14/06/15 – Romans 4:1-12 “The choice between works and faith”
Last week we looked at the total condemnation of all mankind by the law of works, and the introduction of the law of faith. We also looked at the connection between Romans 3:23 and 3:24 – a connection that clearly shows that the group of people who are freely justified (Vs 24) is the very same group that have sinned and fall short of the glory of God in Vs 23 (they are the same sentence). Thus all who sin are also justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. If all have sinned, then all have been freely justified. But what does this mean? We saw that being justified meant to have just reason for being or saying or doing something. Justification was therefore some kind of evidence to give support to, or testify to, a circumstance under judgement. Our works justify our faith; thus, while our works cannot give us faith, those works are evidence as to whether we have faith or not. Our works give support to our claim to have faith (James 2:24).
In gospel terms, to be justified means to have just reason why we should not be condemned by the law. To be justified means to be pronounced just according to the law that otherwise should condemn us. That is, the law finds us just, without any outstanding penalty to pay (having already been paid on the cross); therefore we are justified. Thus, according to these verses, all who have sinned have also been freely justified! That means that not one single person who has sinned (that is, all people) can be required to pay the penalty demanded by the law. Every single penalty has been paid for every single person that would ever live! If just one sin remained unpaid, then that person would prove God to be a liar, and that cannot be so. However, this does not mean that all are going to heaven. It does not support universalism, because it must be activated by faith (Romans 3:28). The free gift must be accepted by faith to ratify the contract! The pardon must be accepted according to the terms and conditions (which include pleading guilty as charged and casting ourselves upon God’s mercy).
God has promised that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord to be saved shall indeed be saved (Romans 10:13). If just one person should call upon the name of the Lord and not have every single sin penalty paid for, then God’s promise is not sure. Romans 3:24 also says this justification is through the redemption in Christ Jesus, that is, through His payment to regain possession of every single person who has sinned. God’s anger cannot be upon the breaking of the law, therefore, because the full penalty that the law requires has been paid. God’s anger against sin has been fully propitiated, appeased (1 John 2:2 – for the whole world). God’s anger instead will be upon those who reject the total sacrifice of His son Jesus, and this anger against the rejection of His Son can only be propitiated by sending such people to hell for eternity. People go to hell for rejecting God’s Son, not to pay for their sins!
So today we get to the choice that people must make based upon what we learned last week. That is, the law of works totally condemns us, but Jesus has paid in full every single penalty that could be brought against every single person. The law itself cannot save us; instead it condemns us. But that condemnation was laid upon Jesus upon the cross. The choice now becomes not whether we will obey the law, for Paul has demonstrated that this is impossible. Instead the choice is upon whether we will accept by faith the payment that Jesus has made on our behalf, or to trust in our own ‘good’ works to be sufficient to save us from everlasting punishment. This is where we start on today’s passage.
Romans 4:1-3 – 1What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath [whereof] to glory; but not before God. 3For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Paul asks the Jews what they might think of Abraham’s situation. Of course, the Jews thought of themselves as the children of Abraham, and what applied to Abraham became their particular inheritance. They could think nothing wrong of Abraham and therefore if Abraham said or thought it, then they were bound by this. Paul seeks to demonstrate that what they believe concerning Abraham might not be quite what they think it means.
Jesus made it clear what he thought of some of them (especially the pharisees).
Matthew 3:9 – And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to [our] father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
John 8:37-41; 52-53 – 37I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. 38I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. 39They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. 40But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. 41Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, [even] God. …..
52Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. 53Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?
We have been talking about circumcision earlier on in Romans, concluding that inward (spiritual) circumcision is preferable to outward (fleshly) circumcision.
Romans 2:28-29 – 28For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither [is that] circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29But he [is] a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision [is that] of the heart, in the spirit, [and] not in the letter; whose praise [is] not of men, but of God.
This passage today goes on to reveal that this ‘pertaining to the flesh’ relates to circumcision. Abraham certainly believed God and this was accounted to him for righteousness (Vs 3), but the circumcision in the flesh was given as a sign of Abraham’s covenant with God after he had been accounted righteous (Vs 10). Abraham was not justified by works (that is, made just according to the law’s requirements) but by faith in God, while he was yet uncircumcised!
