Roman’s Chapter 4: Faith and Works

Nov 6th, 2009 | By | Category: Romans, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Roman’s Chapter 4: Faith and Works

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

How did works of the flesh apply to Abraham? The term “pertaining to the flesh” refers to circumcision, which chapter 4 will treat. The topic is justification, but Paul was addressing the Jewish element in the class, who had confidence in the flesh. They used circumcision as an indicator of whether or not one was a true believer, and of course almost all Jews were circumcised after birth as a perfunctory act. However, their making such a point about circumcision cast an inference on Gentiles, who, as a rule, were not circumcised. Gentiles were the uncircumcised in the ecclesia, and Jews, having this mark in their flesh, tried to indicate that to really be in the family, to be a bona fide member, one had to go through this ritual. Paul said, “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). “For we are the circumcision [of the heart], which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh [in the ritual of circumcision]” (Phil. 3:3). The ritual of circumcision is not a true indicator, for it can be done perfunctorily.

God told Abraham to circumcise both himself and his son, for circumcision would be the sign of a covenant between them. “And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you” (Gen. 17:9-11). However, Abraham was justified by faith prior to circumcision. Paul tried to rub in this point because the Jews were so particular about the ritual of circumcision. Thus he showed their ignorance.

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

The thought is, “If Abraham were justified by works, he would glory in himself and not in God.” Abraham would have had pride in what he had accomplished in leaving his land and people and sacrificing his home life in Ur of the Chaldees. The Law condemned anyone as imperfect if he could not keep all of its decrees. An infraction of one part of the Decalogue made a person guilty of all.

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

Paul quoted Genesis 15:6, “And he [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and he [God] counted it to him for righteousness.” Since Abraham was not circumcised until a later chapter (Genesis 17), he was justified by faith and counted perfect while he was yet an uncircumcised man, yet the Jews kept hammering on the necessity for circumcision.

Comment: Genesis 15:5 reads, “And he [God] brought him [Abraham] forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he [God] said unto him, So shall thy seed be.” Abraham’s believing what God said about his offspring justified him.

Reply: Yes, his faith justified him. Paul was addressing the fact that the Jews made circumcision the line of demarcation rather than faith.

A ceremonial act, no matter what merit might be in it, is but a moment in time. A person’s life is what counts, for it means more than one act. Accordingly, consecration of the heart, which is the antitype of literal circumcision back there, is only the beginning of the way. Many think the act of believing in the Lord Jesus Christ brings salvation, but God requires a life of believing into Christ in the pursuit of keeping the initial act viable. Abraham did several things. Not only did he believe his seed would be like the stars of heaven when he had no posterity, but he left Ur of the Chaldees and sacrificed Isaac in principle. Thus one act was followed by another and another, leading up to the supreme sacrifice of his dearest son. Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead. “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: … Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” (Heb. 11:17-19).

Even though Abraham’s works were great, God justified him by faith. Righteousness was “counted”—that is, imputed, credited, or reckoned—to Abraham because of his faith.

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

When one is employed, he gets wages that are earned and are not a gift. When a worker performs a duty, he receives a salary, whereas pure grace on God’s part makes the way possible for an individual to commune with Him, even though by nature, the individual is imperfect before the perfect God, who cannot tolerate iniquity. This new arrangement through Christ, which Paul was trying to introduce to the Jews, his fellow compatriots, was hinted at in the Old Testament. Certainly Gentiles wanted to hear Paul’s reasoning as well.

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

At first, verse 5 might seem confusing, but later Paul showed what he meant; namely, Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. Circumcision is very painful, especially for an adult. The Jews felt that performing the act showed one had some gumption, but it was only one act. If we could get into heaven by just dying, we might reason that it would be better to take cyanide and end our life rather than to wait and perhaps jeopardize our reward. Paul was showing how foolish it was to think that by performing a ceremonial act, which is considered a “work,” a person was good for the rest of his life. An indulgence is along the same line of erroneous thinking. If the Jews’ thinking were correct, then sooner or later the conversation with new Christians would come around to the question “Have you been circumcised?” What a hypocritical attitude, for the questioner would be looking for a fault! He would think, “We can convert the individual by getting him to perform the act of circumcision.” It would be like saying, “I saved a soul,” whereas the attainment of a heavenly reward is based on a continuum of acts for the rest of one’s life.

