Chapter 4 Overview
In this chapter Paul will prove from the Old Testament that being justified by faith has always been God’s plan of salvation. He uses two men as examples – Abraham and David. These two examples prove conclusively that salvation through faith was not a new idea that Paul had manufactured.
Has justification by faith always been God’s plan of salvation? (Verses 1- 8)
Notice how Paul begins in verse 3: "What does the Scripture say?" Paul immediately uses the Old Testament Scriptures to prove that justification by faith was already a well-established fact. Paul takes us to Genesis 15:6 to show that Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, was justified by faith alone. This proves that God’s plan of salvation has been the same from the beginning of time. God accounted Abraham righteous simply because he believed God’s promise, not because of any work he performed.
Paul’s example of cross-referencing his teaching of justification by faith with other Scripture is well worth noting. If the apostle Paul used this method to make sure he was teaching good doctrine, so should any teacher. Scripture does not contradict itself. Therefore, always be sure to test your beliefs with other Scripture to be certain that they are in full agreement (Acts 15:15) (1 Cor. 2:13).
Why does Paul emphasize this point concerning faith? If a person were justified by works, then he would have something to boast about, and then God would owe man his salvation as a reward - not as a gift. Obviously, this would totally negate the grace of God. Also, consider what heaven would be like if we could work our way there? The bragging would never stop! Can you imagine how terrible that would be? However, there will be no boasting sessions in the presence of God. It’s going to be, what I call, an on-your-face session. You’ll be casting down your crowns before Him and falling at His feet in humble adoration (Rev. 4:10; 7:11).
Did David Work to be Forgiven? (Verses 6-8)
Paul’s second powerful example was King David, the most influential king of Israel. What did David do to obtain God’s forgiveness after he committed adultery with Bathsheba? Nothing! David simply asked for God’s forgiveness, and by grace, God forgave him for his adultery, his murder, and all his deceit. In Psalm 32, David acknowledged what a blessed man he was that God would do this, obviously because he knew he didn't deserve it. When God forgives lawless deeds, He forgives them by grace alone.
Your sins have been forgiven the same way. Have you done anything to obtain God’s forgiveness? Absolutely not. Forgiveness is not something that could ever be achieved, it must be received! Receiving forgiveness is the message that Paul preached (Acts 26:18).
Notice also in verse 5 this glorious truth that God justifies the ungodly. That means you and me. In fact, the only people He does justify are the ungodly, those that acknowledge that they are sinful and need forgiveness. They come with nothing in their hands, nothing to bargain with. They come by faith seeking grace alone.
What happens to the person who comes to God by faith apart from works? God imputes righteousness to his account instead of sin (vs. 5,8). This word impute is used eleven times in this chapter and is translated accounted, counted, and imputed. To impute is an accounting word that means to credit something to your spiritual account. God has debited your account of sin and credited you with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. If you truly understand this, you will never try to work and deserve His free gift.
Think about it. God has credited your account with the value of Christ’s work! "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight" (Col. 1:21-22).
Is this righteousness just for the Jews? (Verses 9-12)
No. The righteousness of Christ is for all that will receive it, even the Gentiles. Paul proves this point. Paul asks the question in verse 10, When was Abraham accounted righteous before God? Was it when he was already circumcised (a Jew) or before he was circumcised (while still a Gentile)? It is clear that God called Abraham and accounted him righteous before he had fulfilled the rite of circumcision. Therefore, Abraham was technically accounted righteous while he was a Gentile. Abraham believed and responded to God’s promise. It was many years later that Abraham was circumcised (see verse 10).
Why then was Abraham circumcised after he was declared righteous? It was a sign and a seal of the righteousness of faith (v. 11). The word sign means a mark, token, or an authenticating stamp. It is very similar to a wedding ring, which is a token, or mark of the enduring pledge two people make on their wedding day. The ring doesn't make these two people married, but is only a sign that they are husband and wife. Likewise, baptism is a similar sign and token that you have given your life to Jesus Christ. Our baptism is a sign and seal of the righteousness of faith. The work of baptism cannot save us any more than the work of circumcision could save a Jew. Salvation is by grace through faith alone
However, today the church over-emphasizes baptism just as the Jews did circumcision. Many believe that unless you’re baptized a certain way, by their church, by their elders, or sprinkled a certain way with the right words spoken over you, you’re not saved. Let me assure you, you can be saved without being baptized. Romans 3:28 says: "A man is justified apart from the deeds of the law." No work can justify you. Neither is there any divine ordinance that can justify you. Baptism has nothing to do with your salvation. Baptism is simply a sign of your faith. It is an outward sign of something that has already gone on inside your heart. In Colossians 2:9-12, Paul declares, "In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him." How are we complete in Him? Notice in verses 11-12, Paul equates circumcision with baptism. The Jew is complete by the circumcision of Christ or the work made without hands. To the Christian he explains that you also were buried with Christ and raised up from the waters of baptism by faith in the working of God. Therefore, you were raised by faith, not some work or ritual you performed.