Was Abraham justified by his circumcision? The emphasis the Jews put upon the requirements of circumcision certainly showed that they considered circumcision of the flesh to be absolutely necessary to be righteous in God’s eyes. Paul is making sure that they get the message here, that physical circumcision is not necessary to be accounted righteous, to be justified. Of course, if circumcision could justify a person, then perhaps Abraham could boast of being circumcised, a work in his flesh. But, Paul says that he had no right to glory (or boast in) his circumcision: ‘not before God’, because God says otherwise! It was Abraham’s belief, his faith in God’s promises, not any personal works, that justified Abraham. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (Vs 3) This quote comes from the following:- Genesis 15:6 – And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
And Abraham wasn’t circumcised at this point in time! It would be 2 chapters later in Genesis 17 that Abraham would be circumcised as a sign of the covenant between God and him.
Genesis 17:9-14 – 9And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. 10This [is] my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. 11And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. 12And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which [is] not of thy seed. 13He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
In Romans, Paul is emphasizing that the physical circumcision was merely an outward sign of their acceptance of God’s covenant, and that spiritual circumcision (an inward acceptance of God’s covenant shown by obedience to God’s law) was the real thing.
The fact that Abraham’s accounting for righteous occurred before his physical circumcision demonstrates that physical circumcision (according to the flesh) had nothing to do with ensuring Abraham’s righteousness.
Paul now looks at the difference between the two alternatives, works and faith, which he appears to be comparing with physical circumcision and spiritual circumcision.
Romans 4:4 – Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
There are two choices to make when it comes to being justified according to God’s law. One is to decide that you aren’t all that bad, certainly not as bad as God’s law appears to make you out to be. The alternative is to accept what God says as true and thus to accept His remedy for it all. Here in Vs 4 the first option is presented, and the verdict given as well. If you think you’re going to be justified on the basis of your works (“This is Your Life”) then there’s only one verdict that can be given – guilty! You will never have sufficient good works to justify forgiveness, no matter how long you should live. Just one bad work in your life and the rest of your perhaps otherwise perfect life(??) is down the gurgler, down the drain! You will be declared spiritually bankrupt! (in debt!)
James 2:10 – For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one [point], he is guilty of all.
Romans 4:5 – But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
But there is an alternative – believe on God’s promise that He will justify the ungodly through faith in Jesus’ payment on the cross. (believe = pisteuo = to think to be true; to be persuaded of; to credit; place confidence in, esp. to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something; saving faith)
This requires an acceptance that (a) you are guilty as accused, condemned by your works, and admit this fully, and (b) you trust God’s promise that He can and will save you, in spite of your overwhelming guilt. This is termed saving faith; this faith is not a gift of God as some would falsely teach but instead is a response of trust in a promise made by another.
2 Corinthians 7:10a – For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation ….
Paul states that this alternative, to trust in God’s promises of salvation, will be accounted for righteousness. This doesn’t mean ‘not-guilty’, as in ‘never-did-it’, but instead, through our acceptance of God’s promises, we are imputed to be not guilty, effectively a pardon for our guilt. The fact that we have sinned remains, but our responsibility for that sin has been imputed to Jesus. This means that there was a judicial transfer of the sins of man to Jesus Christ, God’s sin-bearer. (See Leviticus 16:8-10; 20-22 regarding the scapegoat.) The act remains but it no longer is declared a sin punishable by the law; the full payment has already been made. (And, no, the lost are not sent to hell to pay for their sins. They go because they rejected the payment that had already been made!)
Colossians 2:13-14 – 13And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
Thus it is by faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Our sin-penalty has been paid in full by Christ on the cross, and through faith in God’s promises His righteousness is imputed to us in return.
Romans 4:6-8 – 6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7[Saying], Blessed [are] they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8Blessed [is] the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
While the penalty demanded by the law for our sins has been paid in full by Christ, sin is still imputed to us until we believe by faith in God’s promises of righteousness without works. That is, the fact (not the law penalty) that we have sinned remains on our records unless we accept the pardon for those sins. If we trust in works, and reject God’s gift of life, then it’s effectively a rejection of the pardon offered; we are still considered to be in sin, despite the law penalty no longer being applied (for that penalty was paid in full for all mankind on the cross). The pardon, though offered to all mankind, may only be accepted (and come into effect) by faith in the One who offers the pardon. Thus all are offered a pardon for sins, yet only those who accept the pardon by faith will receive the blessing of God who will not impute their sin to them.
To reject the pardon is to stay under condemnation of that sin.
John 3:18 – He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
David also tells us that it is a blessing of God to the man to whom God imputes righteousness as long as it is not trusting in works. The quotes are from
Psalm 32:1-2 – 1Blessed [is he whose] transgression [is] forgiven, [whose] sin [is] covered. 2Blessed [is] the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit [there is] no guile.
without works – or “apart from works”; to choose works for our defense will always reach the one verdict – guilty, so imputing of righteousness can only be if our defense does not rest on our works, but instead on the finished work of justification obtained by Jesus on the cross.
sins are covered – epikalupto (to cover over)
In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for atonement is kaphar (as in Leviticus 17:11) meaning to cover over; pacify; propitiate; make atonement for (especially sin).
kaphar was the Hebrew word for the pitch (tar; bitumen; asphalt) used to waterproof such as boats.
