In this section Paul is providing evidence from the Old Testament as to why justification comes by faith and not works. Abraham is used as the primary example because he was the father of the Jewish people and was held in high esteem by them.
1. THE OLD TESTAMENT PATTERN (4:1-12)
The Old Testament, contrary to the view of many, provided the pattern of faith and not works as the means for justification. Using Abraham as the primary example, Paul asserts, “if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about” (4:2). Of course Abraham could not do this because the Scripture says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (4:3; Cited from Gen. 15:6). The word “counted” (4:3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 21-24) was a financial term and means to credit to one’s account. Abraham stood in God’s sight as justified (which was credited to his account) because he believed God, not because of his works. In using an example from the workforce, Paul illustrates this point by saying that when a person works, the money they earned is not counted as a gift, but rather as their due (4:4). But when it comes to justification, we are ungodly and are not deserving of righteousness. But for the one who believes, “his faith is counted as righteousness” (4:5). Citing Psalm 32:1-2, Paul now uses David as a supplementary example of this truth of justification by faith. In these verses David declares that the blessing of forgiveness does not come by works.
After making it clear that righteousness does not come by works but by faith (4:1-8), Paul now shows how circumcision fits into this equation. It is significant that Abraham was declared righteous (Gen. 15:6) at least fourteen years before he was circumcised (Gen. 17:23-27). Abraham’s circumcision was “a seal of the righteousness he had by faith” (4:11), not the cause of it. The purpose of this was so that he would be the spiritual father of all who believe – circumcised and uncircumcised (4:11-12).
2. THE OLD TESTAMENT PROMISE (4:13-25)
The gift of being declared righteous is not only attested by the pattern illustrated in Abraham, but it is also seen in the promise given to him. God made a “promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world” (4:13). Nobody gains this inheritance by keeping the Law, because we are transgressors and therefore face God’s wrath (4:14-15). But by God’s grace, He has made a way for us to take hold of this promise by faith. This is illustrated by the way Abraham responded to the promise made to him and Sarah in their old age. Despite the fact that Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children, Abraham’s faith in the promise grew stronger (4:16-21). The very fact that Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness was not a reality exclusive for him, but it was also for the sake of all who believe (4:22-25).
- How many ways of salvation are there? Why do you think people say or imply that OT saints were saved by different means or methods to NT saints?
- Explain how God justified Abraham (4:1-5).
- What do we learn from David’s example? See 4:6-8
- Why does Paul carefully demonstrate that Abraham was justified in God’s eyes before he was circumcised? See 4:9-12
- What are some features of Abraham’s faith in 4:13-25?