Romans Chapter 04

Romans 4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

In the past discussion (chapters were not in use when Paul wrote the letter) Paul explained that both Jew and Gentile are sinners and can only become righteous through faith in Christ. He now discusses the faith of Abraham, the oldest Patriarch. Abraham was saved by Faith before the Law was given, and, as we shall learn, even before he was circumcised.

Paul’s question here is, “What did Abraham receive, if anything, because of things of the flesh?” Of course, the real intent of the question is to query the Jew about Abraham’s circumcision. Another way of putting it is, “What good did Abraham get because of his circumcision?” Did Abraham’s circumcision merit him anything? The answer is not directly given here but is indirectly expressed in the next few verses.

As might be expected, the works of the flesh include much more than just circumcision, and any of those works could be easily used concomitantly with circumcision. Such works include making animal sacrifices, taking care of the poor, rescuing family and friends from enemies, tithing to Melchizedek, sharing the best land with others, etc. Though Abraham did all of those things, none of them justified him before God.

The question could be understood this way as well, “What has Abraham, our father, humanly speaking, found?” Or, “. . . our human ancestor . . .” Certainly Abraham was the blood ancestor of the Israelites through Isaac and Jacob, who was known as Israel. However, the context of the question indicates what we have already discussed above. It does not ask us to accept that Abraham was the human ancestor of Israel because it was common knowledge that the Jews claimed to be the children of Abraham.

Not only is Abraham is considered by the Jews to be their father, but (ironically) Muslims as well. He is the patriarch and from his loins spread the nation of Israel. But the line of Ishmael also spread from Abraham’s loins. Hence the Muslims consider him their father as well. Paul was asking the Jews what their own patriarch and father ever received because of the flesh. It is not that he received nothing, for his works made him a rich man. What did he gain?

Romans 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

This verse refines the question in verse one. Abraham did many mighty works, netting him much wealth. But wealth is temporal. So the question now becomes, “What eternal thing did Abraham receive because of the flesh?” If his own works of the flesh were able to take away Abraham’s guilt, that would be something to brag about. But even if his works of the flesh (like circumcision) did remove his guilt, he would still be guilty before a just and righteous God. His works of the flesh may have justified him before his fellow men, but never before God, for, as we have seen time after time, no one is justified before God by his own works, which are as soiled menstrual cloths (Isaiah 64:6) in His eyes.

Romans 4:3 For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

This is another response to the question in verse 1. What does the scripture tell us about this? The scripture in Genesis 15:6 says, “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” What did Abraham believe? Hebrews gives us an indication in Hebrews 11:8-11, “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. {9} By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: {10} For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. {11} Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” Abraham believed that God would lead and care for him in Canaan. He believed the promise that his seed would be nearly numberless even though he had no heir. He believed the God would deliver the promised heir.

Now, what does “counted unto him for righteousness” mean? In another place (Rom 4:22), the translators used the word “imputed” in the place of counted. The uninflected Greek word is λογίζομαι, logizomai, and it means to place to someone’s account or to credit. Synonyms include count, impute, reckon, assign, attribute, ascribe, etc. In order for a thing to be placed to someone’s account, it must first belong to the one placing it. If someone credits a thousand dollars to my bank account, that someone must first own the $1000 himself. Once he credits his money to my account, I have the full use of it. Even though the owner still owns it, it is in my account and I may freely use it.

Because of Abraham’s faith, God credited His Own righteousness (the righteousness of God) to Abraham’s account. Though Abraham had no righteousness of his own, God credited Him with righteousness. Thus Abraham had full and free use of the righteousness of God. It was (and is) God’s (or Christ’s) righteousness, for God owned it. But God credited it to Abraham, thus Abraham’s own unrighteousness and sin were covered up by God’s righteousness. When God looked upon the heart of Abraham, He saw His Own righteousness in Abraham’s heart, and not the unrighteousness and sin of Abraham. Thus Abraham was not guilty before God.

