existence to which any entity might possibly be able to aspire. He also had to possess an awareness that deity had supernatural power, and was entitled to respect and obedience. His response to God demonstrated his understanding that a “God” must be of greater authority than a man, and that man’s appropriate response to a “God” was to believe and obey when God spoke.

It is possible that Abram was unique among his peers, and knew or at least knew of the Creator God to whom Noah and his sons must have borne witness throughout their lives, and this may have conditioned Abram’s instant willingness to receive what God had said as completely true and trustworthy. The Scripture record is silent on this question, so while we can reason some point through to reasonable conclusions, we simply don’t know what Abram believed before He met God.

4:2       For if Abraham by works / deeds was justified, he has boast – but not toward God.

How was the ‘father according to the flesh’ justified before God?

If in fact Abraham had been declared righteous by God on the basis of his deeds – a life lived in true goodness, justice, and truth is something for which he could justly commend himself. His behaviour would be exceptional in human experience, so he could even hold himself out as an example to others, if he could have been found right by God on the basis of how he had lived. Of course, even a righteous man has no boast before the Holy and Perfect Creator; it is only right and good that anyone live in accordance with the will of a rightful Sovereign, Who would not owe His subjects honour because they were obedient.[3]

4:3       for what says the Scripture, but ‘Abraham believed to (lit: trusted) God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.

But the record of the Scripture is that God considered Abraham righteous because Abraham believed God. God did not consider Abraham’s works in imputing righteousness to him; He neither based His judgement upon Abraham’s good performance, nor did He detract from it because of Abraham’s failures to live in faithful consistency with God’s nature and rightful authority. On the sole basis of nothing but his faith, God awarded to Abraham’s account the credit of ‘righteousness’. He was not considered righteous because he followed the rules, but because he received God and God’s word without hesitation, without argument, without doubt. He believed God because He is God, and God considered him righteous for it.

The promises that Abram believed were remarkable: first God called Abram to leave his country and his family and travel ‘to a land I will show you’. People tended to gather by clans, and remain near their kin till death. The practical benefits included more hands to the work, protection from adversaries and adversities; having found a good land, remaining on it was profitable. Undoubtedly there were emotional and relational motivators then as now also. To leave behind everything familiar, to lose the advantage of many hands to the work, to abandon all the fruits of past labours, including built houses, tilled fields, established businesses, in order to journey to a strange land and start all over was a daunting prospect, particularly to an old man. Moreover, Abram was asked to travel ‘to a place I will show you’. God did not tell Abram where to go; He simply told Abram to get going, and God would show him when he arrived.

Then, God promised Abram to make from him a ‘great nation’. Abram was an old man, whose body was ‘as good as dead’. He had no children, and his wife was past child-bearing condition. Yet this God Who spoke out of the heavens told Abram that he would have descendants, that God would bless him, and make his name great, making him a blessing. And Scripture records, “So Abram departed as YHWH had spoken’.[4] Obviously Abram believed God, or he would never have left.

While Abram travelled, God appeared to him, and told him that He would give the land to Abram’s “seed”. God spoke of Abram having children as though there was no doubt that it would happen, despite Abram being 75 years old when he began his long trek. Even then, Abram didn’t protest that he was too old, and Sarah was no longer fertile; he responded by worshipping God.[5]

When they had pitched camp, again God spoke to Abram, telling him that god would give al that land to him and to his descendants forever, and that God would make Abram’s descendants number as the dust of the earth. Again, Abram responded by building an altar to worship YHWH.

Abram’s nephew was kidnapped during a war between those of the country in which he had set up camp, and enemy tribes, and Abram took his servants to fight and rescue Lot. When he was offered the spoil of war, he refused, vowing that he would not take anything so that no one could ascribe his wealth as coming from the King. After this event, God spoke to Abram that magnificent promise: “Fear not, Abram; I (am) they shield; thy exceeding great reward.” (G 15:1) Of all God’s promises to him so far, nothing compares to the proclamation of YHWH that He Himself would be what Abram had gained by his faith.

