Old Testament Faith Is Not Based On Works

Abraham’s Faith Not By Works But Grace

WorksWhy is it important that Paul give us Old Testament proof for salvation? Because everyone who knows God understands that the Church, the period of time since Christ’s birth and death, that we are not the only human beings that God has been working with. He’s been at work in humanity long before that. So that raises the question, was there a different method for salvation that preceded the one that we are now being given in the New Testament?  If that were true it certainly would support the contention that God saves Jews one way and Gentiles another. And if that were true it would divide the Church. And that was the concern that was developing in the first century church. So Paul is addressing that here, saying no, the plan has always been the same. Remember, Paul began by saying that the salvation we have is witnessed by the Law and Prophets. That phrase refers to the Hebrew Bible, the entire Old Testament. So now Paul uses chapter 4 of Romans to look for salvation proof. And in the process, we learn some interesting things. We learn about our own salvation as it relates to Old Testament concepts like circumcision and the covenants that are still relevant today because of the way people misuse those concepts in other ways. Starting with The classic example of salvation by faith, Abraham –

Romans 4:1-2 **

Abraham Justified by Faith

What then shall we say that Abraham our forefather has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

** All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.

worksPaul opens by asking what would we say about Abraham’s relationship with the father?  Paul says Abraham was the forefather of the Jewish people, by the flesh. All Jews descended from this man.  And as such, he is the most revered man in Israel and Judaism. Only Moses is a close second to Abraham.  Because this man is such a powerful icon for every Jew, Paul chooses to use Abraham’s example because it is a very strong point  of comparison. He says if you look at the way Abraham came to his righteousness you will see the same pattern Paul is describing for us in the New Testament.

Romans 4:3-5

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,

The Bible calls Abraham a friend of God, which tells us that God must have found some way to overlook Abraham’s sin and restore him in relationship. You can’t be a friend of God if you still have sin that hasn’t been paid for because that puts you at odds with worksGod. You are not at peace with God under those circumstances. Abraham being a friend, we know he was absolve of his sin. But Abraham lived long before God gave Israel the Law. Which raises some obvious and important implications. Abraham could not have known of the requirements of the Old Testament Law. He didn’t have the whole covenant of the Law. He didn’t possess the tablets with the Law nor the tabernacle for the sacrificial system nor was the priesthood in existence. So Abraham’s good standing with the Lord couldn’t have been on the basis of doing works under that Law. It was literally impossible. So God must have had some other way for Abraham.

Paul says if Abraham had been restored to that relationship on the basis of a good work, then the Bible would have forever acknowledged Abraham’s excellent service to God. We would forever more be talking about Abraham as the example of good works,  obedience and piety. That’s the way we would have remembered him if that was the way God restored him. And Abraham for his part could have been boasting about it in the scriptures. We would find examples in scripture with Abraham bragging to Isaac about his accomplishments. When a patriarch was close to death he would put blessings upon all his sons , and there is a sense of reverence about his life and his      works

accomplishments. You would have found examples in scripture of Abraham bragging about his accomplishments to his sons in that context. You would have seen him saying things as he blessed them; he would have said, you need to look at my example. I obeyed God and by my righteous works God has restored me. You should do the same. He wouldn’t be boasting in the sense of something inappropriate. It would boasting in the same way a father tells a son or daughter you need to follow my example to be a good student or to be a good worker. It’s the same idea. But, you never see that. Abraham never makes such a claim about his life and never tries to encourage anyone else to do the same.

The Bible never speaks of Abraham in those ways and neither does Abraham boast of himself in that way. Instead, the Bible calls Abraham the father of faith. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 when the Lord testified that Abraham believed God. The Lord promised worksAbraham that his wife would bear him a son. Though she was long past child-bearing years and had never given birth yet. Based solely on the revealed word of God, Abraham believed this promise from God and that this promise would come true. Then, because of Abraham’s faith in God’s word, the Lord credited Abraham’s faith as righteousness. This is an example of the imputation of righteousness. God assigned something (righteousness) to Abraham that Abraham did not possess and that assignment was not based on Abraham’s action or anything of Abraham at all. It was the decision of God solely to give it to Abraham. Like a child chosen for adoption by new parents. That is imputing a new name to an adopted child or imputing righteousness in this case. Righteousness to a man who believed what God said.

Paul elaborates on this key point in verse 4 saying Abraham didn’t earn anything in this faith not worksexchange. If Abraham had been declared righteous because of something he did,then the scriptures wouldn’t have described it as a “credit” of righteousness. Instead, the Bible would say Abraham earned his righteousness,  as a part of some wage paid to him by God for his hard work. But the Bible says Abraham’s righteousness wasn’t paid to him, but credited or reckoned to him. God, in His role as the Bookkeeper of men’s souls, lined out  Abraham’s debt of sin in His heavenly ledger and credited Abraham’s account as paid in full, crediting him with righteousness..

In verse 5 Paul adds this credit came to Abraham solely because of his faith in God Who is the justifier of the ungodly. This statement raises some very important doctrinal aspects that need to be addressed. Meaning some aspects of our doctrine of salvation by grace and not works. Notice what Abraham was believing in. He believed in Him who justifies the ungodly. There are three details that emerge from that statement, and these are details that will help correct bad theology as it comes along. These statements will give us the framework of the saving Gospel. First, Abraham’s faith was in a person.  Notice it says Abraham believed in Him, referring to God and perhaps more specifically the Messiah. In the Gospels, Jesus said this:

John 8:56 

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”

We know Abraham did not live long enough to see it personally. And there is no record of him getting a vision of it. I think what Jesus meant was He saw it in the sense as a faith in it. He saw it in a sense that he expected it. He didn’t have to see it with his eyes, he was dead sure it was coming. And in that sense he saw it and he rejoiced in the day worksit would come. And he was glad for it. So, Abraham’s faith is not in an event and it’s not even in a blessing, whether you call that the blessing of having a son or having the whole covenant for that matter. Yes, Abraham believed in the promise God gave Him concerning a son, but his faith wasn’t in the blessing itself. If someone makes you a promise about anything in life, what causes you to trust in their promise? Isn’t your faith based in the trustworthiness and capacity of the person to keep that promise? Abraham believed the promise God gave concerning the birth of Isaac because Abraham trusted in the Lord to be faithful concerning His word. And so it was Abraham’s faith in the trustworthiness of God that lead him to believe. And by that faith, God was pleased to credit Abraham with righteousness. This is the same process for anyone who is saved by the grace of God.



“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”


Join our mailing list

1 thought on “Old Testament Faith Is Not Based On Works


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.