Why did God credit His righteousness to Abraham? Was it because Abraham did righteous works? Was it because Abraham was circumcised? It was neither. It was because Abraham had faith in, and put his trust in, God. No more, no less. The faith Abraham had in God’s promises pleased God, and He freely gave His righteousness to Abraham. It was a gift. Abraham did nothing to earn it. He only believed God. Paul explains further.

Romans 4:4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

Paul is telling us that when we work, we are entitled to wages; which are owed us by our employer. When you work for your employer, you get paid for your work. You worked for your employer, and now he owes you a debt. When he gives you your paycheck, or transfers your pay electronically to your account, then he has fulfilled his debt. The money is now yours, and now he owes you nothing. If your employer gives you a bonus then that is a gift and you did not earn it nor did your employer owe it. He gave it because of his grace. But the work you do is compensated by a paycheck, and not because your employer simply wanted to give you the money. He did not give it because he graciously wanted you to have it; he gave it because he owed it to you.

Romans 4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

Now we come to the crux of the matter. The one that believes in God, Who is He that justifies, is credited with the righteousness of God. The one that tries to work for his own justification does not receive the righteousness of God. We are sinners from birth (Psalm 51:5, Romans 5:12, Ephesians 2:3), and therefore are ungodly. We shall never be able to do enough good works to be justified; hence we are ungodly for eternity. Since there is nothing we can do to be justified and become Godly, then, on our own, we are out of luck. But the Great God is the justifier of the ungodly, that is, us. When we believe in Him, our faith is credited to us as God’s righteousness. When our faith is counted by God for righteousness, we are then truly justified.

Romans 4:6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

David understood the concept that Paul is enlarging upon. David, in several scriptures delineated below, shows the blessedness or happiness of the man who has been credited with the righteousness of God. Paul gives the evidence in support of this statement in the next verses.

Romans 4:7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.

This is found in Psalm 32:1 and 2. This specific verse is Psalm 32:1, Septuagint. The Brenton translation of the LXX contains the exact wording here in the KJV. The Greek of the LXX is the same as the Textus Receptus Greek here in Romans: “Mακαριοι ων αφεθησαν αι ανομιαι και ων επεκαλυφθησαν αι αμαρτιαι” (Makarioi on aphethesan ai anoumiai kai on epekaluphthesan ai hamartiai). A man is happy when his sins are covered by the imputed righteousness of God. Such a covering veils the sin from God’s eyes. The sin is gone and God never sees it again. Such is the expiating effect of the blood of Jesus. His shed blood satisfies God’s law for the forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22, “without shedding of blood is no remission“). It is the blood that makes atonement for sin. The blood of a living animal was acceptable under the law, but its atoning effect was only temporary. The next time a sin was committed, another animal had to be slaughtered. But Christ shed His blood once for all and the remission of sins is permanent with His blood. Christ’s shed blood is the covering for our sins. God does not see our sins because they are covered by the blood of Jesus. Happy is the believer for his iniquities are forgiven and his sins are covered!

This is the law that one living thing must die in order for another to live. I say law, because it is true and binding. Let me give examples. Grass dies, the gazelle lives. The gazelle dies, and the lion lives. The lion dies and its flesh returns to earth, enriching the ground so that the grass may live. In order for a cow to live, some grass must die. In order for a man to live, the cow must die so the man can eat meat. We eat the flesh of animals and fishes to live and the animals we eat depend upon vegetation to live either directly or indirectly. Predators eat the flesh of animals and fishes that eat vegetation. They also eat other predators but eventually the food chain goes back to vegetation that dies in order for an animal or fish to live.

Romans 4:8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

This is Psalm 32:2, LXX. This is the man to whom God does not charge his sin. This man, though a sinner, is pronounced not guilty of his sins. Though his sins belong to him, the blood of Jesus covers his sin and God does inflict blame upon him. He does not see the sins. Therefore he does not charge them to our account.

Romans 4:9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

Is this forgiveness of sins available only to the Jew? Or is it available to the non-Jew as well. Abraham’s faith in God allowed God to ascribe righteousness to Abraham. It was his faith that allowed this reckoning. Nothing else. Not his lineage (Shem), nor any work he accomplished, like circumcision.