When Abram responded to this blessing by asking what God would ‘give him’, because he lacked a child, God added the promise that Abram’s heir would come from his own body, and repeated His promise that his descendants would number as the stars of heaven. It is at this point in the record that Moses wrote, “And he believed in YHWH, and He counted it to him for righteousness.”

God’s promises to Abram were beyond any human or material possibility. Under no circumstances could Abram have caused them to come about under his own power or by his own strength. But when YHWH God declared them to him, and repeated for the third time that Abram would have children, and descendants too numerous to count, Abram had no doubt that what God had promised would come to pass, and God awarded Abram, as He had blessed him, with the gift of Himself, by imputing righteousness to the man who chose to believe God.

4:4       But to him working, the wage is not reckoned (accounted) according to grace, but according to debt (obligation);

When someone works, he earns his reward; his reward is deserved.[6] Grace is the extension of some benefit which is not deserved. There is no grace in paying someone what they have earned; the wages are owed; they must be paid.

When someone does not work, he earns nothing. Any benefit he receives is undeserved, and imparted through the grace of the one who gives. A man who does not work in an effort to earn God’s benefits, but trusts God, has acknowledged God as God when he believes what God has said. He has nothing to offer God to compel God to impart to him divine benefits, and may therefore expect only what he is owed: nothing. But God has declared that He will justify the ungodly on the basis of their faith. Therefore the man who believes God, receives His grace; his debt is paid on his behalf, and God declares him clean. The sins of the past are paid, and that man becomes righteous in the eyes of the Sovereign LORD.

4:5       but to him not working, but believing on the One justifying the ungodly, his faith is accounted in righteousness.

The person who works to justify himself to God is spinning his wheels in sand, digging a progressively deeper pit in which he will become inextricably buried. He believes that he can somehow ‘do enough good’ to ‘balance out’ the bad, and earn God’s favour. When we violate God’s standards, word, will, or nature, we are by definition challenging His sovereignty and maligning His goodness, calling His judgment into question and refusing His generosity; how then can we possibly work enough to repay such an offense? To trust in our own goodness is to trust what we have proven unworthy of trust.

But when we trust God, Who has promised to justify all who call upon Him for salvation from the penalty of our un-good-ness, we submit to His sovereignty, proclaim His goodness, agree with His judgment, and gratefully receive His generous gift – and He redeems us. Our sins are covered by the blood Christ shed upon His cross; He paid the criminal’s death so we criminals could live; our sins are pardoned because He took them upon Himself. When we receive Him, and trust Him for our salvation, we no longer work for His acceptance; we recognize any offering on our part to be either an effort to bribe the Just Judge, or a refusal to believe He is so good, or an insistence that He is unjust, or pride that we are somehow ‘too bad’ for Him to atone.

No, when we trust God’s provision for our offenses, He considers our faith as righteousness, and our sins are pardoned, covered by His sacrifice of Himself for our sake, and He does not count our offenses against us; we are free!

4:6       even as also David tells the happiness of the person to whom God accounts righteousness apart from acts:

Paul references David’s psalm 32 in which David exults in God’s kindness toward him: David wrote that he experienced oppression and even physical distress when he tried to pretend he had not sinned, but when he confessed his sin to YHWH, God then forgave him and restored him, and his distress was relieved.

It is commonly known that David was described as a man ‘after God’s own heart’.[7] David loved the Lord as a teenager, and trusted Him explicitly.[8] God spoke to and through David by the Holy Spirit, and David sought God’s direction in all matters.[9] David communed with God and clearly had a sound appreciation of Who God is and of what sort God is.

Despite the closeness of his relationship with YHWH, and God’s communication with and leading of him, David did succumb to sin on more that one occasion. His most grievous sin appears to have been his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her upright husband when she became pregnant with what would obviously be David’s child. Considering the closeness of his relationship with YHWH, and the depth of his knowledge of the living God, it seems astonishing that David could have become susceptible to such a terrible offense, which he knew without question was completely wrong. Moreover, he will have known that he was doubly wrong because he knew God so well, and had such a privileged fellowship with Him.

