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STUDIES ON ROMANS
This chapter is a continuation of Paul’s argument begun in the last chapter, and Romans 3:31 is answered here. To show that he was not preaching a new doctrine that voided the law, Paul takes his Jewish objectors back to the Father of the nation to show hat Abraham was justified before God on these very principles. And then he cites the testimony of Israel’s most illustrious king in proof of this as well. Greater human witnesses could not have been called to testify of this doctrine.
Romans 4:1 “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to flesh, hath found?
This is Paul’s way of proving the last statement of Romans 3:31. He does it by a careful examination of circumcision as related to Abraham’s faith. The phrase, “What shall we say?” is used only by Paul, and only in the argumentative portions of Romans. It anticipates an objection, or draws an inference. Frequently Abraham is referred to as sustaining a fatherly relation to believers, (Rom. 3:11, 16; Gal. 3:7); however, here “your father” relates to Abraham’s fleshly relationship to the Jews. “According to the flesh,” (literal rendering) modifies “hath found” and means “What then can we say that our father Abraham gained by the fleshly ordinance?” [Conybeare]. It is therefore a question of the relationship of circumcision in Abraham’s case. “Circumcision especially was the token of the covenant which contained all the promises that God made to Abraham, (Gen. 17:13). Could it be supposed that this rite, so solemnly enjoined and connected with such privileges, and his other good works, had no procuring influence in Abraham’s justification?”
Romans 4:2 “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.”
Paul neither says nor intimates that Abraham was so justified; it is a hypothetical question. However, the Jewish rabbis held that Abraham had a surplus of merits that were passed on to the Jews. Roman Catholicism has a like theory that it has a treasury of surplus merits dispensable at the “Church’s” discretion to its sinful members. “Works” refer to human effort, and the question can be applied to moral, ceremonial, legal or evangelical works with equal appropriateness; i.e., does any human effort of any kind enter into anyone’s justification before God? The inference is that a person can glory in his works, but not before God. Here is the almost universal result in trusting in his own efforts for justification: he will glory in himself and so will rob God of His due glory. Salvation is always and only of the Lord, (Jonah 2:9; Eph. 2:8‑9; Isa. 42:6‑8). The reason none could ever be justified by human works is that they are always sinfully defective, and so man is under the curse for this failure, (Gal. 3:10). To accomplish justification, one must: (1) Continue in good works all one’s life, for all one’s life belongs to God. (2) keep all that is commanded, not just the parts that one wants to keep. (3) Actually do the commanded works, not just give lip service to them, nor even try to do them. No one has ever even come close to meeting these high and holy demands. Men may be justified before men by their works, as James 2:14-26 shows, but this is a different thing than being justified before God, which is what Paul deals with.
Romans 4:3 “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
Scripture must always be a final appeal in any question of spiritual or religious truth, and the pronouncement of Scripture settles all questions. But often man is unwilling to have questions settled on this basis, for many look to reason (their own generally) or to personal advantage, or to other selfish bases to determine if a thing is right or wrong. But if one rebels against the Word of God, he does so only to his own confusion and condemnation. The quotation is from Genesis 15:6, and thereby is established the inspiration of that portion, and its application and authority in matters concerning salvation. Yet many reject the authority of all the 0ld Testament. Here is Abraham’s response to the Lord’s promise to him. Here is another important word: “counted,” (Greek logizomai) appears 11 times in this chapter, where it is also translated “reckoned,” and “imputed.” It appears 41 times in the New Testament, of which 35 times are in Paul’s writings. It means “to enter on the record,” or, “to put to one’s account.” Abraham was not naturally righteous, nor did his faith merit or produce this righteousness. But when he believed God’s promise, his act of faith was put to his account for righteousness, God transferring the righteousness of His Son to Abraham. There is actually a double substitution; He took our sins upon Himself, and put His righteousness upon us. This is all of grace. No human effort in involved.
Romans 4:4 “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.”