In fact, Abraham was not circumcised when he believed God and God’s righteousness was credited to him; in other words, when he was saved. That occurred back in Genesis 15:6, after Terah, Abram’s father moved his family to Haran in Canaan, when Abraham was 75 years old (Gen 12:4;).  Abraham was not circumcised until after Ishmael was born (Gen 17:23). Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (Gen 16:16), and 99 when he was circumcised (Gen 17:24).

Romans 4:10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.

How was the righteousness of God reckoned, or credited, to Abraham? Was it credited when he was circumcised or when he was uncircumcised? Of course, it was credited to him before he was circumcised. In Genesis 15:6, we are told that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. This occurred shortly after Abraham defeated Chedorlaomer and gave a tithe to Melchizedek (Gen 14:20). This also occurred before Abraham took Hagar as his concubine. Ishmael was not yet born. It was not until Genesis 17:10 that God told Abraham to become circumcised. At that point, Ishmael was a child, and Abraham was ninety nine years old (Gen 17:24). One year before Isaac was born, Abraham was circumcised. Therefore, Abraham was saved by his faith long before he was circumcised.

Romans 4:11-12 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: (12) And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

When Abraham was yet uncircumcised, he had already been credited with the righteousness of God. However, as a witness to others of his faith, he was circumcised, which was an outward sign that he was sealed with the righteousness of God. Because of his faith while uncircumcised, he became the father of all those who were uncircumcised yet believed so that God’s righteousness (through Christ) might be credited to them also. Since he had faith while uncircumcised, all those uncircumcised that came after him were able to have faith and receive the righteousness of God just as Abraham did. It is not necessary to be circumcised in order to believe and have righteousness reckoned to you. Faith in Christ is the only thing that will allow righteousness to be reckoned to you. Nothing else, including circumcision, is necessary. This is why Abraham is a father to believers. Believers become the sons of Abraham. Galatians 3:7, “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” Those “which are of faith” are believers in Christ, or Christians. Christians follow in the steps of the faith of Abraham, the father of the Israelites, that is, the circumcised, and the father of believers that are uncircumcised, in other words, Gentiles, or nations other than Israel.

Romans 4:13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

The old covenant that God made with Israel was that, if they would obey the law, they would be blessed. We may see that old covenant outlined in the book of Deuteronomy. The covenant included the Ten Commandments and all of the law that Moses spoke to the Israelites in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. The people agreed to live by this covenant. God knew that no man or woman would ever be able to keep the law, so He instituted a system of sacrifices and offerings that could be made to temporarily atone for sins. But each time a sin was committed, a sacrifice or offering had to be made to atone for the sin. That covenant, the covenant of the law with its incumbent sacrifices and offerings, was in effect from Sinai, through the periods of conquering the land, judges, kings, captivity, the return, the cleansing of the temple under the Maccabees, and the pharisaical system. It ended with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. At that point, beginning with the words of Jesus, “It is finished“, the new covenant was in effect.

The new covenant is the covenant of grace, which is better known as the Gospel, or good news of Christ. The new covenant is written on the hearts of believers and not in a book or scroll. The Gospel is summed up in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God told us through Jeremiah that He would make a new covenant with His people and would put His law on their inward parts and write in on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). On this subject, the book of Hebrews says, in 8:13, “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” Thus, the old covenant has been replaced by the new. No longer may a man or woman be saved by obedience to the Law, but only by placing their faith in Jesus Christ. The promises of God to Abraham were based upon his faith.

The promise to Abraham that his seed would be innumerable and that he would father many nations was not given because of any works that Abraham accomplished. Nor was the promise given because obedience to the law. It was given because of his faith. Hence, people of faith (which, after the resurrection of Christ, are Christians, for the old covenant under the law is made void by the new covenant under grace) receive the promises made to Abraham.