In verse 5, then, Paul was saying, “To him that … believeth on him [that is, on God and on Jesus as the one through whom justification comes] … his faith is counted for righteousness.”

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

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

Paul quoted another Old Testament Scripture to prove that faith can justify: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (Psa. 32:1,2). “Sin” and “transgression” before consecration are what God forgives and covers initially. “Blessed are they whose [past] iniquities are forgiven, and whose [past] sins are covered.” After consecration, the relationship is different. A person is not to think that now he can sin so that the grace of God will abound. Some falsely conclude that the statements of Psalm 32:1,2 apply to all sin, that the merit of Christ’s righteousness covers all sin. The Roman Catholic Church has reasoned this way in selling indulgences, teaching that the individual’s sins are thus covered. It is important to make a distinction between sins committed before consecration and sins committed after consecration, for various steps have to be taken in handling sins after consecration depending on the kind of sin and the degree of culpability. Incidentally, the word “covered” in verse 7 suggests the robe of Christ’s righteousness.

Through the epistle, Paul was coming as a stranger into a new area and telling the Romans things they had probably never heard before in depth. When thousands of Jews repented at Pentecost, Peter had merely shown that they had crucified the Messiah. He said, “You have crucified the very one whom the nation has been looking for” (Acts 2:36-38 paraphrase).

Peter’s producing a sensation of guilt on the 3,000 and on the 5,000 led to their repentance and baptism, but when he said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” he did not mean that was the end of the matter. He was saying they would have a new beginning. They were to believe into Jesus Christ, not just to believe that such an individual had lived and died.

Peter’s sermon produced consecrations en masse among Jews, who are hard to convince as a people. The Lord must have given tremendous speaking power to Peter and John in order to achieve such results and make the people feel convicted. And that is what Paul was doing in his letter to the Christians in Rome. He wanted both Jews and Gentiles to realize where they came from and what God had done for them, but henceforth they could not just do anything they felt like. He was saying, “You both came from darkness into light, so do not let picayune differences divide you. Faultfinding is thoroughly inappropriate.”

Paul used guile and wisdom in quoting Scripture, for the Jews revered Abraham and David. Earlier he used common-sense logic to show that nature and conscience condemn all men. Now he used Scripture to show the condemnation.

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

Paul continued to talk about the initial deliverance of the Christian from sin, which is like coming from a dungeon. However, later in this epistle he had to correct a false view and say that once forgiven does not mean always forgiven. Many feel they can willfully sin after consecration and still be freely forgiven through the grace of God. The flesh, the old man, the old heart, likes this thought, for the Christian can then have one foot in the world of pleasure and sin and the other foot in the world of insurance beyond the grave.

We are still considering just the opening remarks of Paul in this epistle. If he had ended his argument at this point, we would not have the complete picture.

Rom. 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.

Now Paul would go into the subject of when Abraham was justified by faith—that it was before the ceremonial act.

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

Rom. 4:11 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:

This novel type of reasoning was very powerful. Although the Gentiles did not know much about Abraham and circumcision, they got their education by listening to what Paul was telling the Jews about the Old Testament. Thus the Gentiles were being briefed when this letter was read to the ecclesia in Rome. Who could say nay to this reasoning, for those Jews who were critical probably did not know the reasoning themselves? They would have checked the Scriptures, for certainly if Paul had misquoted, the errors would have been held against him.

Therefore, he had to be very careful in his reasoning so that when the subject was investigated, the mouths of his critics would be muted, and the individuals could not gainsay him. Today we are favored with concordances and multiple translations, so we can quickly check Scriptures, but it took Christians in the early Church much longer to search them out.

Comment: Paul was not belittling circumcision in any way, for it had been commanded by God.

Reply: Paul called circumcision “a seal of the righteousness of the faith” that Abraham had before he was circumcised. The principle is the same when a statement is notarized. With the Jews, the “notarizing” occurred when an individual was circumcised in compliance with God’s wishes as required by the Law.