Here is a fundamental truth that is not recognized by many. “’Work” refers to human effort from which some result is expected. “Reward” is commonly rendered “hire” or “wages” and refers to dues paid for work done. “Grace” of course refers to undeserved and undeservable favor which is freely shown with no strings attached. No laborer receives his wages as a favor: they are his by right of his having labored for them; his employer, by his prior agreement to him, is legally obligated to pay the debt if he has labored. Inspiration applies this fundamental truth to salvation, and thereby refutes the beliefs of a large portion of professing Christendom. If any man could be justified before God by his own efforts and works, whether legal, ceremonial, moral or gospel, he would have a claim upon God, and God would actually be unjust not to justify him. But Scripture plainly declares that: (1) None are righteous, and so, none can bring clean works out of an unclean person. (2) Conversely, all works done before salvation are works of iniquity, and so are unprofitable. (3) God has shown that in salvation He operates only upon the principle of grace, never upon the principle of works. (4) Works and grace cannot be mingled in any degree. It is either the one or the other. “No reward can be said to be of grace that is given for work of any description,” [Haldane]. “Grace is out of the question when wages are in question,” [Vincent]. Abraham did not work, he simply believed, and so, in Genesis 15:1 immediately preceding the testimony of his justification, the Lord said, “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”
Romans 4:5 “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
Here is the other side of the matter the true way of justification. The imputed righteousness of Christ, which is the only kind that God recognizes as worth anything, is that which is imputed: (1) To “him that worketh not.” Too many people think to put God under obligation to save them by some sort of human effort. The following verses show God’s evaluation of such works; Isaiah 57:12 and 64:6; Matthew 7:22‑23; Colossians 1:21; and Galatians 3:10: they are all polluted by their sinful and selfish source. (2) To him that “believeth on Him.” Not the act of believing justifies, but the object of that faith—Christ, who justifies those who by their very ungodliness are incapable of doing good works. (3) To those who recognize and acknowledge themselves to be ungodly. “Ungodly” does not necessarily imply immorality. “It describes the person who is destitute of reverential awe towards God, an impious person. Every sinner who has not trusted the Lord Jesus for salvation, falls into this category,” [Wuest]. No promise of justification is made to any except these, and it matters not that a man may take pride in his own works, or that he may feel justified in his own sight; the only thing of importance is whether he is justified in God’s sight, and God makes it very clear that this results only when one believes in the Lord without trying to work for it. In such a case, his faith will be imputed to him for righteousness, he will be on grace’s ground, not on the ground of works, and all the glory will then be God’s. The subject here is not good work generally, but rather good works for salvation. None are justified by good works, but the one who is justified by faith will certainly have subsequent works to bear witness of the reality of his faith (Jam. 2:26).
Romans 4:6 “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.”
Though David was a justified man, he does not refer to himself specifically, but by inspiration confirms what was experienced by Abraham as the basis of justification. This is quoted from Psalm 32:1-2. “The whole scope and design of the Psalm is to show the blessedness of the man who is forgiven, and whose sins are not charged on him, but who is freed from the punishment due to his sins,” [Barnes]. “Blessedness” in classical Greek means happiness, which is the goal of all people, but most are seeking for the wrong kind of happiness, and are going about to obtain it in the wrong way. There can be no true happiness apart from righteousness. In the New Testament “blessedness” implies happiness as a result of a spiritual prosperity. Those who seek for happiness by casting off all restraints upon their lusts are generally the most miserable and most suicide-prone, thus proving that true happiness cannot be had apart from righteousness. Here, righteousness is shown to be put to the believer’s account though he has done no works. In 1 Corinthians 3:15 salvation is also apart from any works whatsoever. What more could any man desire, unless he is too proud to be saved by grace, in which case, he is too proud to be saved at all.