Romans 4:14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

If there is a requirement that, to be an heir of the promises given to Abraham, one must obey the law, then faith is nullified. If we are required to obey the law in order to be righteous, then faith has no meaning. If that is the case, then the promise is void. For the promise was given by faith and not by law. Again, Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. He did not obey the law; He simply believed God, and that is why God made the promises to him.

Romans 4:15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

The law shows us our failings. It points out our sin. Because it is impossible for us to obey the entire law all the time, the law does not save us. It condemns us for it clearly shows our sins. Since it shows our sins, we are subject to the wrath of God. The law is good, but it is harmful to us because we are all sinners and the law appoints wrath unto us. Paul has amply proved to us that the Jews had the Law and the Gentiles had their own law. Hence, no one is exempt from the condemnation of law. If there is no law, then that for which there is no law is not breaking the law. For example, there is no law prohibiting us from breathing. Therefore, when we breathe, we are not transgressing the law.

(As an aside, I firmly believe that this law exempts infants and children from the wrath of God. They cannot know or understand the law. They may be taught it, but until they are old enough to be held accountable for the law, they cannot transgress it. Thus, when an infant or child dies before he or she is old enough to be held accountable to the law, he or she has no sin and therefore is admitted into God’s presence, that is, into heaven. What is that age? I don’t know. I expect that it varies from child to child. However, God knows, for He sees their heart.)

Romans 4:16 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,

Faith completely brushes the law out of the way. Consequently, when one has faith, there is no law. Since, with faith, there is no law, then there is no transgression. Faith has not destroyed the law, for it still exists, but, through faith, we are exempt from the ravages of the law. The law is still extant, but it cannot hurt us.

The promise was made on the basis of faith and not of law so that the promise is given by the grace of God. It is a free gift. That is why both the people who received that law and those who did not, may receive the promise. All of Abraham’s seed, both Israelites and Gentiles alike, may receive the sure gift of salvation through Christ. Since Abraham had faith, which was credited to him for righteousness, he is the father of all who have faith.

Romans 4:17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

Abraham is the father of us all, that is, of us Christians, and of the Jews. That is just as God ordained it, as it is written—by God—in Genesis 17:5: “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.” Abraham is the father of us all before God, which means, in the sight of God. This is the God, the Great I Am, in Whom Abraham believed. He is the God who brings the dead to life again, e.g. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. He is also the God Who knows the future and calls things into existence where there was nothing before. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. He is the Creator of all things. He is the Great God; the One True God. All others are demigods; He is not. Allah is a demigod; Yehovah is not. Buddha is a demigod; Yehovah is not. Krishna is a demigod; Yehovah is not. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Romans 4:18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.

Abraham had no shred of hope in owning all the land of Canaan, being a wanderer and stranger therein. He had no shred of hope of becoming a father of many heirs for he had no offspring. Yet, in spite of these limitations, he had faith in the hope that all the promises God spoke would be fulfilled.

Romans 4:19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb:

He fully and completely believed God and had strong faith that all the promises would materialize. It did not bother him that he was old and beyond the age of procreation. He did not worry that Sarah was past the change of life. He knew that God could do as He willed. That is powerful faith.

Romans 4:20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;

Abraham was strong in faith. Therefore he did stagger or contend in unbelief. In other words, Abraham believed God and then put the matter to rest. He did not wonder if he had done the right thing, nor did he worry and fret over when and how the promise would be kept. He knew the promise was made and he knew that he was able simply trust God that it would occur. He did not lose sleep at night agonizing over how the promise would come about. He just gave the credit and glory to God, allowing that to suffice.

Romans 4:21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.

This reminds me of another letter of Paul. In the second letter to Timothy, Paul stated, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Abraham Was also fully persuaded that God was able to keep that which he, Abraham, had committed to God against the day when the promises would be fulfilled. God was (is) able to keep His promises and would (will) perform them at the appointed time.

Romans 4:22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

Paul repeats this most important theme. Abraham believed God, that is, he put his faith and trust in God so God credited Abraham’s account with God’s Own righteousness. The chapter opened with the theme (Romans 4:3) and the theme is reiterated here.