Comment: Just as the emphasis is on the “seal,” not on the document, so Paul’s emphasis was on faith, not on the ritual of circumcision.

Reply: Yes. Abraham received “the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised.” The implication is that by the activities of his life, Abraham was a type, or an example, of the Jewish and the Gentile Christian.

Again Paul used powerful reasoning. To pose a question and then answer it is a good technique. Abraham’s being justified first, his being counted righteous before he was circumcised, shows that circumcision was merely a later outward sign of what had already taken place inward, in the heart. Hence circumcision without the proper heart condition was not what the Lord desired. From “Jewish” thinking, which requires the works of the Law and circumcision, Abraham would not have been justified but would have remained an ungodly Gentile. Paul was correcting such thinking.

Rom. 4:12 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.

Abraham was “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.” Although ignorant of the details of the Law with their limited understanding, Gentile Christians who heard Paul’s letter were probably delighted that his reasoning refuted the other thinking. They were now able to resist the pressure of the Jews—both converted Jews who had trouble realizing they were no longer under the Law and unbelieving Jews—who used the same type of arguments. Gentiles could now give a reason for their faith.

Rom. 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 promise given to Abraham not through the Law but “through the righteousness of faith” made him “the heir of the world.” God dealt with Abraham on the basis of his faith. Paul continued to drum on the importance of faith versus the ritual of circumcision under the Law.

Sometimes reasoning has to be repetitive not merely to stop one momentarily in his tracks but also to pound the thoughts into his skull. Many of these Scriptures are saying the same thing but using slightly different wording.

Comment: The promise was given to Abraham and his seed before the introduction of the Law.

Reply: Yes. The Abrahamic Covenant preceded the Law by 430 years. This point is very

important, for the newly presented chronology changes try to rebut this time feature. The reasoning is that the Israelites were in Egypt for 384 years, whereas of the 430 years, they were in Egypt for only 215 years based on two witnesses, a Scripture in the Old Testament and a Scripture in the New Testament (Gal. 3:17).

Since the Law did not come until 430 years after the Abrahamic Covenant, Paul used the same type of reasoning that he had used with circumcision. Righteousness was imputed to Abraham before he was circumcised. The Law of Moses did not exist when God gave the promise to Abraham. Thus the promise was according to faith and had nothing to do with the Law.

Q: How is Abraham the “heir of the world”?

A: God told Abraham, “Through thee and thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:17,18 paraphrase). This seed is the heirship. The blessing of the world is just another component part of the promise, but it is not the main point. In other words, restitution was not specially commended by Paul in Galatians when he said, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). The emphasis was on the channel seed, for the Isaac seed is to be the channel of blessing. The gospel is not the blessing of the world but becoming the “heir” to the world, that is, to become kings and priests with Jesus.

Reigning over the world is the secondary part of the Abrahamic promise. Because Abraham obeyed God, the “seed” will be of two kinds: as the stars of heaven and as the sand of the sea (Gen. 22:17; 26:4,5). God said that the seed would be multiplied exceedingly, so that it would not be “numbered for multitude,” but the kind of seed, either astral or terrestrial, is another perspective that is equally important (Gen. 16:10). Of the heavenly seed, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).

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

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

Paul used Middle Eastern type of reasoning, which is a little harder for us to understand, but it is thoroughly logical. If heirs came through works, then faith would be of no effect. Faith is the important ingredient, for nobody can perfectly keep the Law; the Law condemns. Instead of the Jews’ insisting that Gentiles come under the Law, they were to throw off this yoke of bondage. The Jew was doubly condemned under (1) conscience and nature and (2) the Law.

The Jews were chiefly doing the condemning, but the Law had not come when all were condemned in Adam. Therefore, from the standpoint that the Law had not yet been given, there was no transgression, but there was transgression from the standpoint that all are condemned to die in Adam. Whether a person does good or does evil is relatively immaterial as far as what happened, for all in Adam die.