It is strongly suspected, and with good reason, that Psalm 32 was written after his transgression with Bathsheba. David, when confronted by the prophet Nathan regarding his wickedness, was convicted of his sin against God and against God’s people. He had worked hard to cover his sin, trying to trick Uriah into sleeping with his wife to make the baby appear to be the husband’s, but Uriah refused the comfort of his own home while his countrymen continued in the danger of the front-line of the war against Rabbah. When David could not cover his wrong by a gentle means, he conspired with his captain to having Uriah abandoned to enemy fire by the retreat of troops, which resulted in his own death and other members of the army of Israel. Rather than accept responsibility for his sin and deal with those consequences, David increased his sin in causing the death of otherwise innocent men, men who trusted his leadership and were fighting to defend their country and king. David was an embattled man in his heart, because he did wrong in the first place, and then compounded it with greater sin. Until Nathan confronted him, he sought to hide his wrongs; once he was exposed, he admitted his sin, and was able to receive God’s forgiveness, although the consequences of his deceit and murder would be severe. David knew the relief of ‘coming clean’ with the LORD and the blessing of not being cast away for his crimes.

David had nothing to bring to God for approval; if God were to account to him according to his works, He would be obligated to count him guilty and condemn him. But God offered David forgiveness as soon as David confessed his sin; He pardoned him from the death penalty due to him for his actions and granted him life.

4:7       ‘Happy (are) they whose transgressions (lawlessnesses) were pardoned and whose sins were covered.

Whose sins are covered”. Some people wrongly conclude that God allows some people to ‘get away with’ the things they do wrong. This could not be farther from the truth. God requires the penalty paid for every wrong that is committed; God is a just Judge; He cannot simply dismiss the wrongs because someone has done some things right. Some have offered the illustration of a court room in which the accused pleads with the judge to commute the sentence deserved for their guilt because they have done good deeds: “Your honour, please do not throw me in jail for beating that man! I have not only done bad things in my life; I have given 100.00 to charity that feeds the poor, and I helped my daughter buy a new car, and I love my grandchildren and take them on picnics. I even help my old neighbour shovel his driveway!” when they hear a similar illustration, most people recognize the absurdity of the plea. Of course the guilty man should not be freed from the consequences of his crime because he has done some good things; he must pay the penalty for what he has done.

Hoping that our ‘good outweighs our bad’ when God brings us to judgment is exactly the same thing. But for God to be just, He cannot simply ignore our crimes, anymore than the judge in a court-room can ignore the crime of the accused, simply because he, or we, have done some good things as well as the bad. We know it’s ridiculous for him to ask, but somehow a lot of people don’t think it’s ridiculous for them to ask for the same consideration!

But God does pardon sin, by covering the sin Himself. As Paul has already said, and will repeat several times in this letter and in every letter he writes, the penalty of our sin against God is covered by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, the innocent, righteous man, volunteered on our behalf. When His death is applied to our sentence, our transgressions are pardoned and we can go free.

4:8       Happy (is) man to whom the Lord shall not be reckoning sin.’

If our “law-breaking” is pardoned, and our sins covered, then our account is cleared of wrong-doing. We have nothing more of which to be convicted, and no more risk for execution. We are freed.

It is important for us to fully appreciate the significance of this freedom. As guilty criminals in God’s kingdom, we are under the charge of treason. God is sovereign in His kingdom, and every offense against Him qualifies as treason. Because the whole creation belongs to YHWH, there is no place that is separate from His jurisdiction, and therefore no place to go away from His Spirit – or to escape His judgment. There is only one outcome possible for anyone who violates God’s righteous authority – to be expunged from God’s jurisdiction, which is the death penalty.

If God does not account sin to us, we come out from under the penalty that is our eternal condemnation. While our bodies will die if Christ does not return first, we will not be bound in a prison of torment separated from God for eternity, as is the necessary and certain outcome for everyone whose sins are counted against them. Eternal hell, set apart from God, means set apart from all that is good, that is pure, that is lovely, that is peace; all that is joy, love, truth, or any other desirable or beneficial quality. Eternal hell means condemned to darkness, despair, turmoil, hatred, the consuming lie, and all that is evil and offensive, with no escape. All of this comes upon men and women who will have knowledge and awareness of what they endure and what they have lost, and why.

