Our Salvation is not of Works but on the Basis of Faith Alone
ROMANS 4 (cont,)
We’re in chapter 4 of Romans and from the Old Testament, Paul is seeking to prove three basic points related to obtaining righteousness.
First, Paul proved that salvation has always been a matter of faith, not works. He used the example of Abraham as his proof. Abraham was credited with righteousness because he believed in God to keep a promise concerning a future son. He wasn’t credited on the basis of his works, therefore Abraham proves works are not the way to righteousness, it is on the basis of faith. Abraham is Paul’s example to prove that salvation by faith is not a new idea. Its been around since Abraham.
Genesis 15:4-6 (NKJV) **
4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5 Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
6 And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted (credited) it to him for righteousness.
**All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted
Secondly, Paul proved that the means to salvation didn’t change after the Law came to be for Israel. He used the example of David declaring in the Psalms, where David wrote that, a blessed man is the one who has his lawless deeds forgiven and his sin debt covered. Once again, scripture testifies that blessedness (i.e., righteousness) is according to God’s mercy only. David lived after the Law, so his example proves that the Law’s arrival didn’t alter God’s plan. So David proves that salvation by faith alone has never changed.
Psalm 32:1-2 (NKJV)
The Joy of Forgiveness
A Psalm of David. A Maschil
32 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute (charge his account with) iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit
Thirdly, Paul proved that God made faith the means to salvation so that both Jew and Gentile could receive that mercy. To prove his point on this third issue, Paul returned to the example of Abraham in verse 9 asking when was Abraham circumcised.
Circumcision was commanded under two of the five covenants God gave to Israel: The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants.
- The Abrahamic Covenant came first, and it established Jewish identity.
- In that covenant, circumcision was the sign of the covenant.
- As such, it was like a Jewish birth certificate demonstrating who had been included in the covenant.
- It was performed at 8 days old because it didn’t depend on personal agreement.
- Every child born to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was a party to the covenant at birth and circumcision was the sign of that covenant.
- If a child was not circumcised, then the covenant was broken for that individual and they were cut off from the Jewish nation.
The Mosaic Covenant also had requirements for circumcision. They are spelled out in both Exodus and Leviticus.
- The Mosaic Covenant also expected males to be circumcised.
- Obviously, Jewish males were already commanded to be circumcised under the Abrahamic Covenant.
- But under the Mosaic Law, Gentiles who wanted to join in the commonwealth of Israel were also to be circumcised according to Law.
- So circumcision became a way for Gentiles to submit themselves to the Law.
- That’s why Paul warned the Galatians that if they took circumcision, they were obligating themselves to keeping the whole law.
That fact that circumcision is in both covenants is what may lead to a question which Paul is answering here. That is, must a Gentile become a Jew before they may be included in the promises of the covenant? To address this point Paul asks when did Abraham receive his declaration of righteousness: before or after he got circumcision? The answer is, he was declared righteous before he was circumcised. And Paul says that proves that salvation doesn’t depend on being Jewish. Abraham didn’t have the sign of the covenant yet was still declared righteous by faith alone.
Therefore, Paul concludes that Abraham serves as an example (i.e., a father of faith/an example of faith) to both Jew and to Gentile. His faith preceded his entry into the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore, he is an example for all mankind, both those who descend from him and those who don’t. Any man or woman who repeats Abraham’s example of faith will receive the same outcome he did: a heavenly credit of righteousness.
Today, we are entering into the New Covenant by faith, because the content of God’s promise has now been expanded to the fullness of Christ. We see the whole picture of what God is promising now. So that’s the content of our promise. The New Covenant. Abraham received a promise that had a lessor content but the same object of his covenant is the same object of ours. And that is, what is our object of faith: the faithfulness of God. We too place our faith in the faithfulness of God. The promiser, the one making the promise.
1 John 1:9 (NKJV)
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And like Abraham, we are justified by our faith in God’s promise. But the promise God gave to us in the New Covenant holds greater content concerning God’s plan of redemption than what He gave to Abraham. That’s all that differs. Still, the process works the same.
- We receive the promise.
- We believe in the One Who promises.
- And we receive the credit of righteousness that Abraham received.
Following our faith we continue to follow Abraham’s example in the sense of taking a sign. By faith, we receive the sign of our faith which is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, called the circumcision of the heart. That is the sign you receive as part of your covenant. Our spirit baptism happens without any action on our part, since it is accomplished by the Spirit at our moment of our faith. In the same way that the sign of the Abrahamic covenant was given to an infant who had no choice in the matter and did not elect to receive it. Similarly we don’t chose to enter into this covenant, our Father brings us into it. And as we come into this covenant we are circumcised in the heart, as the Bible says. That circumcised heart is that new life you have in Christ which is then promotes or produces in you the confession of faith and all that comes with it. You’re born again.
