Note: This is a long devotion intended to be taught over the course of two days. It will be the only blog post for this week. Chapter 4 of Romans is really one big passage with one main idea – the example of Abraham’s life for how we must be saved by faith. There was no good way to divide the chapter, so we will deal with it as one text with one message.
A common misunderstanding of the Old Testament is the belief that God’s people, Israel, were justified or made righteous by their obedience to the law. Actually, that is still a common misunderstanding about God’s people, the church, today. Many people think that Christians are good people whom God has accepted because they are good. The idea is simple to our natural minds: God has given us these commandments, or rules, and if we just try to follow most (or some) of them most (or some) of the time, then He will be happy with us. He will somehow overlook all the times that we didn’t obey his commandments, both outwardly in our words and actions and inwardly in our thoughts and desires. If we just try to be good when we can, then God will bless us in this life (or at least not bother us with punishments) and then eventually let us into His heaven when we die as long as our good deeds outnumber our bad ones.
Well, I hope that you’ve seen by this point in our study of Romans that the popular mindset I’ve just described, what the Bible calls “justification by works,” is not true at all. Salvation by works doesn’t work! It won’t work for us, and it never worked for anyone in all of history. Instead, as we read in Romans 4, God’s people have always been justified by faith alone, not by religious works or good behavior. Abraham, the father of Israel, was not made right with God by his works (Romans 4:2). No, the Bible tells us in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham was declared righteous by God when he believed His promises to give him a son, a land, and many descendants, including the most important descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 4:3). Abraham was a sinner like us before and even after God called him into the faith. He came from Ur, a pagan city, where he probably worshiped the same false gods and idols as his neighbors. He twice lied by covering up the identity of Sarah as his wife because he feared the wrath of foreign kings. Abraham doubted God and committed adultery by fathering Ishmael with his wife’s servants, Hagar. Abraham was a sinful person like us.
Yet in all these things, Abraham was a man of God-given faith. He had a relationship with God founded on God’s grace. And true enough, because Abraham’s faith was real, it led him to eventually obey the Lord with the overall course of his life even though he had periods of doubt and disobedience. Real faith always leads to obedience, but obedience does not cause faith. Because Abraham believed God’s promise to give him a land, he moved his whole extended family and business to Canaan. He became a sojourner or wanderer for His God. Abraham maintained hope that against all odds he would have a natural son by Sarah, even though she was 90 years old or “as good as dead” regarding her ability to bear children (Romans 4:16-22). Because Abraham believed God, he was even willing to sacrifice his son Isaac at the Lord’s command, believing that God could raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill His promises (Hebrews 11:17-20). Abraham and His descendants were physically circumcised in obedience to God’s command, but that was only intended to be an outward sign of the inner circumcision of the heart by faith that God required for their salvation (Romans 4:9-12). In the same way, as Christians we are baptized to show our faith in Christ, but that baptism is not what saves us. Our faith, our trusting belief in Christ, that is what makes us right before God’s holy standard of judgment.
The relationship between faith and works can seem confusing to many, but it is very important that we understand it. Faith in Jesus Christ, in His death and resurrection, is what saves us from the punishment of hell and brings us into an eternal, loving relationship with God (Romans 4:23-25). Abraham had that kind of faith, as did all the Old Testament saints like Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Hannah, and David. They all understood that the greatest blessing that we all need from God is to have our sins forgiven by repenting of our evil ways and trusting in His grace (Romans 4:6-8). Yet their faith was proven to be genuine by their works. We know that Abraham had a saving faith because his life showed it (James 3:18-20).
As your teachers, our great prayer for our school is that all of our students would come to a sincere, saving faith in Jesus Christ that then becomes clearly evident in the holy lives that they live at school, home, church, and wherever they go. We labor in teaching you the Word and in praying for your souls for that you might become mature, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. May we all have the faith of Abraham.
The Text (Romans 4)
1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”
9 Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? 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 still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.
13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed 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 made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, 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, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; 18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
Questions to Think About
- Why do you think that God chose to offer us salvation by faith instead of by our doing of good works?
- How would you explain the idea of “faith” to a nonChristian?
- How can we see that Abraham’s faith was real?
- Can other people see that your faith is real? How?
- In what ways is God calling you to follow Him in obedient faith this school year? Are you doing what He is calling you to do?