The man who escapes that grievous eternal future must understand that he is truly a guilty criminal with nothing to offer in his own defence. He must acknowledge that perfect justice requires his condemnation and experience of the just penalty of his many wrongs. And he must know that he has received mercy, not because he has managed to buy or talk his own way out of the situation, but because the Sovereign Lord God has offered him freedom through the payment of his penalty by the Lord Himself, which was applied to his charge when he received the Lord as God – the remediation of the original problem, as Paul wrote early in this letter – and entrusted his salvation from death to the grace of God and the atoning death of Christ.

When we understand who and how we are, and the consequence of our offenses, and we understand and receive that grace which God has offered to us completely free to ourselves, and what He has freed us from, we cannot help but be grateful, to rejoice that He has given us what we needed and we could not achieve on our own.

In David’s case, he understood that under The Law, he was guilty of adultery and murder, both of which were capital offences. He should have been executed according to the law; but because he confessed his guilt to God, God spared his life. He understood the enormity of both the offence and the rightful consequence, and he knew what mercy he had received.

4:9       Is this happiness then on the circumcision, or also on the uncircumcision? For we say that to Abraham is faith accounted in(to) righteousness.

Under what circumstance is the ‘blessedness’ of having one’s sins cleared? The Jews believed that circumcision was a defining characteristic for God’s pleasure in them. But clearly God was pleased with Abraham, if He ascribed righteousness to him because of his faith, and Abraham was not yet circumcised. Scripture says that God accounted Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness, not his circumcision. Therefore God’s pleasure in Abraham was based on Abraham’s faith.

4:10     How then is it accounted; being in circumcision or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.

So is that righteousness because of faith accounted while circumcised or uncircumcised? In Abraham’s case, he had not yet been circumcised; righteousness was accounted before circumcision was performed. That means that his righteousness was not dependant upon the physical action or symbol, but only on the condition of mind and heart that motivated Abraham to believe God.

4:11     and (a) sign he obtained (received) of circumcision, seal of the righteousness of the faith of him in the uncircumcision, (for; lit: into) him to be father of all the faithful through uncircumcision, that the righteousness be accounted also to them.

Circumcision was only the sign that was given, the ‘seal’, or indicator of the righteousness he received because of the faith he possessed and exercised before being circumcised.

4:12     and father of circumcision to those not of circumcision only, but also to those following the footsteps of faith of our father Abraham in the uncircumcision.

How is Abraham the ‘father of circumcision’ to those not of the circumcision?

The circumcision of his flesh was a picture of the circumcision of his heart. It was given exclusively as a sign, and given exclusively to Abraham and his offspring. But God has not only created the people called ‘Israel’, nor does He love only Israel, nor has invited Israel only into fellowship through reconciliation to Him.

Insofar as Abraham is the father of physical people, known as Israel, he is the father of the circumcision, but he is the father ‘of circumcision’ by virtue of his faith in the living and true God, and all of his physical descendants whose hearts were or are likewise exposed to the touch of the LORD are his children in an even deeper sense. Because through Abraham, reconciliation to God was made possible by his being the father according to flesh of Christ the Saviour, Abraham also becomes the father ‘of circumcision’ to all who follow him in faith who were never physically altered, because following him in faith necessarily means looking forward to Christ, the promise to come, or living in Christ in the present.

4:13     For not through Law (is) the promise to Abraham, or to his seed, of him being the heir of the world, but through righteousness of faith.

The Law and the promise were separated by over 400 years, and the promise predated the Law. Not only did God’s earthly promises to Abraham for his offspring predate the giving of that Law, but His promise that in Abraham all nations of the earth would be blessed was also given centuries before that Law. And just as God’s promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations was based exclusively on God’s word – there were no conditions to be met which had not already been met – God’s promise to bless the world through the seed of Abraham was based exclusively on the word of God; here were no further conditions to be met. Therefore those promises could not have been dependant upon the Law or anyone’s conformance to it, because the Law did not exist at the time the promises were given.

