Romans 4


Romans 4:1-25

The Good News is not New News! Paul declares in Romans 1:2 that the Good News he had been set apart to proclaim was actually not New News, but had its roots deep in the Old Testament. The gospel which Paul had been set apart to proclaim was the gospel “which He [God] promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures.” We see this illustrated in Luke 24:13-35. After His resurrection, Jesus encountered two men on the road to Emmaus. The men were sad because of the events that had just taken place in Jerusalem. Luke 24:27 records that “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He [Jesus] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” In Romans 3:21, Paul again declares that the Good News is not New News. Paul states that the Good News about how God puts men in right standing with Himself was “witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” The entire Old Testament points to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Romans 4, Paul explains in greater detail the fact that the Good News about how man is put right with God is not at all New News but actually has its origin in the Old Testament. Using Abraham as an example, Paul illustrates the fact that the Good News is not New News! The Good News of justification by faith is God’s established way of dealing with man from the first. Paul shows that even Abraham, the great patriarch of the Jewish nation, the “friend of God” (Isaiah 41:8), was justified by faith.

Justification is Apart from Works: Romans 4:1-8

In Romans 3:21-31, Paul established the fact that men enter into a right standing with God through faith alone, apart from any works. Because of that, all boasting is eliminated (Romans 3:27). As Paul stated in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” Perhaps anticipating objections from Jewish readers, Paul addressed the matter of how, when, and why Abraham was made righteous. Paul intended to show that God has not changed His way of putting men right with Himself. It has always been through faith alone.

In Romans 4:1-8, Paul shows that Abraham was not put in right standing with God because of his works, as the Jews believed, but because of his faith in God. Quoting Genesis 15:6, Paul appeals to the testimony of Scripture to establish the fact that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3). The Old Testament account of Abraham says absolutely nothing about Abraham earning or meriting or working his way into a right relationship with God. God made a promise to Abraham and “Abraham believed God and it [his faith] was reckoned [credited to his account] to him as righteousness.”

Justification is Apart from Religion: Romans 4:9-12

The Jews (like many people today) were leaning on two crutches for salvation: their own imagined goodness or righteousness and their religiousness and observance of rites. Having removed the first crutch by showing that salvation is apart from works, Paul proceeds to remove the second crutch by showing that salvation is apart from religion. Paul addresses this matter by appealing once again to Abraham and the most important religious rite of the Jew – circumcision. The Jews believed that salvation was impossible apart from the administration of this rite and insisted that all Gentile converts be circumcised. Paul however, shows that Abraham was put in right standing with God fourteen years before he was ever circumcised. The rite of circumcision had absolutely nothing to do with Abraham’s redemption. Circumcision was given as a “sign” and a “seal.” As a “sign” it was evidence that Abraham belonged to God and believed His promise. As a “seal” it was a reminder that the God who had given Abraham the promise would keep it. Thus Paul illustrates that God’s way of putting men right with Himself has always been apart from works and apart from religion and the observance of religious rites.

Justification is Apart from the Law: Romans 4:13-15

Having shown that neither works nor circumcision had anything to do with Abraham’s salvation, Paul proceeds to show that the Law had nothing to do with it either. The Jews believed that Abraham fulfilled the requirements of the Law and therefore was given the promise from God that he would be the father of many nations. Paul however, argues that Abraham was justified 400 years before the Law was given through Moses and was justified by faith alone.

Justification is Available to All Who Believe: Romans 4:16-25

Paul concludes Romans 4 by showing that justification is available to all who, like Abraham, believe. Paul writes in Romans 4:16-17a that God’s divine plan of salvation is based upon faith (on man’s part) and grace (on God’s part). Paul discusses the object of Abraham’s faith in Romans 4:17b. Abraham’s faith was fixed upon God who “gives life to the dead” and “calls into being that which does not exist.” In Romans 4:18-22, Paul discusses the obstacles to faith with which Abraham had to contend. Whenever we are called to exercise faith, we can be certain that there will be obstacles. God had made a promise to Abraham that seemed impossible to fulfill from a human standpoint (see Genesis 15). But Abraham chose to look beyond the actualities and believe that God was able to perform what He promised. “Therefore also [for this reason] it [faith] was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:22). In Romans 4:23-25 Paul writes that the same kind of faith that put Abraham in right standing with God can put us in right standing with God if we “believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Thus Paul illustrates that the Good News is not really New News. The Old Testament agrees with the New Testament that salvation is by faith alone, apart from works, religion, or law.

Practical Considerations

Salvation is not a matter of trying but of trusting.
God has not made salvation a matter of trying. If God had made salvation a matter of trying, then it would not have been necessary for Christ to die on the cross. If God had made salvation a matter of trying, then men would enter eternity without the certainty that they had “tried” enough to “earn” eternal life. Instead, God has made salvation a matter of trusting. God has graciously made provision for us to enter into a right relationship with Him through the Lord Jesus Christ. He offers us the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Because salvation is a matter of trusting, we can enter into eternity with the certainty that we have eternal life if we have placed our faith in Christ alone for salvation.

Salvation is not found in religion but in a relationship.
Salvation cannot be found in religion or in the observance of the rites, rules, and rituals of religion. There is nothing in religion that can put a man in right standing before God. Proverbs 14:12 is a sound warning to any man who is looking for a right standing with God through religion: “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” Men who look to religion as the means of attaining a right standing with God will be sorely disappointed; regardless of how sincerely they have observed the particular rites of their religion. Salvation can only be found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”

God is a great God.
Abraham’s faith was fixed upon God. Abraham was able to believe the promise of God and face the future with confidence because he believed that nothing was impossible for God. He knew that God had the power to give life to the dead and call into being, that which does not exist. Abraham chose to believe even when faced with the actualities of his human condition and every human indication that God’s promise to him could not possibly be fulfilled. As a result he grew strong in faith and brought glory to God. Abraham exercised a faith that honored God and God honored the faith of Abraham.

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