Romans 4:7 “Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”
Justification consists in iniquities being forgiven and sins being covered, so that it is not at the expense of justice. The Law, which requires that sin be punished, is fully honored, for all the sins of God’s elect were punished in Christ (v. 25a), and since it would be unjust to punish them twice, they are no longer charged to the believer. “Forgive” means literally “to send away,” and the scapegoat was a type of this (Lev. 16:8‑10). Hands were laid upon its head (picturing imputation) and sins were confessed over it, then it was sent away, symbolically bearing away the sins. “Cover” expresses the very essence of atonement, for the Hebrew word for atonement means a covering. Yet just any kind of a covering will not do, for if the sinner attempts to cover his own sins, he shall not prosper, (Prov. 28:13). Only the blood of Christ is an adequate covering for sin, for this only has God ordained. Any other attempted covering on man’s part manifests proud self‑reliance, as well as a rebellious spirit. Atonement is variously expressed by sins being forgiven, covered, cast behind God’s back so that they cannot be seen, (Isa. 38:17); cast into the depths of the sea, (Micah 7:19); remembered no more, (Heb. 10:17); blotted out, (Isa. 43:25), etc. No one of these should be emphasized to the disparagement of the others. All are necessary to show the completeness of redemption.
Romans 4:8 “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”
Here is the negative of which verse 6 is the positive. Sins are put away so as not to be charged to the believer, and in their place the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed. Here the Greek has a double negative, which, though incorrect in English, is perfectly correct in Greek, and is used to emphasize a point. Here, the point is that God will never, under any circumstances, impute sin to His people. The reason why this may be justly done is that his sins have been imputed to Christ, and borne by Him upon the Cross and their guilt expiated, (Isa. 53:5-6; 1 Pet. 2:24). This does not mean that the believer is actually without sin, for he retains a sinful human nature, and it is sanctification which gradually frees him of his actual sin. But in justification he is judicially freed from sin, God having determined not to charge it against him because it has already been charged against Christ and put away by Him. “Righteousness is imputed when sin is imputed, for we here see that the man to whom sin is not imputed is blessed. As Jesus was accursed, (Gal. 3:13), when the sins of His people were imputed to Him, so they are blessed when His righteousness is imputed to them,” [Haldane].
Romans 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.”
The question basically is, Was justification only for the Jews, or could the Gentiles also be included in it? The Jews believed that only by being circumcised and becoming a Jewish proselyte could a Gentile be saved. Salvation is indeed “of the Jews,” (John 4:22), for Jesus was born of a Jew after the flesh, but it is not just for the Jews. “The design of these words with the following, is to prove that the blessing of justification belongs to Gentiles as well as Jews, and that it is by faith, and not by circumcision; which is done by observing the state and condition Abraham was in when justified,” [Gill]. Abraham’s faith was not through the law, for it was not given for 430 years after this, and so could not have been the cause of his justification, and even his circumcision did not take place until at least fourteen years after he was pronounced justified by God. “If he was justified by faith before he was circumcised, then here was an instance of justification and acceptance without conformity to the Jewish law,” [Barnes].
Romans 4:10 “How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.”
Abraham alas pronounced justified in Genesis 15:6, but he was not circumcised until Genesis 17:25‑27, which took place when he was ninety‑nine, a number of years later. This was not when he was in a state of circumcision, but in uncircumcision. Here is a dilemma for the Jews: Abraham was pronounced righteous while yet in a Gentile state of being. “If righteousness was imputed to him before he was circumcised, then circumcision is not necessary to justification. It may come on Gentiles as well as on Jews,” [Haldane]. Paul thus completely overthrows the Jews’ pride and pretensions, and turns the sword of history back upon them. This same reasoning will apply to a number of different things that people today often believe contribute to their justification. Any trust in any human activity for salvation is a denial that salvation is by grace, and is a form of legalism.
Romans 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.”