In fact, God’s promises to Abraham that his seed would inherit the world was given in response to Abraham’s faith. We don’t have any history concerning why God chose to speak to Abraham, or tell him to leave his people to receive a land, or to promise him physical fatherhood, or that his offspring would bless ‘all nations’ of the world. We only know that God made those promises, Abraham believed him, and Abraham was declared righteous by God specifically for believing what God had promised. The promise to Abraham was because he was faithful; it had nothing whatever to do with the Law. In fact, the Law was given several generations after Abraham had died, expressly because his descendants of that time did not trust God, despite everything they had seen. The Law was a response to unfaithfulness, and a failure to believe the promises. If anything, the Law could be said to be opposed to the promises rather than the promises being dependant upon the Law.

4:14     For if those of Law (are) heirs, faith has been emptied, and the promise has been nullified,

Because the terms of god’s promise had been established before the Law, and were given to Abraham and his ‘seed’ ‘forever’, to re-establish the promise of eternity upon the observance of the Law would cancel the original promise to Abraham. There is one ‘eternity’, there is one reconciliation, there is only one Messiah Saviour. If God first said He would bless the nations – which we now understand to mean salvation – through the seed of Abraham, who was declared righteous because of faith and to whom God declared Himself the reward for that faith, but thereafter determined that righteousness and salvation would be achieved by observance of the Law – indeed if He changed the basis for righteousness and salvation to anything other than what he had originally promised – the original promise would no longer be the condition upon which those things were determined, making the promise void. Faith no longer is the operant in salvation but rather performance becomes the means to the end.

4:15     for the Law works indignation; for where no Law is, neither is transgression.

The problem comes in that, as long as there are rules to follow that someone breaks, that person becomes a law-breaker, and subject to justice. A Law exposes the wrong; but it cannot make right. If no law exists, it cannot be broken. But when a law has been established, every violation of it brings condemnation and condemnation must bring punishment.

If Law was the basis for righteousness, those without the Law could not be considered unrighteous because they have no Law to break. If some could be considered righteousness because they are free from a Law that shows them to be otherwise, they cannot be condemned for what they do, nor can they be punished. If the Law is the basis for exposing right and wrong, and there is no Law, nothing can be declared wrong, and those who have no Law are therefore not guilty; you cannot break a Law that doesn’t exist.

But of course Paul has already shown that everyone is guilty; Adam was guilty before any Law was conceived, and all men have been guilty since.

We need to understand the deeper implication of Paul’s assertion that there is no transgression where there is no law. Because “law” in its most basic understanding is the simple expression of a requirement, and because “transgression” means to break a law or rule or requirement, it is not possible to transgress if there is no expressed requirement.

Christ came to fulfill the Law[10], as the propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the world.[11] But in coming to atone for men’s sin ‘once for all”[12], Christ did away with the Law[13]; it was no longer required because the final and complete sacrifice had been made in His cross. The Law no longer exists, therefore the Jew is no longer condemned by it because what has ceased has no power over those who live.

But moreover, the child of God in Christ is not called to the old Law, or to a new law in the sense of a prescribed set of requirements to observe. Rather, we are called to ‘live after the Spirit’, to be led by the Spirit of God. [14] Whereas the Law, or any law, enslaves by the compelling requirement to observe and do all it contains, and the condemnation that results in failure to do so, we are called to freedom in Christ[15], to simply live. He assured His first followers that the Holy Spirit would live in them, teach and guide them[16], so they would be able to live “holy as God is holy”. Just as God’s original desire from Adam and Eve was to live in fellowship with God, hearing His voice and acting according to God’s goodness, His purpose in salvation is to reshape all of His children through the indwelling Holy Spirit, to live in fellowship with Him, hearing His voice and acting according to His goodness.