Thus Paul was introducing a new frame of thinking that was completely different from the accustomed training of Jewish people for many centuries under the Law. He said that if Abraham was not condemned by the Law because it did not yet exist, there was no transgression from that standpoint. The logic the Jews were using was not pertinent to their conclusions. In other words, they used reasoning that was not relevant to their argument. The fault lay with those Jews who used the Law and the ritual of circumcision to try to justify their thinking. Instead, and to the contrary, the Law and circumcision condemned their thinking.

Satan tries to outdo God. Since circumcision began with Abraham, Satan shortly afterward got those of heathen religions to cut and lacerate themselves, an example being Baal worship in Elijah’s day (1 Kings 18:25-28).

Rom. 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,

Rom. 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.

As written, God said, “I have made thee a father of many nations.” Right away the promise extends beyond the Jewish nation, for Abraham is the father of other nations and peoples.

Elsewhere Paul used the argument that Abraham was not even really a Jew. Not until Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, did the Jewish nation begin, and his 12 children constituted the nation. Paul had already gone into enough information to make the Jews’ heads swim, for he was using a new frame of reference. “Abraham … is the father of us all.”

“Therefore it [justification] is of faith, that it might be by grace.” If justification came by works, the reward would be obligatory, not by grace (God’s favor). By this new means of coming into God’s presence by faith, God can justify all, both Jews and Gentiles. Faith is essential for grace. Stated another way, faith is the channel, instrument, pipe, or means for obtaining grace. God’s grace is there for all, but faith must reach out to it. This “means” was prophesied in the Law.

“Before him [God] whom he [Abraham] believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and [Abraham] calleth those things which be not as though they were.” Here Paul used almost the same mechanics of language as his definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Rom. 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.

“Against hope,” Abraham “believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations.” While Abraham was in Haran, God called to mind what He had previously said to him in Ur of the Chaldees, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3). Abraham had to get to the land God would show him, but he stopped in Haran because his father, Terah, was ill. After Terah died, Abraham crossed the river Euphrates and entered the outer or peripheral area of Israel.

“Against hope [Abraham] believed in hope.” In other words, everything was to the contrary.

In tracing Abraham’s experiences in getting to the land of Canaan, we can see the obstacles that confronted him. Even when he entered the land, which he believed God would give him in time, he had to buy a plot of ground for his burial and that of his family. God did give him Isaac, but Abraham had to wait a long time for his son. Since Sarah’s womb was barren for many years, she thought that perhaps the heir could be produced through Hagar, the concubine. (The concubine method was not unusual in those days, for the New Testament restriction for a man to be the husband of one wife was not in effect.) Ishmael was born as a result, but Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born later on. Evidently, Abraham was impotent, so again the situation was hope “against hope.” What a remarkable person he was to take these steps of faith, one after another! God uses the same procedure with us, leading us step by step to increase our faith.

Comment: It is also remarkable that Keturah became his wife after Sarah died and bore him more children.

Reply: Yes, Abraham had six children through Keturah.

Imagine being told that your seed will be like the stars of heaven in number and having only one son, Isaac! And then God told Abraham to kill Isaac. Talk about hope against hope! We feel that anyone who makes his calling and election sure will have severe trials that are similar in principle with hard decisions to make. Not everyone has that type of trial because not all are of Little Flock caliber. Some remain babes, and if steaks were given to babies, they would choke to death. At graduation stage, Abraham was willing to offer his son, whom he dearly loved.

It is important to distinguish between thorough dedication to God and the type of dedication a Muslim has to Allah, for instance. Muslims voluntarily die as suicide bombers because they are promised—in fact, guaranteed—an Edenic paradise for dying as a martyr. They detonate themselves through a fervor, whereas true consecration is a slow process, day by day, for the rest of one’s life, which includes much decision making. Worldly people may emotionally dive into a river to rescue a drowning swimmer, but sudden, hasty actions are not what the Scriptures mean by saying, “Be thou faithful until death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

Abraham’s faith that he would have a seed at 100 years of age was remarkable. He hoped against hope, and so do we, for circumstances in life seem to belie what we consecrate to do, but in this way, we are tested. Outward appearances may seem all contrary to our hope, but faith inspires us to proceed anyway.