Circumcision, then, was merely a sign, not the reality, just as today there are ordinances which too are signs of spiritualities. But to trust in the sign for one’s salvation is to distort the truth and worship the creature more than the creator. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and his seed, (Gen. 17:8‑11). “This does not mean, as is generally understood, that it was a seal of Abraham’s faith. This is not said ...It was a seal, assurance, or pledge that the righteousness, by the which, through his faith, he was justified, although not then in existence, should in its appointed period be brought in...As it was a seal of the righteousness which he had received by the faith which he had in a state of uncircumcision, it implied that righteousness would be imputed to believers in the same state,” [Haldane]. Abraham is the spiritual father of all who are of like faith with him; though they may not be his natural seed, (Luke 19:9; Gal. 3:7, 29). “They are regarded as his children because they are possessed of his spirit; are justified in the same way, and are imitators of his example,” [Barnes]. “’That righteousness might be imputed unto them also,” shows the reason why Abraham’s faith was reckoned for righteousness while he was yet uncircumcised—that the Gentiles as well as Jews might be encouraged to imitate Abraham’s faith. In effect, Paul completely reversed the Jews’ reasoning by showing that so far from the Gentile being required to become a Jew in order to be saved, the Jew had to come to a Gentile faith—such a faith as Abraham had before he was circumcised—in order to be saved. Thus all cause of human pride and all trust in human works is taken away. God’s promise that the coming Seed of Abraham would be a blessing to all the nations constituted the Gospel, (Gal. 3:8 [cf. Gen. 12:3]), so that from the earliest revelation to Abraham, the Gentiles were promised imputed righteousness by faith in the Gospel, just as it was promised to him.
Romans 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.”
God had promised to Abraham two different kinds of seed, a spiritual, heavenly seed, symbolized by the stars of heaven, (Gen. 15: 5), and an earthly, natural seed, symbolized by the sand of the seashore, (Gen. 13:16; 22:17), so that it was not enough just to be a Jew. To the fleshly seed is promised the earthly inheritance of the land of Canaan, but only to the spiritual seed is the heavenly inheritance promised. Heaven is the inheritance only of those who walk in the steps of believing Abraham. Jesus deals with this same matter, and shows that there is a difference in being “Abraham’s seed,” (natural descendents) and in being “Abraham’s children,” (spiritual descendents), (John 8:37,39). These two are distinguished by the children of Abraham having the faith of Abraham, and so, doing the works of Abraham. Good works prove salvation, but do not produce it, as shown by James 2:14, 26. The Greek word rendered “walk” is a military term meaning to march in step, and is found also in Acts 21:24, Galatians 5:25, 6:16 and Philippians 3:16. It speaks of the need for an orderly, disciplined, living faith as believers. Erratic, undisciplined and rebellious believers cause great dishonor to come upon the name of the Lord. One’s daily walk before the world testifies to the character of one’s faith.
Romans 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 exact statement “that he should be the heir of the world” is not to be found in God’s original dealings with Abraham, but this is the essence of Genesis 12:2‑3; 13:15; 15:5 and 17:5. “The promise to Abraham included three things, —1. That the promised seed of the woman should descend from him; 2. That all nations should be blessed in that seed; 3. That, as a pledge of all this, he and his seed should inherit the land of Canaan,” [Haldane]. This great hope was not given on the basis of human fulfillment of the law’s requirements, but it was by promise, (Gal. 3:16‑18). In this way all cause for man to glory in himself is eliminated, and the glory is shown to be God’s alone. In verses 13‑17 Paul employs “the keywords of his gospel, (faith, promise, grace) and arrays them against the current Jewish theology, (law, works, merit),” [Robertson]. The law demands much, but does not give anything to those under it, but grace gives, and faith lays hold of the promise of grace. Indeed, there is no other way in which a promise can be received but by faith, (Gal. 3:21-22). “Righteousness of faith” does not mean that one’s faith either produces or merits righteousness, but it only shows how it is received, it is imputed by faith, (vv. 3, 5, 9, 22).
Romans 4:14 “For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.”
