Romans Chapter 4

Boasting is the characteristic of those that rely on the law. Those that do not work, but believe in Christ is considered righteous. Rightousness is credited apart from works. God will never count the sins of those that believe ever again. Abraham was called righteous even before he was circumcised. Dead faith belongs to the one who relies on the law to get right with God. God’s promise is only voided if you rely on the law to get right with Him. The law only brings wrath. In conclusion, righteousness is by grace through faith only.

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The law and boasting — Faith is enough

1What then shall we say that Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh, a has discovered regarding this matter? 2For if Abraham was declared righteous by the works of the law, he has something to boast about- but not before God. 3For what does the scripture say? “ Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation. 5But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness.(Romans 4:1-5)

Once again, Paul associates the reliance on the law with boasting. This makes lots of sense, because when one operates under the requirement of the law, there is much to prove, there are obligations to fulfill. In order for the lawkeeper to measure his level of performance, he has to look to others, to see where he fits on the bell-shaped curve. Insecurity finds its breeding ground in a law-based environment. And then there is comparison, and then there is boasting.

Paul quotes the scripture saying: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” The scripture says it, so it means God said it, not Paul. So the Lord virtually gives Abraham a blank check without any safeguard, condition, or warning. It’s like Christ being so rich, as rich as he owns the entire universe, is getting married to his bride without a prenuptial agreement. The Lord knows whose faith is true, and he knows he can breath life into a man dead in trespasses. But time after time, we act as if we’re afraid someone might cheat God and rob Him of the righteousness he doesn’t deserve.

Our job is not to find out whose faith is genuine—we often do this through our subtle communications to test the faith of others—, but only to lead them to Christ, and He will tell sheep from goat, or whether they stray from Him. Don’t play God. If God says it is enough to believe, let it be so. Never put a leash on God’s grace.

What do you get from verse 4? Work is associated with obligation, and payment you will get, but what? Maybe some reward that this world can offer? But not righteousness which is not of this world. It’s the believing, the faith, that gets you the only thing that matters: righteousness.

It seems there is a clear dividing line between works and faith, one gets the righteousness and the other doesn’t. The one who works gets paid, but Paul didn’t say what, but the one who does not work, but believe, whose faith is credited as righteousness. It is perfectly fine if one argues that as a person comes to a faith relationship with Christ, in him will flow a stream of living water that cannot help but producing fruit in his life. But if we turn around and question the faith based on the fruit that is supposed to be produced as a result, might we be putting doubt on God’s promise?

If you use works as a qualification for true faith, then works by logical deduction becomes a means to achieve righteousness, then what you have done is “adding” or “taking away from”, ultimately changing the meaning of, what is said in the verses 4 and 5 above, that faith is the only means to achieve God’s righteousness.

When Jesus was preaching by the side of a lake, the crowd who had followed wherever He went asked Him: "What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?" (John 6:28), He answered: "This is the deed God requires – to believe in the one whom he sent." (John 6:29) If you ask for work that proves your faith, is this “work” in Jesus’ answer good enough? Will this work satisfies James’ statement (James 2:24) that genuine faith must be accompanied by works? Or did James even remember what his Lord said when he was with Him?

Jesus clarifies this very important point that we all should make sure we do not miss it, He said: “And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment – 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.” (John 16:8-9) Don’t most Christians automatically assume that we sin when we do something wrong, or when we fail to do something that we ought to do? Jesus said the true sin is the one that comes from not believing in the One God has sent. Jesus practically said the same thing as John 6:29 above.

To believe in God is so important that God puts it down so many times in Scriptures. Just look up these, besides the two verses above, John 6:29 and John 16:8-9, and “the just shall live by faith,” “without faith it’s impossible to please God,” “faith is the substance of things hope for and the evidence of things not seen,” “you must have the faith like that of a child,” “faith that is more precious than gold,” “by faith Abraham is declared righteous,” “the one who does not work but believe, his faith is credited as righteousness,” and many more.

Last but not least, if you raise this question of fruit in someone’s life, can you help him get to the point where all doubt is gone? Because if you only raise doubt with giving an achievable solution, you’re not helping, but in fact may make matter worse, you maybe putting doubt of salvation in the heart of God’s children. Can the fruit of someone’s life be easily observed? Can you recognize it when it comes? Jesus says this in Luke 17:20-21: “Now at one point the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, so he answered, The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” If it is within us, or in each of our hearts, and not with signs to be observed, where do you get the idea you can see the fruit of God’s kingdom with your fleshly eyes? And Jesus did say in Matthew 13:29-30 that you cannot tell wheat from chaff.

Therefore when a ministry is focused on condemnation (easy to spot them: lots of do’s and dont’s), it misses a chance to help people reconcile with God through belief in Christ. Let God, who can see through a man’s heart, figure out the sheeps and the goats, and the wheat and chaff. You may make the mistake of pulling up the wrong stalk, your sermons or Sunday School lessons might damage the feeble faith of a true child of God.