Later, after all that has happen, we give testimony to our spirit baptism by taking water baptism as a public witness as to what has already happened in our heart by the Spirit. We are not saved by the water part. That is simply something we do as a testimony and obedience to Christ. And in the last part of the chapter, Paul refutes once again that the Law’s arrival and its requirements for circumcision did not change the rules. So when the Law came into being and it included circumcision as a requirement, that wasn’t changing anything God was doing for salvation sake. Remember, the Mosaic Law also mandated circumcision. That fact suggested to at lease to some Jews in Paul’s day, that the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant were to be obtained now through the Law. That what God had promised through the first covenant and made a sign through circumcision over it. Now when that sign shows up in the next covenant or so they thought. The assumption was maybe this next covenant is expanding the rules from the first one. And now we have to do the Law to get what was promised to Abraham in the first covenant. They said one must enter into the Law to receive the blessings of the new covenant. That was the argument being made by the Judaizers in the first century…
So that leads Paul to give further argument on this point –
Romans 4:13-15 (NKJV)
The Promise Granted Through Faith
13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect (nullified), 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression (violation).
As we read this section, we need to pay attention to Paul’s vocabulary in this section.
Paul mentions the promise to Abraham and the Law.
- The promise to Abraham refers to the Abrahamic Covenant.
- The Law refers to the Mosaic Covenant.
- The Abrahamic covenant was a one-way grant, where the
blessings were given as a promise based on faith.
- The Mosaic Covenant was a two-way agreement, where the blessings were earned by performance of the works of the Law.
- And if they didn’t keep the works of the Law than they weren’t going to receive those blessings.
- Both required circumcision, which was the mark of Jewish identity in the first case and submission to the Law in the second case.
Secondly, Paul talks of heirs –
- In the covenant God spoke to Abraham, He made promises to
both Abraham and his descendants (see Genesis 15:18).
- Likewise, in the Mosaic Covenant hundreds of years later, the Lord made an agreement not with just the current generation of Jews, but with all future generations of Jews (see Deuteronomy 29:14-15).
So the questions are starting to merge here. Are the heirs of the covenant God spoke about; heirs of one covenant or heirs of the other covenant or heirs of both covenants, There’s this confusion building in the minds of some as to whether or not when God spoke first to Abraham and made promises and then later to Israel gave them promises of a different sort. Are they all a part of one continuous stream of thought, so that now they are all combined? Or did they separate somewhere and how? Paul is arguing for a separation. But that begs the question. How can you be sure Paul? How can we say they weren’t combined? Since both covenants commanded circumcision, which covenant is responsible for delivering the promises God gave to Abraham? Or we could ask it this way: by which of those two covenants does He (God) intend to fulfill His promises? We know the answer is Abraham, the first one of course. The problem is for those who look at it from a Jewish point of view, the Abrahamic Covenant was followed by another one and they might ask if the Abrahamic Covenant was enough why have another one after that? Paul answers that question in Galatians but in the meantime we are looking at it here. Did God intend for Abraham’s descendants to keep the Law in order to receive the promises He gave to Abraham earlier? We might add one more question. Did God add circumcision to the Law so that the two covenants could work together to bring about the promises? Or did these two covenants stand apart?
To this Paul says plainly in verse 13 that God’s promises to Abraham were to be obtained in the way Abraham obtained them. That is, by faith alone, not by the Law. In Genesis, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be heirs of the world. God made a grant to Abraham, a grant of land and prosperity for that people in that land. The Lord said that this blessing would be Abraham’s inheritance. And like any inheritance, Abraham would pass that inheritance down to his descendants.
Earlier, Paul taught in this same letter, that Abraham’s descendants are those who share in his faith. So the connection between Abraham and his heirs will be spiritual not physical. It is by those who are of the faith of Abraham that will be the heirs of what Abraham received. So Abraham received a promise and he put his faith in it. After Abraham believed God, God established His promise as a covenant. But Paul says if those blessings were later incorporated into a covenant of works (i.e., the Law), then they would no longer be on the basis of a promise. He says in verse 14, if those who are Abraham’s heirs (remember that’s a term for people who repeat the faith of Abraham) are those who were party to the Law, then it would mean that the promise was void or nullified. The original promises that God gave Abraham were based of faith alone. God said, Abraham I’m going to do this for you. Abraham believes it and God says okay I am credited you with righteousness and you will receive these promises in a day to come. But now, if they are part of a Law, the Law says you can’t have those things unless you complete certain works of Law. That would mean the earlier promise is no longer of any effect.