If it were by law, then there would be no room for faith, for the law deals strictly with merit, and by the law no one gets anything except what he deserves; thus, faith has no place in a scheme where law is the ruling element. Law and faith are utterly incompatible in this matter, which makes it so unfortunate that so many persist in trying to mix these two principles in salvation. To do so is to annul the promise, and so to lose it. “Made void” and “made of none effect” are both perfect tenses, meaning a past act with continuing present results. If the law entered into the matter, faith would have been permanently rendered inoperative, and the future would always be uncertain, as it always is to the one trusting in his own efforts to keep the law. Law deals only with present obedience, for no one can be sure that he will be obedient in the future, but the promise looks to the future and so claims that which is promised. Law demands perfect obedience and allows no room for failure: promise is a gracious assurance that God will perform His will and is not conditional upon human actions, and so is sure.
Romans 4:15 “Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.”
Here is the purpose of the law—not to save, but rather to denounce, condemn and pronounce judgment upon all disobedience, as in Romans 3:20; 7:8, 10‑11; 1 Corinthians 15:56; 1 John 3:4. “As the apostle had proved, (chap. 1, 2, 3,) that all were sinners, so it followed that if any attempted to be justified by the law, they would be involved only in condemnation and wrath,” [Barnes]. Law is simply an expression of what may and what may not be done. Because of this basic nature of law, it is always associated with condemnation, not with justification, and it could only justify a perfectly sinless person. Most nations recognize in their civil laws the principle that “where no law is, there is no transgression,” for no one is held guilty for doing what the law does not condemn, or for not doing what the law does not command. However, let no one deceive himself into believing that ignorance of the law is a valid excuse. It is not in either civil or divine law. Some people needlessly disturb their peace of mind by thinking some things are wrong when God has not condemned them. However, the opposite is much more common.
Romans 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.”
“It” here refers to justification, the subject that has occupied the apostle’s mind since 3:20.Here is a summary of what was being discussed: justification is by faith so that it may be upon the principle of grace. Grace means, not only unmerited favor, but also unmeritable favor. It refers to the spontaneous generosity that springs from God’s great heart of love. It is unconditional, and for this reason no one is beyond its reach. This being so, it must also be sovereign, or victorious over all to whom it comes, (Rom. 5:20-21). There is no merit in faith, for, as other passages show, it is, itself, the gift of God, (John 6:29; Acts 14:27; 18:27; Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 3:5; Heb. 12:2). “Sure” means “stable, valid, something realized, the opposite of made of none effect, (v. 14),” [Vincent]. God has not left the fulfillment in man’s hands, for this would instantly insure its total failure, but He has decreed that the promise of verse 13 is to come to Abraham’s spiritual seed through faith, which makes its application a matter of grace. “Grace selects its objects, and its only motive is in God Himself,” [Haldane]. The promise is guaranteed to them because God is the One who works the grace in man, and so it is wholly dependent upon God alone. “The father of us all” refers to the spiritual relationship that Abraham sustains to all believers, for the promise was not just to the Jews, but to those who manifest themselves to be Abraham’s spiritual children by having the same kind of faith as he had. Not all Abraham’s descendents are his children, (Rom. 9:6‑8). Too many people depend on their fleshly descent from supposedly Christian people for their own salvation. Salvation does not flow through the blood of ancestors.
Romans 4:17 “(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickenth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.”
Genesis 17:5. “Made thee” means to appoint or constitute. The perfect tense (past with present results) shows that in God’s mind it was already done and certain though Abraham had no son as yet. God’s purposes were finished from the foundation of the world, and are certain, (Heb. 4:3). We must be careful not to let the verse division and the parenthesis make us forget the connection of this with verse 16. The quotation proves that God had intended Abraham to be the father of believers of many nations from the beginning. “Before Him... even God” is connected with “who is the father of us all,” (v. 16), for this is God’s reckoning and His work. Abraham’s faith rested in God’s omnipotence, as the One Who is able to quicken the dead and raise them up. “Quicken’” is an old English term which means make alive. It can be applied either physically or spiritually. The quickening of the spirit is what takes place in salvation (Eph. 2:1, 5). But doubtless there is also here a reference to Abraham’s body being, quickened so that he could have a son after he was “as good as dead,” (v. 19; Heb. 11:11‑12). This same faith in God’s quickening power was exercised when he offered Isaac, (Heb. 11:1719). “As in creation so in regeneration, God calls and brings that into being which before was not; and the phrase seems to be an allusion to the creation of all things out of nothing,” [Gill]. Abraham believed that the same God who brought the world into existence from nothing, (Heb. 11:3), could also fulfill His promise to give him children when he was old.
