This Week’s Progressive Christian Bible Study: Romans Chapter Four

Justified By Faith

Romans 4

Today in our ongoing study of the apostle Paul’s New Testament letters from beginning to end, we find ourselves moving on to Romans chapter 4. If there are any new readers who don’t have chapters 1 through 3, email my business mail box and I’ll send them back as Word, Adobe Reader or Rich Text attachments (please specify). The entire chapter is about Abraham and his wife Sarah, so there is a lot of Old Testament stuff in here. If anyone is having any problems mustering up the kind of faith this passage calls for, I challenge you to read this entire – but brief – passage of Scripture. So here goes…

What shall we say then that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited as righteousness’ (Genesis 15:6, 22 NIV) Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited to him as righteousness. David does the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never be counted against him.’ Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had been before he was circumcised. (Romans 4, verses 1-12, NIV)

To sum this up in a few sentences, Abraham and David are both men who are called righteous – but in Spiritual terms rather than physical. The only time that Abraham ever saw God, or a physical representation thereof, was when the Lord God met him at Shechem (see Genesis chapter 12, verses 6-7). David, to the best my my recollection, did not see any visual manifestations of God. Instead, God spoke to him through other prophets there in Jerusalem at that time. Righteousness is defined in the next verse: “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited to him as righteousness. David does the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never be counted against him.’. This was a clear prophecy concerning the coming Messiah who will rule the world from Jerusalem, none other than the man in the glory Jesus Christ. In the remainder of this quotation the main thing Paul wrote consisted of comparisons between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament circumcision of one’s heart and soul. The circumcision of old was physical. But, since Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Law, as Paul taught, circumcision is no longer physical. It has extended itself into that of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, having left the physical realm only to cross over into the Spiritual dimension that we call “heaven”. Taking up where we left off, let’s proceed with the second half of this study starting at verse 13.

It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law, there is no transgression. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all of Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to all those who are the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’. He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been sent to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’. Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about 100 years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. That is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness’. The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to our death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4, verses 13-25, NIV)

the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all of Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to all those who are the faith of Abraham.” Here is an example of how the Bible uses Abraham to illustrate faith, which is given to us by the grace of God. We are all descended from Abraham. So, we have all inherited his faith that he had in God. We can do all things through God who gives us strength. The promise God made to Abraham, “I have made you the father of many nations”, applies to everyone who sincerely believes in Spirit and in truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Jews and all non-Jews get equal treatment according to the apostle Paul, who was himself a Hebrew and a scholar of the Law of Moses. Considering that Jews back in those days would have nothing to do with Gentiles – much like today in many cases – this statement coming from Paul is quite remarkable. Whereas the Hebrew nation, which is modern-day Israel not counting millions more from around the globe, considered themselves separate and set aside, Paul makes it crystal-clear that God sees Jews and non-Jews as being equals. Besides the supreme sacrifice of Christ on the cross, having shed his blood freely for all our sins, this unconditional equality amongst all peoples, nations and races reflects the sum total of the very essence of the New Testament.

He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations… ”. In the same way that God gave Abraham and Sarah new life by allowing them to conceive a child when they were 100 years old, so he did with Jesus by raising him from the dead on the morning of the third day after he died (temporarily) on the cross. But since Jesus’ resurrection made him immortal, so we are all going to receive that same immortality after we die, thanks to Jesus, our Kinsman Redeemer, who rose first. Since Abraham was very much alive when he believed God’s promise to him, so are we when we give our lives to Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection takes our sins away. So Abraham and ourselves, the Jewish and Gentile nations of the world, are joint heirs of the Kingdom of God when Jesus comes back to take home his bride, which is not only the “church”, but all those who believe.

Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about 100 years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. That is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness’.” The Bible defines faith as being “the evidence of things hoped for, and the belief in things which cannot be seen”. Abraham was in full compliance with these prerequisites, knowing full well that God “calls things that are not as though they were”. If God can do this through his spoken and written Word for Abraham, then he can and will for all of us who believe as well. “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” If we have sufficient faith in God who raised Jesus from the dead, and having never met Christ in person, then we already have the same righteousness in God’s sight as Abraham had.

God allows us to have challenges in our lives in order to build us up. He strengthens us by having us go through negative experiences in order to extract a positive result. As the verse says, “…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope”. This hope that is produced by our character development is where our faith comes from. Our faith, in turn, is what justifies us before God (that and our unwavering belief in Jesus). The more developed our character becomes, the closer we become with God through Christ Jesus, and so the greater our faith. They are all proportional to one another. We are to keep focusing on these facts while ignoring all the negative that can so easily keep us off track. Despite what goes on around us we are to remain focused on the positive. We have to keep the faith to get our just reward.

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