In the Old Testament the blood of bulls and goats could only cover sin, not remove it.
Hebrews 10:4 – For [it is] not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
But Jesus’ sacrifice achieved what the blood of animals could never achieve.
Hebrews 9:13-14; 22 – 13For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: 14How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 22And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
So, the imperfect covering of sin by the blood of animals has now become the perfect removal of sin by the blood of Jesus. And thus, because the sin has been cleansed away, it no longer remains. Or rather, while the fact of the sin might remain, it is no longer capable of condemning us, thus effectively non-existent. By faith, it is no longer the guilt of sin that will condemn me, because that guilt has now been imputed to Jesus on the cross, and God has now quite justly imputed His righteousness (without works) to us. The sin hasn’t been put to one side or covered; it no longer has any application to the law! That is, effectively sin ceases to exist on our records. The fact of the sin might still exist but it can no longer be seen as a sin-offense against holy God. And as such, the law cannot and will not be used against it, ever again. Of course, if we were to trust in works for our justification, then those acts which are no longer declared sin still exist as debt on our lives (Vs 4). Such debt can only be cancelled by trusting in Jesus’ payment, accepting it as God’s gift to us. Then we are judged, not by works (= debt) but by faith (= righteousness) (Vs 5).
Romans 4:9-12 – 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. 10How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. 11And 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: 12And 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.
Is this blessedness given only to the circumcised, or to the uncircumcised as well? Here Paul goes back to his statement at the start of this passage, that Abraham’s belief in God was indeed accounted to Abraham for righteousness. But was it while he was circumcised or uncircumcised? We have already seen that he was accounted as righteous well before his circumcision, and therefore the whole point of this passage on faith by righteousness is that it couldn’t be based upon physical circumcision in any way, noting that Abraham was yet uncircumcised when he was accounted as righteous! He received the sign of circumcision after he had believed, in much the same way that we get baptized after we believe. Our baptism is not what makes us righteous, but is the evidence of such. Without baptism we can still be saved! Likewise with circumcision here – being accounted for righteousness is independent of circumcision. Paul is making the point that the Jews who thought they were superior to the Gentiles because of their circumcision, were actually not righteous because of their circumcision, unless they also believed.
Paul says in Vs 11 that Abraham became the father of all them who believe, even if not circumcised, and righteousness would be imputed to them because of their belief. He was the father of all those who believe, not necessarily of those who were circumcised. The Jews saw their circumcision as being the proof of their descendancy from Abraham, while Paul is saying it is actually their belief that should determine that he was their father! Thus even people who believed, yet uncircumcised, could be the children of Abraham. It is ‘belief’ that accounts for righteousness, not ‘circumcision’. And the Jews in Paul’s day were relying upon their circumcision, not their belief.
In Romans 11, Paul discusses the blindness that has come upon most of the Jews because of their unbelief. Their circumcision, which they relied upon so much, couldn’t save them, couldn’t justify them, couldn’t account them as righteous at all!
Romans 11:23-25 – 23And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. 24For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural [branches], be graffed into their own olive tree? 25For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
And so Abraham became the father of all those who would believe, both Jew and Gentile, for there is no difference; he became the father of both the circumcision and the uncircumcision, as long as they ‘walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which [he had] being [yet] uncircumcised.’
So what does this mean for us today? Too many are relying upon other experiences as I said last week. Churches do not preach the cross of Christ as the only way to a holy God. They preach spiritual manifestations, or tongues, or being of the elect, or doing the works of salvation (not necessarily as a result of salvation), or doing service for God when He hasn’t called them to do such, especially if they should be relying upon that service to justify their righteousness, and their entrance into heaven.
Matthew 7:21-23 – 21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
There is only one way to approach God in righteousness.
John 14:6 – Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
And to tie this all back to Romans (note the consistency of the Bible)….
1 Corinthians 1:17-18 – 17For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. 18For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
Romans 1:16 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
There are those who will claim to have a new revelation of how we might approach God in righteousness, claiming that God has called them, anointed them, using them, blessing them etc. However, are they doing it in obedience to God? In the end, it is obedience that proves our belief; it is obedience that demonstrates the reality of our faith. We may do much that looks good in the world’s eyes, but unless God is in it, it is only failure.
John 14:15 – If ye love me, keep my commandments.
Psalm 127:1 – Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh [but] in vain.