Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
So far, Paul has led us through the whole history of mankind and God. God gave us our consciences, which reflect His Law and the requirements upon us, but we disobeyed. He then gave the Law in written form to the Jews, but they disobeyed even that. All have sinned, and there is not one “good” person on the face of the earth.
However, God has made it possible for us to be considered righteous according to His Law. His only begotten son, our Lord Jesus Christ, was sent to satisfy the law. He did not sin, but he suffered the penalty for all our sins. In exchange, God offers to us a gift we could never deserve: those who have faith in Jesus Christ will not be punished for our many and various sins.
The last chapter ended with an intriguing concept: faith does not void the law, but establishes it.
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
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.
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
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.
10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
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:
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.
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.
14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:
15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
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,
17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
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.
19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb:
20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
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;
25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
The Father of the Jews – Justified by Faith
Abraham, as we should all be aware, is the patriarch of the Israelite peoples (and the Ishmaelites, of whom the Arabian peoples claim heritage). It was to Abraham that God gave the Old Testament in Genesis 15, when he promised him a mighty nation of descendents and passed among his offerings as a burning censer (an incense pot, which has deep religious significance in Jewish tradition). Therefore, the Israelites have received their covenant of salvation from Abraham, as they are the children of this blessing.
But Abraham was not a just or righteous man. He gave his own wife to be wedded to kings, among other grievous sins. But the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” meaning that it is his faith that has made him righteous. If he were righteous because of his works, he would have earned salvation, but because he could never earn it his righteousness is a gift of grace.
Paul repeats this in two different ways (repetition in Scripture usually indicates significance of the teaching). If we could be righteous and work to earn our salvation, then God would owe us salvation. However, as we can’t, even one who does not do any good works is righteous if he has faith. (That does not mean we should do no works, for James writes that “faith without works is dead.” It just means that those works cannot do anything to save us.)
The Words of King David
Next, Paul references another figure of great significance to Jewish history – King David Barjesse (that is, David, son of Jesse, of the line of Judah). King David was second and greatest king over the unified Israel, coming after King Saul and fathering King Solomon. Many of the Psalms are works of David, as are the teachings of the first ten Proverbs, and the Scriptures say he was a “man after God’s own heart.”
What did David write about salvation? He called those that God has made righteous by grace (and not by works) blessed. To quote directly from David in Psalm 32 (and this is a reference Jews would definitely get – verses and psalms were usually identified by the first few words prior to the introduction of numbering systems):
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
Notice that nowhere in this verse does David mention circumcision. Paul calls direct attention to this fact, noting that the covenant between Abraham and God was struck before he was circumcised (that’s when he went from “Abram” to “Abraham”, several chapters later). So Abraham was saved before he was circumcised, meaning that circumcision is not a requirement or benefit toward salvation. This is especially significant in the Jewish religion, which upholds circumcision as a necessary covenant (and, some argue, the only requirement for salvation).
The fact that God saved Abraham before circumcision means that Abraham is not merely the physical and spiritual father of the Jews, but the spiritual father of us Christians as well. For though the covenant of circumcision was given to Abraham after his salvation, he was saved while uncircumcised. Interestingly, this echoes Jesus’ teaching to the Jews, when he said “from the very stones I can raise up children of Abraham.”
As children of Abraham, we are given the same blessings promised to Abraham’s descendents. We gain this by faith, and not by works or inheritance of blood.
Law and Faith
Paul has been setting up the Law and Faith as opposed to one another, in a way. If we have only the Law, we are assured of our righteous punishment for transgression, but having faith we are given salvation from the punishments we deserve. If we could be justified under the Law, we would have no need for faith, and there would be no need for the promises God has made to us.
If we had no law, we could not break the law, and we could not be justly punished. Any punishment apart from the law is arbitrary, but having the law we are subject to justice.
Because of these things, we are given grace through faith. We don’t have to be blood of Abraham and recipients of the Law to inherit God’s blessings and salvation, because we share the same faith that made Abraham righteous. In this, Abraham has truly become the father of many nations and kings, for all over the world we find children of Abraham – among the Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Africans, Europeans, South Americans, North Americans, and everywhere in between.
What is this faith of Abraham? Abraham had faith in the God who raises the dead and makes all things possible, who makes promises and fulfills them, whose prophecies are always fulfilled. He had faith that God would make him the father of many nations (which is the meaning of the name “Abraham”), though he had no sons and was quite old (Isaac was born when he was 100, and Sarah was 90 and long barren). He praised God and believed His promises, even though they seemed impossible, because he had faith that God could and would do what he promised.
This is the faith that granted him righteousness. The KJV uses the word “imputed”, which basically means he was considered righteous by God even though he did not deserve to be called righteous. Other translations use the word “credited,” which can serve as well so long as we don’t assume it means he’d eventually have to deliver on the credit.
Why would anyone bother to write any of this down in the Old Testament? Why would they bother to write that “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness?” It is for the sake of his heirs that this was written, and not for Abraham.
This was written so that we could know how we can also be called righteous. We who share this faith, who believe in the God who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead, who believe that Jesus was slain in our place and was raised from the dead for our salvation and justification, are also called righteous by God. As with our spiritual father Abraham, so this faith is imputed to us for righteousness.
Let us Pray
Praise be to the God of our father Abraham, who has made us heirs to the promise by faith. For we who believe in God have had it imputed unto us as righteousness, not by works but by grace. To this, our most merciful God, we offer all praise and submission.
Renew us in our faith, O Lord, for we are prone to stray. As the good shepherd watches his sheep, watch over and protect us. Chastise us gently, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, who is given for us as propitiation, through faith in his blood, shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins.
To our God be all praise and glory, now and forever. For he has done marvelous things, and his handiwork is shown throughout all of creation.
We ask these things at the urging of the Holy Spirit, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ whose righteousness is imputed unto us by the grace of our Father in heaven. Amen.
Before we go, I want to ask you all to subscribe to the newsletter. I haven’t sent anything out yet, but I have content stacked up, and the second we have ten subscribers I’ll open up the tap. I promise not to spam you – don’t expect more than one email a day.
Meditate daily on the word, as we are advised by no less than King David. Pray constantly. And show God’s love as the Spirit directs you.
Now go in the peace and power of Almighty God. Amen.