The sweetness of this reality is that we who are in Christ have been restored to God’s original intended condition: without law, there is no transgression. Law has been abolished in Christ, and therefore we continue as those who are apart from transgression, whose sins are pardoned and not imputed to us anymore.[17]

The bitterness of the same reality is that those who choose to attempt to establish their own righteousness by following a law or The Law, commit themselves to judgment by the law they choose to follow. Because law obligates the individual to complete and flawless observance in order to escape being called a lawbreaker – or a transgressor – these people who seek their own righteousness by legal observance will all find themselves condemned; no one succeeds at perfect conformance to any behavioural code, and certainly none of us succeeds at keeping our thoughts and feelings in perfect alignment with any good and just principles through every second of our lives. Everyone becomes guilty when judged by a righteous law, because everyone does transgress, and everyone so judged must then be condemned by a righteous Judge. Every appeal to a law or The Law as the basis of righteousness will result in condemnation, and everyone condemned will perish.

4:16     Through this: from faith, that according to grace the promise be confirmed to all the seed, not to those of the Law only but also those of faith of Abraham, who is father of all of us,

If anyone performs, they are entitled to the benefit associated with the performance. Since breakers of the Law are guilty, they must suffer punishment; but the punishment for sin against the eternal God is eternal condemnation. Those apart from Law appear to be innocent, but those outside of Israel were those of pagan nations that worshipped gods that were not; they were guilty without a ‘code’ because they rejected the God Who is.

But faith as teh basis for righteousness means that righteousness is imputed, not ‘earned’, and becomes available to anyone and everyone who possesses the faith that Abraham possesses. To appeal to the Law to establish righteousness is to leave us subject to death, because we are all guilty. But to offer righteousness on the basis of trusting God is an unearned gift given by Him to we who must otherwise be considered unrighteous if measured by our moral or legal performance. God’s grace opens the opportunity for salvation to those who fail to meet the standards of Law, but whose hearts are open to the touch of the Master.

4:17     according as it has been written that, ‘father of many nations have I appointed you’, before Whom he believed, God who quickens the dead, and calls what is not as being,

The God Whom Abraham believes is the God Who has absolute power over life and death, and Who brings to life that which is dead – He raises the bodies of those who have died from the earth, and He brings new life into we who were ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ because we were under the condemnation and sentence of death.

If God  can raise the dead, then what is too hard for Him to do? He told Abraham that he would father many nations; Abraham didn’t question God’s ability to do this, and neither should we.

4:18     who beyond hope, in hope believed, to his becoming father of many nations according to what was spoken, ‘So shall your seed be.’

Naturally speaking, Abraham had no hope of being anyone’s father, but Abraham believed he could expect the outcome that God had promised: that he would father many nations, and his own seed would become those nations.

4:19     and not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body already being dead, being around an hundred years old, and the deadening of Sarah’s womb,

He did not doubt what God had said simply because it was unlikely, but believed that God could do what God said He would do. That was good enough for Abraham. He didn’t consider the fact that he and his wife were past child-bearing age an impediment to the power of God.

4:20     yet in the promise of God he did not doubt through unfaithfulness, but he was empowered in faith, giving glory to God,

Abraham didn’t doubt God. Because of this, God made Abraham able to do what he otherwise was unable; father children. And Abraham did not only father a child; he fathered several children, through whom many large nations have risen over the centuries since.

When we take God at His word, not doubting that what He says. He will do, we glorify God. In trusting, we glorify; in believing, we glorify. In acting on what we know to be true, we glorify Him Who is Truth, showing Him worthy to those who see our lives.

4:21     and being fully assured that which He has promised, He is able also to do,

Abraham had no doubt. God could do whatever God said He would do. He did not only believe that God would keep His word; he also believed that God was able to do what He said He would do. Many people have faith in things that cannot be: we cannot change the course of the universe, we cannot will things to be the way we prefer. We cannot bring about world peace, defeat AIDS or cancer, find the ‘elixir of life’ or the “Holy Grail”, and we cannot become gods. But people believe all these things, being so fully persuaded as to change the way they live in order to co-operate with those goals.

4:22     wherefore also it is reckoned to him in righteousness.