All sins are forgiven, once and for all

6So even David himself speaks regarding the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8blessed is the one against whom the Lord will never count sin.” (Romans 4:6-8)

How is it that Paul is refering to King David in demonstrating righteousness through faith apart from works? Who knew more of God’s grace and mercies than David? There were several instances in his life in which he probed the height, depth, and breadth of God’s ability to love him, a man with many trespasses that would make us feel like saints. The matter of life and death to a Christian is to be considered righteous, and this righteousness is the direct result of sins being forgiven, past, present, and future. Future sins must be covered as well, because all, practically all Christians will sin again, and again as long as they are still in their corruptible bodies. To have even one sin counted against us after we’re saved is virtually a death sentence, because according to James 2:10, one single sin against one point of God’s law, is counted as sinning against the whole law.

Paul remind us again in Hebrews 8:12 that He would remember our sins no more; this Hebrews verse is a quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34. God goes at great length, including through Paul’s voluminous writing, and still I don’t feel this is enough, to dispel any doubt of His great promise of salvation to those who believe, and yet, many presumably great men of God also go at great length to do the exact opposite.

Paul declared righteous before his circumcision

9Is this blessedness then for the circumcision or also for the uncircumcision? For we say, “faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10How then was it credited to him? Was he circumcised at the time, or not? No, he was not circumcised but uncircumcised! 11And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised, so that he would become the father of all those who believe but have never been circumcised, that they too could have righteousness credited to them. 12And he is also the father of the circumcised, who are not only circumcised, but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham possessed when he was still uncircumcised. (Romans 4:9-12)

The circumcision or the uncircumcision refer to the Jews or Gentiles respectively. For the Jews, before Christ came, they were given temporary means for the fulfillment of God’s righteous requirements, which include circumcision, ordinances, and a sacrificial system. But when Christ came, if they were to “remain in God,” they’d have to change their allegiance from the Old to the New Covenant, from the works of the law to faith in Christ. This “blessedness,” the once-for-all forgiveness of sins, infinitely more superior than the sin-by-sin sacrificial system, is available to both Jews and Gentiles.

To drive home further the point of righteousness, or salvation, by faith and not by works, Paul brought to our attention the point in time when Abraham was declared righteous. What is the significance of Abraham’s being declared righteous before he was circumcised? It makes a big difference. If Abraham was declared righteousness after he was circumcised, then circumcision, a critical work element of the Old Covenant became the condition for righteousness, this would lead to the need to fulfill all aspects of Mosaic laws, which is against all that Paul has been trying communicate. On the other hand, since Abraham was considered righteous way before his circumcision, had he not undergone circumcision at all, his standing before God is still untouched, he would still be considered righteous. This was exactly what Paul spent the entire Galatians letter to explain.

Gentiles Christians such as the majority of us, would run wild with laws conjured up in our conscience, or from traditions that few knew where they came from, as prerequisites for salvation.

Before Abraham was circumcised, also means way before he had Isaac, and even many years before Isaac was old enough to be led up the mountain to be sacrificed by his dad. Paul made a big deal out of this to emphasize many important points which all are to show: the righteous is saved by faith, and likewise will live by faith; no works, of the flesh which a prompted by the obedience to the law, are allowed.

When God changes a man from the inside to deal with certain sins, or to set him apart for some Kingdom work, or to prayer, or lead people out of Egypt, to evangelize the people of Nineveh, or to become the greatest apostle of all time, that is not work. Whatever works someone refer to as works that prove our faith, I have no idea what they’re talking about; neither do I know how to come up with works that proves my faith. Because I believe that unless I have saving faith in God already, there is no such thing as good works, but there are only dead works.

Reliance on the law nullifies faith and the promise

13For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified. (Romans 4:13-14)

Verse 13 is rather clear as we have read it in different form earlier. But verse 14 is especially emphatic in declaring that you cannot have both works/law and faith/promise(grace). The true meaning of “lukewarmness” applies here: between law and grace, or works and faith. How do we normally interprete the verse “faith without works is dead faith?” We tend to think that if someone say they trust Christ but they still fall into certain pattern of living that is inconsistent with what we perceive as Christlikeness, this person has a dead faith. But this is not what Paul said here, especially he has to write the longest letter to explain to us its importance. A faith that is dead, or is “empty” according to the context of these verses, is when you rely on the law to get right with God. Neither will God’s unshakable promise apply to you if you rely on the law.

If you cannot base your salvation on works, you cannot base the rest of your Christian walk on works either. The gospel is from faith to faith (Romans 1:17). If you begin your Christian with faith (by the Spirit), you cannot use anything else afterward (Galatians 3:3).

The law brings wrath, not peace

15For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either. 16For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace (Romans 4:15-16)

Is the law meant to bring peace? No, according to this verse, it brings wrath. Why? Because it’s principle role is to point out our transgressions, to show sin for what it really is, to silent all mouths, and then of course the condemnation. For this reason, salvation and righteousness must be by faith, and if it is by faith, what else can it be but by grace as well.

Abraham is justified entirely by faith

Then Paul continues for the rest of the chapter to explore all aspects of Abraham’s righteousness by faith, and how it is also for us who are his spiritual descendants, not by flesh, but by the virtue of our being in the family of God, just like him.

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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