Romans 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.”
The language seems contradictory, but it is really a play on words. Abraham’s faith was not based on what seemed reasonable, for he seemed to hope against hope. What he actually did was to rest in the promise of God, however it may have seemed contrary to human reason for he hoped in God, not in his own abilities. The quotation is from Genesis 15:5 where the basis of Abraham’s faith is shown to be the promise of God to him. “This shows that Abraham’s expectation rested solely on the Divine promise. He had no ground to hope for so numerous a posterity, or any posterity at all, except on the warrant of the promise of God,” [Haldane]. Many people hope for things that God has never promised to them, and then they are frustrated when their expectation does not come about. This is unrealistic. But a promise from God can be depended on, and should be believed. As a result of this unwavering faith, Abraham became the father of many nations, for many have since believed God’s promises as he did.
Romans 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 et the deadness of Sarah’s womb.”
There were two natural obstacles to the fulfillment of the promise, either one of which would have been enough to convince most people of the impossibility of this promise. These two obstacles were the agedness and consequent unfruitfulness of both Abraham and Sarah. The tense of the Greek verb rendered “now dead” (perfect participle) suggests that his body had not only ceased to function, but that it was permanently so, as if it had actually died, “Not weak in faith” means to be strong in faith, and this is the secret to overcoming any difficulty. “Faith looks to the strength of God, not to second causes, or to difficulties that may appear formidable to man,” [Barnes]. There are many obstacles to faith, but these should not be entertained, but recognized as only the means to exercise faith in the Lord. If circumstances overthrows one’s faith, it becomes evident that his faith was not in the Lord, but in circumstances. If we have a promise from the Lord (and this is necessary to faith [Rom. 10:17]), then obstacles count for nothing, for the omnipotent God can overcome them; we should ignore them, as Abraham did. “Faith thus makes future things present, and unseen things evident... Nothing can be a difficulty in the way of the fulfillment of God’s own word,” [Haldane].
Romans 4:20 “He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God.”
Sadly, too many people stagger at, or doubt the promises of God through unbelief, and thereby lose the blessedness of the promise. If we refuse to believe God’s promises, we thereby indict either His truthfulness in making them, or His ability to fulfill them, either one of which is dishonoring to God. The way to honor God is by being strong in faith and believing that He both can and will fulfill His Word. “Staggered not” implies a mental struggle, [Vincent], for faith is never an easy thing while we are in a world set in opposition to God. This phrase is found in Jewish writings, particularly of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, each of whom had his struggles with unbelief. Abraham did not yield to unbelief, and so became the father of all who believe God. God’s promises never fail, but often our faith fails to take hold of the promise. Unbelief is a great thief, (Mark 9:23). We limit our blessings by our unbelief. “Weak in faith,” (v. 19) and “strong in faith” here imply that there are degrees in faith, something also taught in other texts. It is impossible to please God without faith, (Heb. 11:6), and the weaker one’s faith is, the less pleasing one is. Even the apostles felt the need for stronger faith, (Luke 17:5). So should we.
Romans 4:21 “And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.”
How we need to be of Abraham’s persuasion, for he was convinced that God was God, and as God, that He was omnipotent (all powerful), and so, able to fulfill His promises. “We might suppose that every one who professes to believe in the attributes of God, would judge as Abraham did; yet experience shows the contrary. Even Christians do not act up to their principles on this point,” [Haldane]. Frequently we find this phrase “is able” used of God. The same Greek word appears in Matthew 19:26. See the greatness of God’s ability in Matthew 3:9; Romans 11:23; 14:4; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 3:20; Philippians 3:21; 2 Timothy 1:12; Hebrews 2:18; 7:25; James 1:21; 4:12; and Jude 24. The example of Abraham is the pattern for all true believers to follow. Note the three things set forth: (1) The Promise. (2) The Performance (v. 21). (3) The Praise (v. 20f). Often we are guilty of neglecting the third after we have enjoyed the first two.