A further proof of this truth is seen in Luke 7:50. Jesus said to the woman whom He forgave, "Your faith has saved you." It is important to note that she had not been baptized, but she did have faith. According to Jesus this woman was saved.
But, you may be thinking, What about 1 Peter 3:21 where it declares, "Now you are also saved through baptism." The baptism Peter is referring to in this text is clearly stated. This baptism is not the outward cleansing of the flesh or an external washing of your body, but a good conscience toward God through the resurrection of Jesus. This is the baptism that Peter declares is essential. How does someone get a good conscience before God? Through faith and repentance in a resurrected Christ.
But, should a person get baptized? Yes, by all means. All believers should be baptized in obedience to the Word of God. Jesus commanded the disciples to baptize all new converts (Matt 28:19-20). Peter preached this message on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). But baptism has nothing to do with your salvation. When we go out to baptize people we go out to a public place because it is a public testimony that you are identifying yourself with Jesus Christ. It is an outward sign of something that has already gone on inside (Rom. 6:1-5).
Therefore, Abraham became the father of the circumcision (the Jews) and also all the uncircumcised (the Gentiles) who walk in the steps of Abraham’s faith (v. 12). Is Abraham your father? Are you walking in the steps of Abraham by believing in Christ?
Abraham’s righteousness was apart from the Law (Verses 13-15)
In verses 1-8 Paul has explained that righteousness is given apart from works. In these verses he explains that righteousness is also given apart from the Law. What is the difference between a promise and the Law? A promise needs faith and the Law needs works. Abraham became the heir of God’s promises by faith and not by works of the Law. If a person can gain the promises by works then faith is unnecessary.
In fact, if you try and work to deserve a promise, this demonstrates that you don’t really believe the one who made the pledge. If you told me I promise to drive you to the airport tomorrow, and then walked into my house and heard me anxiously calling everyone I knew to obtain a ride, what would you think? Wouldn't you obviously conclude that I didn't really believe your promise to take me to the airport? Therefore, if you truly believe God’s promise, then you will cease your self-effort to obtain what He has already promised. This is the rest of faith spoken of in Scripture. "For we who have believed do enter that rest" (Heb. 4:3).
Therefore, don’t void your faith by trying to obtain God’s blessings by Law, which is always based in self-effort. Paul further explains that the Law only brings wrath. Why? Because, as we studied earlier the Law only revealed God’s righteous requirements, but gave no power to an individual to obey them. Consequently, this person would fail to keep these requirements and thus only bring wrath upon himself. Paul said that the "strength of sin is the Law" (1 Cor. 15:56). This means that the harder you try to obey, apart from believing His promise for the power of the Holy Spirit to help you obey, the more you actually help sin defeat you. The more you try, the more you help the power of sin within. Therefore, believe God’s promise and renounce self-effort!
What are the lessons we can learn from Abraham’s faith (Verses 16-21)
Here is a simple lesson in faith. Remember in verse 12 where Paul said that righteousness is given to those who walk in the footsteps of Abraham’s faith? Paul now explains what these principles of faith are, so we may walk in them.
1. Faith alone activates the grace of God. (v. 16).
The "it" in this verse refers to the promise of God. Therefore, faith in the promise of God activates the grace of God. The promise "of faith" enables God to activate it in your life by His grace. This makes God’s promise sure to all who believe.
If you want to frustrate and hinder the grace of God in your life, all you have to do is try to deserve it. If you haven’t been receiving very much grace lately and the strength that grace brings into your life, you are probably trying to merit, earn, or achieve it in some way. You can only receive grace by faith alone. We are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8, 9). Faith alone activates God’s grace to save you. If you want to experience more of the grace of God in your life, simply trust Him and ask Him to fill you with His Spirit.
2. Faith believes what God has spoken. Abraham’s faith in verses 17 and 18 was based on what God had spoken. God had promised Abraham a child and he put his faith in what God had said, not in what he felt or saw. He believed what God had spoken even though the child did not exist nor did he even see his wife pregnant. Faith is always based on the faithfulness of the one who has promised (Heb. 11:11).
In the same way, Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she was to have a child. She said, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" Gabriel assured her that it would all take place by the power of the Holy Spirit. What was her response? She said, "Lord, let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:34-38). You've promised it, I believe it.
Are you believing God’s Word like this? Are you standing on what He has spoken or on what you feel or see? This is what faith is all about!