Paul desired his audience to understand that justification before God was never based on the performance of ‘works’, but was always based upon the existence and expression of faith in God. The Jews claim Abraham for their father, and rest in the promises of God to Abraham as their national heritage. Paul demonstrates that Abraham’s heritage was not based upon his actions, as though he had obeyed a law or The Law, but based on his trust in God’s promises – His promise to give him a natural heir despite his advanced age, His promise to make him a ‘father of many nations’ when his body was nearly dead, God’s promise to bless him and to bless the world through not only Abraham, but through his offspring. God’s promises to Abraham were given apart from any law, with no conditions under any law, and Abraham’s faith was expressed before any law had been given. God declared Abraham righteous, not on the basis of any observed rules, but exclusively on the basis of Abraham’s faith: “And [Abraham] trusted YHWH, and He counted it to him for righteousness.” Gen 15:6  Despite every natural reason to think that God’s promise was not only empty but impossible, Abraham did not hesitate at all in believing that what God said, God was able to perform, because God is God, and nothing is impossible to Him, nor do any of His words fail. This absolute, unwavering trust in the God Who spoke was the sole basis of Abraham’s justification by God, and continues to be the sole basis of our justification before God. Every one of us who now receive God’s word in faith because He is God and He has spoken, is a child of Abraham by faith, and we receive the spiritual inheritance of faith that is offered to all who believe God – imputed righteousness to cover our natural sin.

It is important to remember the beginning of man’s alienation from God. The initial offense began with Eve’s response to the serpent’s accusation, “Yea, hath God truly said…” The serpent proposed that what God had said was false, and Eve received his accusation, not considering that the God Who spoke in the beginning is all truth, and cannot lie. Once Eve decided to believe that what God had said was not trustworthy, her actions followed her faithlessness; she doubted His judgement and followed her own instead. Once God was seen as untrustworthy, the motivation to obey Him was gone, and His word no longer provided that safeguard against temptation. God’s word was now in doubt, God’s character in question. God could not be trusted, therefore man must make his own way. When Adam found his wife had disobeyed, he preferred to follow her lead than follow God’s word; he chose death over life with God.

To disbelieve God is to declare Him unworthy; He may be deceitful, He may break His word. He cannot be pure in our eyes, nor just, nor righteous, nor holy, otherwise we would have no grounds to disbelieve Him. Our unbelief by definition impugns the very character of almighty God.

But when we believe Him, despite our natural inclinations or the influences of our peers, we declare Him to be worthy of our trust. We hold Him where only He may reside – above any reproach or doubt, truly, only, and completely God. And He reckons our faith as righteousness.

4:23     but it was not written because of him only that it is accounted to him,

Obviously the record of God’s grace towards Abraham wasn’t written for Abraham’s benefit, as it was written many hundreds of years after Abraham had died. While we don’t fully understand how God’s work proceeds in eternity – whether upon death we enter into ‘eternity’ in which all of what is anticipated – final judgment, fullness of justification, resurrection, and restoration – are completed, or if those events will occur as in time as though on earth until all is fulfilled. This is not clear from reading the Bible, which is written from the perspective of time because it is impossible to convey the quality of eternality in writing, and of course impossible to portray all events in a single word at once – Abraham lived and died in time, and could not benefit from a post-earthly record of God’s grace.

Neither was it written to preserve Abraham’s story simply to honour his memory. We are to live in the present, not the past, and God is not inclined to ‘nice stories’.[18]

4:24     but also because of us to whom it is about to be reckoned, to the ones believing on Him Who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

Rather, God’s record by Moses of His grace to Abraham was for the benefit of those who came after Abraham, that we might learn about God, about grace, and about faith by the example of what God did for and with Abraham because of his faith. God commissioned Moses to write a clear statement: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” There can be no controversy about the matter, nor misunderstanding that somehow Abraham had performed some deed or deeds that gave him special status with God, nor that God had required any other thing from Abraham in order to justify and accept him, or any other of the many errors men fall into when trying to ‘please God’.

When we see that God has received Abraham exclusively because Abraham believed Him, we can better accept the fact that God continues to receive men who believe Him, exclusively on the basis of that faith. We who believe receive as Abraham received, the imputed righteousness of God as the covering of our guilt. Just as God performed the ‘impossible’ of providing a natural son to Abraham through his lawful wife Sarah far beyond their season of fertility, God also performed the ‘impossible’ by raising Jesus Christ from the dead. Just as Abraham did not waver in faith regarding God’s ability to give him a natural heir, neither must we waver with doubt that God did raise Christ from the dead. If God is able to make a man – an universe – from nothing; if God can speak the entire material reality into existence because He pleased to do so, then restoring life to a dead body is not a hard thing for God to do, and there is no reason to question that He can or that He did.

