Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 19, 2002
Turn in your Bibles to Romans 4.
Over the last few months we have been studying Paul’s introduction to the Gospel, and last week we
examined God’s righteousness in the justification of sinners by their faith in Jesus Christ. Last week’s
sermon was a bit intellectual because of all the theological words that had to be defined, such as
justification, redemption, propitiation and atonement. I suppose Paul could have continued his
presentation in such theological terms, but Paul’s goal is that his readers understand the gospel so that it
makes a difference in their lives. For that reason, Paul sets forth in chapter 4 the greatest example
possible of what it means to be justified by faith through its application in the life of Abraham.
Anticipated Objection (vs. 1,2)
Paul’s opening question is in anticipation of an objection that would be made against the gospel. He
uses that very objection to prove the truth of the law of faith in its application in the life of Abraham.
"What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if
Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God."
To most of the Jews at that time, their perversion of the Mosaic Law had also led them to believe
that God had accepted Abraham based on Abraham’s righteousness. There were those then, and there are
still some today, that claim that Abraham did not sin. Jewish tradition held that Abraham started serving
God when he was three and that his righteousness was perfected by his circumcision. That view fit in
with their works based theology. They would attain righteousness on their own by keeping the law.
Paul’s gospel was contrary to both their belief system and what they thought of Abraham who was their
"forefather according to the flesh." Paul tackles the objection head on. What did Abraham find? What
did Abraham’s life demonstrate? If Abraham was indeed justified, or made righteous before God,
because of His works, as Jewish tradition claimed, then he would have a reason to boast about it. Paul is
quick to point out that even if that were true, he could not even then boast before a holy and perfect God.
Did Abraham have a right to boast? How was he made righteous before God?
Return to the Scriptures (vs. 3)
Paul does what each of should do when an objection is raised about God or the Gospel. We go back
to the Scriptures. People can argue endlessly when there is only personal opinion, but their mouths are
stopped when there is a source of truth. What then does the Bible say about Abraham’s righteousness?
For what does the Scripture say? "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as
This passage is a quote from Genesis 15:3. Paul will discuss later in the chapter the particulars of
what Abraham believed, but this sets up Paul’s theses. Abraham was not made righteous because of
what He did, but because of His belief in God’s word. The term "reckoned"(logivzomai / logidzomai) is
an accounting term for setting down the figure in the correct column. It was used metaphorically in a
legal sense of imputation or non-imputation of guilt. We could translate this word as "considered,"
"counted," "credited," "reckoned" or "regarded." What is especially significant here is that this is not
the idea of transferring a merit or demerit from one person to another, but of crediting one quality for
another quality. Here it is the quality of believing God being credited or regarded as righteousness.
Abraham did not have the quality of righteousness in himself, but he did believe God, and God regarded
that belief as the quality of righteousness.
Paul expands on the logic of this in verses 4 & 5. "Now to the one who works, his wage is not
reckoned 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 reckoned as righteousness."
When you work you earn wages. Getting a paycheck after your labor is not the demonstration of a
favor to you, but is rather the just payment due. The one for whom you have worked is in your debt until
he has paid you your wages. You might be grateful to your employer for giving you a job. You might
even be thankful for the high wage you are being paid. But you don’t proclaim him to be gracious, good
and kind just because he actually pays you the agreed upon wages. He owes it to you. The example
given by Abraham is not one of work to achieve righteousness. Instead, Abraham believed in "Him who
justifies the ungodly." Abraham had faith in what God would graciously do on his behalf rather than in
what he had done for God. It was that faith that was considered by God to be righteousness.
David’s Testimony (vs. 6-8)
Paul brings up David’s comments on the blessing of this faith based righteousness in verses 6-8. just
as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons 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."
Turn over to Psalm 32 from which this quote is taken. In verses 1,2 David speaks of the effects of his
sin concerning Bathsheba. David was very aware of his great guilt and that he could not make the
situation right. It was affecting him physically. In verses 3 & 4 David speaks of his body wasting away,
of groaning all day long, and of his strength ebbing away. What did David do? Verse 5 states that David
acknowledged his sin. He confessed them to God. It was on that basis, and not by offering of sacrifices
or of doing good works, that David received forgiveness for his transgressions and a covering for his sin.
All of it is based in faith and trust in the eternal God.
The problem with so many of the Jews at that was that they did not pay attention to David’s
instruction as expressed in verses 8-11 of the Psalm. "I will instruct you and teach you in the way which
you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. 9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule which
have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, [Otherwise] they
will not come near to you. 10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked; But he who trusts in the Lord,
lovingkindness shall surround him. 11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones, And shout
for joy, all you who are upright in heart." They remained as a mule without understanding.
The Timing of God’s blessing on Abraham’s Faith (vs. 9- 12)
In verses 9-12 Paul brings up an extremely important point in understanding the righteousness of
Abraham. At what point in time did God reckon Abraham to be righteous. Remember, as I have already
pointed out, that the common thought among the Jews of that time was that Abraham was righteous
from an early age and that circumcision sealed that righteousness. Most Jews were counting on their
lineage through Abraham along with their ethnic rituals based in the Mosaic Law, and in particular
circumcision, to make them righteous. They also denied that gentiles could be righteous unless they
followed Jewish law and customs including circumcision.