Romans 4:23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;

There is another reason that we read of the imputation of righteousness to Abraham’s account. It was not just for Abraham. It was written for us.

Romans 4:24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;

Just as Abraham trusted in God and his faith was credited to him for righteousness, so was our faith. Here is the bottom line. All through the last two chapters of the Book of Romans, Paul has been leading up to this point. Abraham’s faith, which was credited to him as righteousness, led to our faith in Christ. Just as his faith made him righteous in God’s sight, so does our faith in Jesus Christ. If we, like Abraham, have faith that God will deliver on His promises, though he had no way of knowing whether or not the promises made by God would be kept, then we too, will be imputed with the righteousness of God. The whole thesis of the last two chapters is that Abraham believed God, though without actually perceiving any way possible for the promises to be true, believed anyway. He did not have sight, but only faith. Jesus said to Thomas, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” Thomas had sight; we have faith and are blessed. The line of an old hymn comes to mind,

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea-billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to know:
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Tho’ Satan should buffet, tho’ trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed his own blood for my soul.

My sin – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin – not in part but the whole –
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more;
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh, my soul.

And, Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll,
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend;
“Even so – it is well with my soul.”

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live,
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou shalt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
(Written by Horatio Spafford, 1828-1888,
who had recently lost his children in a shipwreck-see below)

Romans 4:25 Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.

Jesus was arrested, proclaimed guilty, and delivered to the executioner for our sins. He paid the price for our evil deeds, and transgressions against the law of God. We were truly guilty, yet He was found guilty in our place. Since He took our place before the executioner, and was executed for our sins, when He was raised again from the dead, it has caused us to be declared “not guilty” for our debt has already been paid. He was raised from the dead to justify us, that is, to make us righteous before the Living God. As we have said several times, He died and was raised again on the third day to justify us. By our belief, or faith, or trust in that act and the future promise of justification before God at judgment, we received the righteousness of Christ. His righteousness was imputed to us because of our faith. A believer in Christ can truly say with humility, “I believed God and it was counted to me for righteousness.”

In 1873, Horatio and Anna Spafford decided to go to Europe. The family of six travelled to New York to board their ship. Last-minute business obligations caused Horatio Spafford to postpone his own sailing, but he saw no reason for the entire family to delay their travel, so he sent his family on ahead, planning to join them as soon as he could. Anna Spafford, the couple’s four daughters, the children’s governess and two others in their party boarded the French steamship Ville du Havre on 22 November 1873, along with 307 other passengers and crew. Horatio Spafford returned to Chicago. At about 2 o’clock am on 22 November 1873, in the eastern North Atlantic, the Ville du Havre collided with the British iron clipper Loch Earn. The Ville du Havre sank in a mere 12 minutes, and 226 people perished, including the four Spafford daughters. The Loch Earn was seriously damaged but nonetheless was able to take on board the 61 surviving passengers and the 29 surviving crew from the Ville du Havre. Among the survivors were Anna Spafford and the governess, Emma Lorriaux. The following day, the US ship Tremontain reached the scene, and the rescued Ville du Havre passengers were transferred from the Loch Earn to the Tremontain, which carried them to Wales, landing at Cardiff. From Cardiff, Anna Spafford on 1 December 1873 cabled her husband the following devastating message: “Saved alone. What shall I do. Mrs Goodwin children Willie Culver lost. Go with Lorriaux until answer. Reply Porclain 64 Rue Abouckir Paris.” Horatio Spafford took the next available ship to join his wife.

Bertha Spafford (the fifth daughter of Horatio and Anna, born later) would later recount that during her father’s voyage, the captain of the ship had called him to the bridge. “A careful reckoning has been made”, he said, “and I believe we are now passing the place where the Ville du Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep.” That night in his cabin, Horatio Spafford wrote the great hymn declaring the comforting peace of the believer, “It Is Well With My Soul.” His lyrics may well have been inspired by a Biblical verse found in II Kings 4:26: Of an unnamed Shunammite woman whose adult only son had died, the verse reads, “Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well.”

Lin Van Buren, USGenWeb Project

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