Romans 4:22 “Now therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.”
Here is a conclusion and practical application of what has been said about Abraham’s faith, which has occupied the whole of this chapter. Imputation of the righteousness of God appears over one fourth of all of its appearances in the New Testament in this chapter. The same in Greek word is rendered “counted” in verse 3, 5; “reckoned” in verse 4, 9, 10; and “imputed” in verses 6, 8, 11, 22, 23, 24, but it always has the same meaning, however it may be translated. It means to put something to another’s account, or to charge something against another. This verse does not teach that one’s faith is a substitute for righteousness, nor that it makes one righteousness of itself. The Greek text reads “imputed to him unto righteousness,” for faith is simply the God‑ordained means of receiving God’s righteousness which is given graciously unto undeserving sinners. Faith is the empty hand that receives God’s gracious bounty.
Romans 4:23 “Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him.”
“The Apostle here guards us against supposing that this method of justification was peculiar to Abraham, and teaches that it is the pattern of the justification of all who shall ever find acceptance with God. The first recorded testimony respecting the justification of any sinner... is that of Abraham,” [Haldane]. “If Abraham was so regarded and treated, then, on the same principle, all others may be. God has but one mode of justifying men,” [Barnes]. A great portion of the 0. T. has the purpose of example, as we learn from Romans 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:11. This is because God never changes, sin never changes, men never change, and the devil never changes. Man’s spiritual history continually repeats itself, for it has constantly been one of sin and unbelief.
Romans 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.”
The faith of true believers is substantially the same as that of Abraham, the only difference being the direction of that faith: Abraham believed in a Christ yet to come, while we believe in a Christ who has already come. This is not a faith in God considered abstractly, but it is faith in Him as the raiser up of Jesus. “In Abraham’s case, God that quickeneth the dead is merely a synonym for God Omnipotent, who can do what man cannot,” [Wuest]. Faith in an incompetent God who cannot accomplish His will is faith in a false god. Jehovah is the God who works all things after His own will, (Eph. 1:11; Isa. 46:9‑13). “Shall be imputed” is not future tense, as it appears in the English, but it is a present indicative used with an infinitive, and it points to a definite purpose on the part of God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the fundamental parts of the gospel, which is the object of our faith, as it was of Abraham’s, (Gal. 3:89; Heb. 11:17‑19).
Romans 4:25 “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”
On the cross, Christ was our substitute to bear away the penalty of the sins of all the elect, but His work of redemption was not completed there. Had Christ only died for our sins and nothing more, He would have indeed cleansed us from them, but we would have been left in a state of emptiness—without the righteousness we need for acceptance before God, and without the continuing intercession of Christ in heaven, and we would soon have fallen back into sin, never again to be capable of being redeemed, The resurrection of Christ was the positive side of our redemption by which we have His perfect righteousness imputed to us, thus making us acceptable before the Father. “The justification, therefore, of His people, which includes not only the pardon of their sins, but also their title to the eternal inheritance, was begun in His death, and perfected by His resurrection. He wrought their justification by His death, but its efficacy depended on His resurrection. By His death He paid their debt; in His resurrection He received their acquittance,” [Haldane]. All this explains why the resurrection is such an important part of the Christian faith, and why the devil works so hard to cause it to be denied or ignored. It is necessary: (1) To substantiate Jesus’ claim to be Divine. (2) To complete Jesus’ work. (3) To prove that the Father accepted His work. (4) To guarantee that believers will also rise in His likeness. (5) To assure the unbeliever that there is a judgment to which he will be raised, (Acts 17:31). What a wonderfully complete plan of redemption our Lord has wrought out for us. This is why we ought to thankfully live a dedicated Christian life.
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