It is important to remember that God told Abraham that He would give him a natural son 25 years before Abraham received that promise. While the promise in itself was a fantastical proposition in the natural realm, the long delay could very easily have caused Abraham to doubt either that he had been told, or what he had been told. God prophesied to Abraham of an unnatural event to happen many years in the future when the natural course of life would make it all the more ‘impossible’ to the natural man. But Abraham did not doubt God.

God prophesied through His messengers of a day when the dead would rise, and that the Messiah would be put to death, but raised to life again on the third day. His prophesies were given hundreds and even thousands of years before they happened. Israel in particular, but the world around them also waited for the Messiah he had promised to His Jews, and cultures the world over have created for themselves resurrection myths to compensate for their failure to believe the living and true God and His promise of resurrection. The human heart longs for eternity; the concept of death is an invader, and the reality that we must die is offensive to our minds and grievous to our hearts. But the years move forward and we continue to wait.

But God gave His assurance in Jesus Christ; men and women witnessed His death. They saw Him breathe His last breath, and His body go limp on His cross. They saw the corpse carried to Joseph’s tomb. They saw the stone placed over the opening, and the Roman seal upon the stone. There was no question that Jesus was dead.

And then they saw Him alive. They saw Him, they heard Him, they touched Him and felt his physical body. They witnessed the realization of the promise God had given so many years before: He had raised the man Jesus from the grave. He had conquered death. “Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory?” Hosea wrote, “From the power of the grave I will ransom them; I will redeem them from death. Where are your plagues, o death? Where is your sting, o grave? Repentance shall be hidden from my eyes.” (Hos 13:14) God had promised to defeat death; in Jesus Christ, death was defeated. Christ was raised, and now men could be raised. Death reigns no longer over its victims; if we will only believe God as Abraham did, the ‘impossible’ becomes possible through God.

4:25     Who was delivered up because of our offenses and was raised for our justification.

Christ was handed over to the Roman law enforcement by the Jewish religious leaders – because of our offenses. He was not turned in for anything He Himself was guilty of, but rather for what we all have done wrong. Jesus went to the cross for us; He did not go for Himself.

Jesus Christ was raised from the dead so that we could benefit from His death. Had he only died and not risen, we could also not have escaped death; His death would have been a waste of time, because our consequence – death – to our sin, would have remained forever. In order for men to be free from the `sting of death’, Christ had not only to suffer the death penalty, but He must also be raised from the death, cancelling death and opening the door of eternity for the benefit of mankind. Declared righteous on the basis of faith in the Lord Christ Who bought us with His blood, we are now freed from the penalty of sin, which is death, by His resurrection from the dead.

This is the essence of the gospel: God’s righteousness shall be imputed to us also if we trust Him Who raised Jesus Christ from the dead, Who was delivered to death for our offences and raised that we may be justified. We must trust the Lord Jesus Christ – Who He is, What He says, What He has done on our behalf. How very simple. How very plain.

Christ died for our sins, He rose again and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and He will return to judge the living and the dead. All who trust Him shall be saved from our sin, receiving His righteousness as our covering, His death having paid our fine.

Do you believe Him?

[2] Joshua 24:2

[3] Luke 17:10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.’”

[4] Genesis 12:1-5

[5] Gen 12:7

[6] 1 Tim 5:8

[7] 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22

[8] 1 Sam 17:37

[9] Mark 12:36, Acts 1:16

[10] Matthew 5:17

[11] John 3:16; 1 John 2:2; Colossians 1:4; Hebrews 9:22;

[12] Hebrews 10:10

[13] 2 Corinthians 3:6-11

[14] Romans 8; Galatians 5;

[15] John 8:32, 36

[16] John 14:17, 26; 16:13-14

[17] Psalm 32

[18] Ez 33:31-32; 1 Tim 1:4; Titus 1:4