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

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

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

Paul’s reasoning is very educational to us, let alone to the Jewish and Gentile Christians he was addressing. Abraham “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief,” and the Abrahamic Covenant was a staggering promise. God had said, “Get thee unto a land that thou knowest not, and I will make of thee a great nation,” yet Abraham lived and died without receiving that promise. Nevertheless, he believed the promise would be fulfilled, for if he believed Isaac would be raised from the dead, he certainly thought the same for himself.

“Being fully persuaded that, what he [God] had promised, he was able also to perform,” Abraham “staggered not.” Two extremes are mentioned. Hope against hope, he staggered not, being fully persuaded. Of course we can see some of these faith strains in our own Christian walk. All of us who have made a consecration—no matter how long that period of time has been up to the present day—have been living a life of faith because we burned bridges behind us. The consecrated cannot boast because of works, but in a sense they are like Abraham in their walk. However, the degree of the severity of the trials and testings is another matter, for God knows each individual and what his experience should be and whether he will be of the very elect in the final analysis. On the deathbed, some are given hope and some are not. We cannot judge by such appearances.

Abraham was strong in faith, giving glory to God. By his faith, not only did he give a testimony to God’s truthfulness, but also it showed God’s wisdom in selecting him. The same principle was illustrated when Jesus proved faithful on the Cross. Throughout eternity, all will ultimately realize that God’s choice was best.

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

Faith “was imputed to him [Abraham] for righteousness.” Paul was showing that Abraham is the father of the faithful. During the Christian dispensation also, Abraham is the example of a life of faith. Even if we are denied certain privileges in our consecration—for example, if a paralyzing sickness confines us to bed for years—we should have faith that we can make our calling and election sure. The statement “it was imputed to him for righteousness” was recorded not just for Abraham but for us too.

Faith in Jesus’ sacrifice brings justification. We might have faith in a Creator, but to be justified in the present age, we must accept Jesus’ sacrifice. Just as Abraham believed God, so the Christian must believe God and the one He sent: Jesus.

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

Rom. 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;

Comment: If we believe on God, who raised up Jesus from the dead, faith is also imputed to us for righteousness. Evangelists emphasize having faith in Jesus, but Paul took the matter to the higher level—believe in the Father

Reply: That is true, for Jesus did not raise himself.

When Paul espoused this new doctrine and thinking—whether by letter or in person—others could see his fervor and dynamism. There was no doubt that he believed what he was preaching. Jesus was the Messiah, and he had been raised from death. It was necessary to have this energy of the Holy Spirit working in him so that others would realize he was thoroughly convinced, and when he faithfully went through repeated persecutions, people were convinced even more. Who could endure such experiences, one after another, unless he truly believed what he was saying? Paul was a living epistle, so when he spoke, his audience knew that he was convinced and that he must have had a vision from God. In addition, others knew of his infirmity. Going from house to house, preaching in synagogues, writing numerous epistles, walking long distances between destinations, etc., all required dedication and conviction. Seeing what this human dynamo was doing with the infirmities of the flesh that handicapped him caused people to listen to him.

Some were still alive who had seen Jesus and the Crucifixion. They could testify that the Innocent One had healed people of leprosy, cast out demons, raised some from death, spoken like no other man, etc. Moreover, some could testify about the signs that took place at Pentecost, such as speaking with tongues. Thus, when Paul’s hearers investigated what he was saying, there was evidence of the truthfulness of his words. And when he laid his hands on believers, a gift of the Holy Spirit was instantaneously imparted. All these evidences buttressed what Paul said. (Of course for us today, the evidence in this epistle is the Old Testament.)

Rom. 4:25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

Jesus “was delivered for our offences [for our sins], and was raised again for our justification.”

His dying on the Cross was an offset for sin, for he had to take the sinner’s place. When raised, he was in a new role as a living, risen Savior. Some still living gave eyewitness testimony that Jesus had been raised from death, for they saw him after his crucifixion. The fact the scribes and Pharisees of the first century could not disannul the historical events and occurrences in nature, as recorded in the four Gospels, is proof that they occurred.

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