"Is this blessing then upon the circumcised, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say, "Faith was
reckoned to Abraham as righteousness." 10 How then was it reckoned? 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, that he might be
the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned 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."
This is a wonderful truth, especially for us gentiles. There was nothing Jewish about Abraham at the
time that God reckoned Abraham’s faith as righteousness. In other words, Abraham was a gentile when
God declared him to be righteous before Him.
God revealed Himself to Abram, (his name at that time which means "exalted father"), in Genesis 12
while Abram was still living with his father and relatives in Haran. Abram’s father, Terah, was an
idolater (Josh. 24:2). God called on Abram to leave his country, relatives and father’s house to go to a
land that God would show him. God promised to bless Abram, make his name great, and that he would
be a blessing (Gen. 12:1-3). Abram obeyed God and left for the land of Canaan. Abram eventually
settled near Bethel in Canaan. In Genesis 15 God promises Abram a son and that he would have
innumerable descendants like the stars in the heavens. It is in Genesis 15:6 that we find the statement,
Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Abram is still uncircumcised,
and he still does not have a son. It is not until some 14 years later that God reaffirms His covenant with
Abram and changes his name to Abraham, which means "father of multitudes." It is at that time that
God institutes circumcision as a sign of the covenant. God reckons Abraham to be righteous long before
he does anything "Jewish."
That is the point of this passage. Abram was a gentile, the son of an idolater, when God choose him
out of all people. Abram was a gentile when God made a covenant with him and separated him out from
among all people as someone who would be special to Himself. It was not until many years later that
God refined the covenant and gave a sign of that covenant that was to mark Abraham’s descendants
from then on. That is why Abraham is the "father of all who believe" whether they are circumcised or
not. He is the example of faith for both the gentile and the Jew, for true righteousness comes by faith
regardless of ethnic heritage or cultural traditions. Paul makes this clear in the next section.
The Basis for God’s Promise to Abraham (13-17)
"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, neither is there violation. 16 For this reason [it is] by faith, that [it might be] in accordance with
grace, in order that the promise may be certain 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 sight of Him whom he believed, [even] God, who gives
life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist."
Again we find that righteousness is not based in keeping of law, but through faith in God. Again, the
example of this is seen in Abraham, but here Paul also points out that is also true for Abraham’s
descendants. As much as the Jews wanted to claim righteousness based in blood lineage and their
religious rites, the covenant God made to them through Abraham was made prior to the Law. The
promise itself that, as Paul describes here, Abraham or his "seed" (singular) would be "heir of the world"
was through the righteousness of faith. Those covenants were made in Genesis 12 and 15 many years
before circumcision was made the sign of the covenant in Genesis 17. It should be pointed out here again
that the covenant was one related to blessing Abraham with a great name, with a certain land, with many
descendants, and that the world would be blessed through him. Hebrews 11:10 tells that the land
Abraham was looking for was "the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God."
Abraham was looking beyond the temporal. The blessing to all nations that would come through Him is
Messiah. Paul clarifies this in Galatians 3:16 stating, "Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to
his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as [referring] to many, but [rather] to one, ‘And to your seed,’
that is, Christ." It is through Christ that those who believe in Him are made heirs with Him of heaven
(Rom 8:17). Paul brings both of these ideas together here in Romans 4:13 referring to Abraham or his
seed as the "heir of the world." Abraham is heir through Christ as are all those who believe.
Paul brings out an additional important point here in verse 14. If righteousness could be achieved
through keeping law, then faith is made void and the promise is nullified. Why? Because Paul’s thesis
that righteousness comes by faith would be wrong and man would have to achieve it through his own
ability to keep the law. However, Paul has already pointed out, no man keeps law, either the Mosaic or
even that of their own conscience. All law brings men under wrath because they transgress it. In other
words, if righteousness must be achieved through obedience to the law, then no one will ever qualify and
the promises God made to Abraham are nullified. They are of no use because the conditions cannot be
met. Or as MacArthur succinctly put it, "to predicate a promise on an impossible condition is to nullify
the promise." If there were no law, there could not be any violation of it, but then, neither could anyone
keep it and fulfill the conditions of the covenant by their own effort.
Since man cannot be made righteous through law, then it must be by faith in accordance with grace.
It is not deserved, but yet God is willing to extend His loving grace to all those who will have faith in
Jesus Christ who purchased our salvation from sin through His own sacrificial death. It is in this way
that the promises of God are made certain. What man is incapable of achieving, God is willing to
graciously give. That means the promise is based in God Himself and is therefore certain to all who
follow the example of Abraham’s faith.
It is in that sense that Abraham is the "father of us all." The idea of Abraham as the father of many
nations is not in reference just to the descendants of Isaac, Ishmael, and his children through Keturah
(Gen. 25:4), but to all nations in which there are believers in the God who "gives life to the dead and
calls into being that which does not exist." What a beautiful description of the true God Abraham
The Hope and Faith of Abraham (18-22)
Paul details out more of the specifics of Abraham’s belief in verse 18-22. "In hope against hope he
believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been
spoken, "So shall your descendants be." 19 And 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 He had promised, He was able also to
perform. 22 Therefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
The specific promise Paul points out here is one given to Abraham in Genesis 15:5,6 And He took
him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them."
