1 - 8 A Happy Man
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. 8 “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”
V1. Paul now highlights two important people from Israel’s history in the Old Testament to clarify that God’s righteousness can only be obtained by faith. You also saw this in the previous section with respect to the law. God takes special care to demonstrate that man has no part in obtaining God’s righteousness. Everything comes from Him. The more you understand this, the more you will honor Him for it in your life.
V2. Abraham is mentioned first. He was the patriarch (father) of the Jews. God traced the origin of the people of Israel to Abraham’s descendants. The Jews boasted in this fact. They even used it in their arguments with the Lord Jesus. They said: “We are Abraham’s descendants” (Jn 8:33). They thought that being Abraham’s posterity, they were rather privileged. After all, the promises had been given to him. In addition the law had been too difficult for them to keep, but God would at least bless them (they thought) because they were Abraham’s posterity.
V2-3. But this is not how it works. You and I are not blessed because our ancestors were blessed. If our ancestors were blessed, it is because they believed God, not because they deserved it. We too receive the blessing only through personal faith with God as its object. This was the case with Abraham and so it is with his posterity. Scripture says: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
The object of faith is not a man, but the clear word of God. In Genesis 15 God promised Abraham an heir and numerous posterity. Abraham believed this even when, humanly speaking, it was no longer possible to have children. He and Sarah were too old for that, but he still trusted God to fulfill His promise. This faith was reckoned to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6).
V4-5. When God was going to fulfill His promises, he was not expecting Abraham to help Him. If Abraham had been able to help in this, he would have deserved some kind of payment because he had worked for it. Just as with Abraham, so with you; you are justified by faith. You are then not honored, but God is glorified.
V6-8. Your happiness is to be found in receiving God’s righteousness without having to work for it. In Psalm 32 David speaks about righteousness without works. Read in how he says: “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”” And what does God do? “And You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psa 32:5).
If we acknowledge our sins instead of covering them up, then God does exactly the reverse with them. He forgives them. He puts them where they can no longer be seen. How happy you are once you know this! God no longer imputes our confessed sins because Christ shed His blood for them. How marvelous and what grace!
Words fail to express the wonder of what God has done to make us righteous. People whose sins have been forgiven are happy people. At times, we can be in difficult circumstances, but our sins are no longer a source of unease. All of this has been dealt with perfectly. God Himself is the guarantee for it because He did it Himself.
Now read Romans 4:1-8 again.
Reflection: Realize that God no longer thinks of your sins.
9 - 17 Abraham’s Posterity
9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. 13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not 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 is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. 16 For this reason [it is] by faith, in order that [it may be] in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, 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, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, [even] God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.
V9-10. I have to take you back to Genesis 17 to help you understand the subject of verses 9-12. When treating Romans 2:28-29, I also alluded to this. You may want to read that section again as a reminder. In Genesis 17 we read about a covenant God made with Abraham. As a sign of this covenant, all boys and men had to be circumcised. This was an outward sign that every boy received on the eighth day after his birth. With this sign God separated all of the people who were to be born as Abraham’s descendants – Israel – from the rest of mankind. It was a great privilege to belong to God’s earthly people.
But as to receiving the righteousness of God, there is no difference for God. It doesn’t matter whether you belong outwardly to God’s people to know the happiness that forgiveness brings. The thing that matters is what’s on the inside – your faith in Him. When Abraham’s faith was reckoned as righteousness, he had not yet been circumcised.
V11-12. He received circumcision as a seal of the faith he had when he had not as yet been circumcised. This is brought out here to indicate that Abraham is not only the father of a literal posterity, the people of Israel, but he is the father of a spiritual posterity as well.
In fact, there are three kinds of posterity. In verse 11 he first is called the father of the uncircumcised. This deals with non-Jews who, being uncircumcised, believed in the same way as Abraham did when he hadn’t as yet been circumcised. This is the first kind of posterity.
In verse 12 you find the second and third kinds of posterity. He is called the father of circumcision which deals with his literal posterity, the people of Israel, but this literal posterity consists of two groups. The first group is Abraham’s posterity outwardly by the outward (physical) circumcision. The second group is Abraham’s posterity both in an outward sense and in a spiritual sense. These people show they are Abraham’s spiritual posterity by walking in the footsteps of the faith he had while he was still uncircumcised.