3. Faith and hope must work together. Faith is the conviction of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). Where do you get hope? Hope comes directly from seeing the promises of God’s Word. "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4).
Therefore, when you are discouraged and depressed, get into God’s Word. That’s where you will find hope and the strength to trust again. When Abraham was doubtful concerning the promise of his child, God would speak to him another promise. The promises of God caused him to hope and ultimately to trust again. Notice, that Abraham "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" (vs. 18).
4. Faith doesn’t consider if it is possible, it only considers the promise. The next principal of faith is found in verses 18-19. Abraham did not consider his own body now dead nor the deadness of Sarah’s womb. Note, weak faith only considers the human possibilities. Abraham couldn't do that. He could only consider the God who said it was possible (Luke 1:37).
This is where we stumble in faith. We see the word but then we think, No way. This can’t happen. This is impossible! If you hear yourself saying these words, then it surely will be impossible for you. You must go back to the promise of God and focus your attention there.
5. God can strengthen your faith, fully convincing you. At times we all waver in our faith as we violate the principles outlined in these verses. But, God is faithful and attempts to strengthen our faith through His encouragement. When Abraham wavered in his faith God continued to work with him to fully convince him of the promise and of the ability of the one who promised. How did God do this? God repeatedly came back to Abraham and Sarah to reprove them for their unbelief and then encourage them. God’s original promise to give Abraham descendants is found in Genesis 12:1-3. Then God reinforced this promise in Genesis 13:14-16; 15:1-6; 17:2; 17:9; 17:19; 18:10-15. Through these promises Abraham and Sarah were strengthened and fully convinced of what God would do.
Therefore, if you want your faith strengthened, get into God’s Word on a regular basis and let those promises sink into your heart. Remember the example in Mark 9:24. The man cried out, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." That man had a portion of faith, but needed his faith strengthened. The Lord answered that prayer too. Sometimes we think that we must have perfect faith before God will answer. This is a lie. This Scripture is the proof that God will help your unbelief if you will simply cry out for His grace and help. Ask Him to strengthen you and to convince you concerning His truth. He is faithful to do it.
6. Faith will praise and rejoice. IIn verse 20 Paul says Abraham gave glory to God. The easiest way to know if you truly believe what you’re asking for is if you can thank God in advance of the fulfillment. Are you rejoicing and thankful because you are assured that God is handling the need you have set before Him? In Psalm 33:21, David declared "Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy Name." When you truly trust Him you will rejoice and thank Him because you know what you've asked is done. Therefore, do you thank the Lord immediately after you have asked Him for something? This is believing His promise. Consider forgiveness. He promises to forgive you if you confess your sin. When you ask Him to forgive, do you thank Him immediately? You should, because He is forgiving you immediately. Thanksgiving is the requirement for all believing prayer (Phil. 4:6).
7. Faith believes God is able to do what He has promised. In verse 21, Paul explains that Abraham became fully persuaded that what God " had promised He was also able to perform" (Rom. 4:21). This is another essential key to Abraham’s faith. Abraham became fully convinced that what God had promised He was also able to do. How did God do this? God asked Abraham, "Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son" (Gen. 18:14). God made Abraham consider the ability of God to do what He had promised. Overcoming faith is always based on what you believe God is able to do. When you are struggling in faith just compare the greatness of God’s ability with the smallness of your problem or need. This should strengthen your faith and lift you out of your unbelief. When the disciples were being threatened and persecuted notice how they addressed the Lord in their prayer. "So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them" (Acts 4:24). Remember whom you are addressing when you pray!
The application (Verses 22-25)
We have just seen the steps of Abraham’s faith. How can you apply this to yourself? Paul states that because Abraham believed God, he was declared righteous. He is our example. When you first came to Christ, you heard a promise; the Lord would forgive and save you if you would just ask. You believed that promise. You believed in spite of all you had done. You have this same faith, even the faith of Abraham.
Do you understand? All that happened to Abraham is an example to us. It was not written for Abraham’s sake alone. Therefore, even as Abraham was called out of his sinful idol worship, you also have responded to God’s call to follow Him and to turn from your idols. You are following Him to the promised land of victory in Christ even though you don’t quite understand how you will get there. You are believing the promises that God has made even though you wonder how God can do all that He has promised. You don’t understand it all, yet you still believe. The Lord is strengthening your faith and fully convincing you as you follow Him. Ultimately, you are convinced that what He has promised, He is able also to perform. Therefore, the righteousness that was imputed to Abraham has also been imputed to you (v. 24).
Finally, in verse 25, Paul leaves us with the reminder of how the work of salvation takes place. Christ was delivered for our offenses and was raised up again as proof that God keeps His promise and that the sacrifice of Jesus was acceptable. This is also our assurance that He will keep His promise to us who believe, and has justified us from our sin.