And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it
to him as righteousness. At this point in time, Abraham did not have any children and his legal heir was
his servant, Eliezer (Gen. 15:2). Abraham was at least in his late 70’s (he left Haran at 75) and could
have been as old as 85 when this promise was given to him. He already considered his body to be
beyond child bearing, yet he believed God’s promise to give him such a multitude of descendants. As a
side note, that would have to have been quite a relief considering his name at the time, "Abram," meant
"exalted father." How would you have liked to have lived so long, introduce yourself and then get back
immediately the reasonable question, "So Abram, how many children do you have."
Abram does not know how God will fulfill this promise, but he does believe that He will. To wonder
how God will do something is not to waver in unbelief. When Abram was 85, Sarai comes up with a
plan that is according to the customs of that time. Since she had not and seemingly could not bear
children herself, she gave her maidservant, Hagar, to Abram in order to have children through her. Hagar
was to be a surrogate mother for Sarai.
Thirteen years after Ishmael is born, God reveals Himself again to Abram and tells him that Ishmael
is not in the plan even though Abram tries to argue the point that he would accept Ishmael as the
fulfillment of the promise. But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall
call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his
descendants after him (Gen. 17:19). God also changes Abram’s name to Abraham, which means, "father
of a multitude," and Sarai’s name to Sarah, meaning "princess." Abraham is now 99 years old and Sarah
is 90. Both well past the child bearing years. Paul comments "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." Yet, he
continued to believe God despite the fact that it was impossible from the human point of view. Abraham
grew strong in faith with a sense of complete assurance that the promise would be fulfilled because he
believed God was able to fulfill it. That is the nature of faith that is "reckoned as righteousness."
Let me stress again the nature of true faith. Many people claim to have faith, but they waver in it
because it is either in the wrong object, or they do yet have confidence in their belief. A common
problem among people claiming to be Christians is that they do not have God as the object of their faith.
Often we find their faith is actually in the good works they are doing. That is a faith that leaves you in
your sins and still condemned to eternal hell. Others have faith in faith. This is part of the positive
thinking and confession movement. It is really just a type of faith in oneself, for they believe it will
happen simply because they believe it. That faith will also leave a person in their sins and condemned to
eternal hell. Others have faith in a god who is something other than the God of the Bible. Abraham’s
faith was in a God who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. If you do not
have faith in the correct God, then the true God will not reckon your faith as righteousness.
Then there are Christians who do have faith in the correct God, but they waver in unbelief at times.
Why? The main reason is that they simply do not yet know Him well. How often I run into people that
are just ignorant of the God they claim to believe in. They follow what they have been taught, but they
have not studied the scriptures in order to know God for themselves. Have you ever considered why God
created you with a mind? The primary reason is so that you can think and therefore know Him. But if
you are not contemplating His revelation of Himself in His word and His works, then you will not know
Him well, and it is very hard to trust what you do not know.
There are other Christians who have an intellectual knowledge of God to some degree, but they still
waver in faith, because they are hesitant to walk in faith. By that I mean that they may acknowledge a
truth intellectually, but they are slow to put feet to the claimed belief. The Christian walk is to be one in
which we move forward and act on God’s promises regardless of the circumstances around us. It does
not have to make sense or fit the common wisdom of men.
A good example of this is letting God take care of your needs for this life by putting first His
kingdom and righteousness. We really do not need to worry about our finances if we would keep those
two things at the forefront of all our decision making. Is this in keeping with God’s righteousness? Is
this positive towards God’s kingdom? No, it is not easy to do this at first. It is scary as you step out to
actually live by faith in God’s promises, and often people revert at times to do things by their own
wisdom instead of God’s. But as you see God fulfilling those promises over and over again, confidence
is built up so that there is no longer any wavering in unbelief. I have learned over the years to have
confidence that God will meet my financial needs. My concentration is on living for Him.
Another example. Want to have a godly spouse? Then be one. That is against the teaching of popular
psychology on how to manipulate people so that you can change them into what you want them to be.
God’s method is for you to concentrate on being what He wants you to be, and He will take care of your
spouse. Men, you are to love your wife as Christ loved the church regardless of whether she meets your
desires (Eph. 5:20f). Ladies, 1 Peter 3:1,2 tells you be submissive to your own husbands so that even if
any [of them] are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their
wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior."
The Hope of Faith of All Who Believe (23-25)
The example Paul gives here about Abraham is for our benefit. It is a real example of a real person
who faced the same kind of day to day decisions that we do. It is an example that we can follow.
"Now not for his sake only was it written, that it was reckoned to him, 24 but for our sake also, to
whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25
[He] who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification."
What is the nature of your faith? Is it like that of Abraham? God reckoned his faith for righteousness.
He will do the same for you if your faith is in the true God who provided the payment for your sin in
Jesus Christ and then raised Him from the dead for our justification.