V13-15. The promise that Abraham and his posterity would inherit the world wasn’t given as part of the law. The law has a different connection than circumcision between God and his earthly people. In Abraham’s days, the law was many years in the future.
If a law had been given by which they could obtain the promise, then faith would have been no longer necessary because the promise would have been dependent upon personal merit or effort. However, this would have resulted only in wrath rather than a fulfillment of the promise because no one could fulfill the demands of the law. The certainty of the promise is in faith and grace. Everything is strongly linked with God who is the Object of the faith and the One who shows grace.
V16-17. To Abraham, God was personally present. Abraham believed Him, trusted Him and knew He could work where, as a man, he was powerless. To Abraham, God could raise the dead, just as He could create out of nothing. Look at creation! Psalm 33 says: “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psa 33:9).
By believing in this way, Abraham was made by God “a father of many nations”. Similarly to when Abraham believed God’s words, you who know God in your life may hold Him to the promises He has given you in His Word.
Now read Romans 4:9-17 again.
Reflection: Are there any promises that God has made to you? Do you trust Him to keep them?
18 - 25 The Absolute Certainty of Faith
18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 [He] who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
V18-19. From the reference verses, it is clear what Abraham believed. In Genesis 15 God called Abraham out of his tent at night to have him look at the sky. There he could see countless stars. Then God said to him: “So shall your descendants be.” Abraham believed what God had said.
He was about 100 years old at the time and that is too old to be able to father children. Sarah was ten years younger, but much too old to get pregnant. Abraham didn’t shut his eyes to this. He contemplated his own body, but “without becoming weak in faith”. He didn’t stop at an impossibility for man. His faith looked up to God. What is impossible with men is possible with God.
V20. Therefore, he didn’t doubt God’s promise. By his faith he was made strong. I presume you have experienced at times the faith that gives you strength. Faith is not a fuzzy notion that requires a lot of imagination, but faith brings God into view. This rock-solid faith in God’s power made Abraham overcome all his doubts. Abraham no longer looked at himself and his weakness.
V21. When he learned to forget himself and look up to God in the strength of faith, he was fully assured that God had the power to do what He had promised. Anyone who sees the Almighty God in that way will stop doubting whether God is able to give life where death seems imminent. Such an attitude honors and glorifies God.
V22. God then reckoned this faith to Abraham as righteousness. God saw that Abraham recognized, trusted and thought of Him correctly. The righteousness that God reckoned to Abraham was from His perspective to Abraham, ‘If you think about Me in such a way, you belong to Me.’
V22-25. Verses 23-25 follow with the application that is very important to you as someone young in the faith. That which was said to Abraham was also said to teach you how to receive righteousness. Righteousness means that you, who used to be a sinner far away from God, now belong to God. There is nothing left to fear from Him. God needed a righteous basis to give you that wonderful position. He could not act as if you hadn’t sinned because God cannot act in conflict with Himself. Since you had sinned, God, being holy and righteous, would have had to punish you, but now He doesn’t. He provided the solution Himself. The Lord Jesus completely fulfilled all God’s holy demands and God raised Him from the dead.
This is the basis for our justification: He has raised Jesus our Lord from the dead! The Lord Jesus was given up by God to fulfill the work of redemption on the cross for you. God’s righteousness has been fully satisfied for your sins in the Person of the Lord Jesus who bore them on the cross. God judged your sins in Him and the Lord Jesus died, but how could God leave Him dead when He had suffered for your sins to God’s fullest satisfaction? Therefore God had to raise Him. God had an obligation to Himself and to His Son’s work to carry this out.
The raising up of the Lord Jesus by God is the firm and unchangeable proof that God requires nothing else concerning your sins. All His demands have been met. Your sins no longer exist according to Him. He no longer sees them; they are gone forever. The Lord Jesus is the eternal witness that your sins have been done away with. Never again will we have to fear that God will take back His provision. He has provided everything Himself for your justification. He no longer looks on you in connection with your sins, but in connection with a risen Christ. In the next chapter you will see the tremendous results this brings about for you.
Now read Romans 4:18-25 again.
Reflection: Keep short accounts regarding any doubts about the certainty of your faith that you may still have.