Let me use an example to explain Paul’s point more easily. Imagine I promise my son $100 for his birthday and he believes my word and looks forward to his gift. I’ve told him that this blessing will be his without any condition. By my word alone, he expects to receive a blessing. But what if later I return to him and say that he can have that $100 only if he keeps his room clean. At that point, my earlier promise is no longer in effect. He is no longer assured the money simply because of my word. Now he must obey my rule if he is to receive the money. So my law has nullified my earlier promise. Paul says that if this were how God’s covenants worked, then it would have had a profound effect. In verse 15 Paul says law always brings about wrath. He means that laws are always a cause for accusation. They do not make us do right things; rather they expose us when we fail to live in the right way. A law has no power to create righteousness; it’s only power is to reveal unrighteousness. When I added that rule for my son, I introduced the possibility of failure and as a result, his condemnation under that law (rule). I didn’t increase the chance of receiving the money; I greatly decreased that possibility. But when no law exists, there can be no violation, Paul says. Before I added the rule for my son to follow, there was no chance he would fail to receive the money. There was nothing he could do to ruin it, since I never connected his receiving of the blessing with his behavior at all. Without law there can be no violation and without violation there is nothing standing in the way of blessing. That’s the difference between works and grace.
In the first situation, my son was looking forward to a reward and had no reason to fear or even labor to obtain it. It was all grace. In the second situation, just because I added one rule, he had little hope for a reward and lived under the burden of constant effort and yet he had no way to escape it. One is a blessing, one is a curse. So it was with the Abrahamic Covenant…. and the Mosaic Covenant. God only asked Abraham to believe in the promise. And on that basis the promise was assured from that point forward, nothing could stop it from coming to Abraham and his heirs. Those who repeat his faith. Its fulfillment is not connected to any behavior.
Romans 4:16-17 (NKJV)
16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure (certain) to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;
Paul says “for this reason” the blessings of righteousness were to come by faith (in the way of the Abrahamic Covenant) and not by works (Mosaic Covenant). Paul means for all the reasons he’s covered in the chapter up to this point. The first reason: the blessing must be by grace, not by works, because righteousness is credited not earned. Secondly, it must be apart from circumcision (i.e., Jewish identity) so that it could available to both Jew and Gentile. If Jewish identity were part of the process of salvation, then it would only be available to those who were Jewish. But Abraham was promised to be a father of many nations, Paul says in verse 17. Meaning, that many would be spiritual heirs of that man for following his example of faith.
Finally, God’s blessing thirdly, must be by faith in a promise and not by law because otherwise no one could have expected to receive the blessing. God is the One Who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which did not exist. In Abraham’s case, Paul is describing the arrival of Isaac from a dead womb. But that statement has a double meaning. It also refers to the bringing of new life to spiritually dead things. Calling into existence a faith and trust in God that previously didn’t exist. This is how Abraham stands as ultimate proof for the manner of salvation. He is our example of how a person can be lead to faith in a promise from God.
Romans 4:18-25 (NKJV)
18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed (hope against hope), according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
Paul ends the chapter with an extended examination of the faith Abraham had in God’s promise. The point in this examination is to understand how closely we follow in his footsteps as we believe. We aren’t just repeating his example of faith. We are actually believing in essentially the same thing he believed in. In verse 18, Paul says that Abraham believed in hope against hope. That phrase means that Abraham had hope in something that he ought not have had reason to hope in. Abraham had been promised by God that he shall have innumerable descendants. But Abraham contemplated his own body, Paul says. Contemplated could be translated “understood.” Abraham understood his situation. He was not naive or ignoring the obvious. He knew that he – and particularly his wife – were past the age when children could be expected. They had no reason to hope for a baby. But there was God promising to bring new life from something dead. And Paul says that Abraham understood his situation, nevertheless, he didn’t let that facts of the situation weaken his trust in God’s promise. Instead, Abraham did not waver. He put no hope in his flesh to solve the problem, but he placed his faith entirely in the Lord to solve it. He gave glory being fully convinced that what God had promised He was able to perform. If you haven’t thought about it deeply enough, that is exactly how you came to where you are. You followed Abraham’s footsteps in exactly that same way to obtain the righteousness you and I have by faith. We start with receiving a promise that God will bring new life from a dead spirit. In our case we are not so much interested in having a child coming out of a dead womb. We are looking at the problem a little differently but it is a question of deadness becoming life. We receive a promise that God will bring new life for us.That faith in Christ means we will be born again, made spiritually new again and in the likeness of Christ.
“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
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.