“For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness…Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works” (Romans 4:3,6)
Chapter 3 of the Book of Romans concluded with the statement, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (3:31)
In Chapter 4, we will see why. Paul is going to illustrate that justification has always been by faith with the examples of Abraham and David.
Justification Is Not By Works
First of all, the argument is made that Justification does not come by works. Three reasons are given:
1.) Justification By Works Glorifies Man
“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.” (4:2)
The first and most important issue is that if a man is justified through his own effort, then he has something in which to glory and boast. We saw back in Romans 3:27 that Justification by faith excludes boasting. There is absolutely nothing in which we can glory before God. If it was our good works and deeds that justified us, we would have something in which to take pride. One person could honestly say that they had done more to earn God’s favor than somebody else. But in the presence of God Almighty there is no room for anyone else’s glory. God will not share His glory with anyone (Isaiah 42:8). Since every single person who is saved will be saved solely by what Jesus Christ has done on their behalf, then all the praise and glory rightfully belongs to Him. We are all on equal ground and have nothing else in which to glory.
“That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:29-31)
We all have something, or Someone, to boast about when it comes to being justified in the eyes of God, but it’s not ourselves and it’s not our own efforts.
2.) What Saith the Scripture?
This should be the first question that anyone who places their faith in God should ask regarding any doctrinal, moral, or ethical matter. There was a time when more people honestly believed that the Bible is what it says it is: the Holy written Word of God. It is so sad that today there are those even within the Church who do not give any more authority to the Word of God than they give to the words of Shakespeare. When a verse of Scripture is brought to their attention that overturns something they are believing or something they are doing, they can come up with the most outlandish reasons why they are right and the Bible is wrong. But at least Paul’s Jewish readers were willing to concede the authority of the Word of God and he could appeal to it to prove the details of the Gospel.
“And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
Paul quotes this verse in Romans 4:3. He can show by the Word of God that Abraham was counted as righteous by his faith.
The Greek word translated here as “counted” (logizomai, also rendered as “reckon” and “impute” in this chapter) is significant. It is a legal and financial term used to describe things that are credited to someone’s account. In other words, Abraham’s account was “balanced” by what God credited to it, not by what he himself was able to “put on the books.”
3.) Justification By Works “Earns” Salvation
“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” (Romans 4:4)
If Justification comes through our own effort, then it is not a gift. It is a wage earned. When someone’s employer pays them for the work that they have done, it cannot be described as a “gift.” If we can work for our Salvation, then God owes us that Salvation for the works we have done. Again, God does not receive the glory, we do.
What About Those Who Lived Under The Law?
OK, all of this is fine, but the objection might be raised that Abraham lived before the Law was ever given to Moses. Maybe a special exception was made for him since he did not actually live under the Mosaic Law. Well, what did David, who did live under the Law, have to say?
“Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (4:6-8)
Abraham and David were not randomly selected by Paul to illustrate Justification by faith in the Old Testament. These two men were more revered than any other men by the nation of Israel because of the close relationship they had with God . No Jew would have argued that these men were not justified before God.
But what did David claim was the basis for his Justification before God? Certainly not works or strict adherence to the Law. David had committed murder and adultery (2 Samuel, Chapter 11). Yet in Psalm 32, quoted here, he described the blessed man not as the one who was without sin, nor the one who had worked to earn God’s favor, but the one whose iniquities were forgiven and whose sins were covered.
Sin is the problem that separates man from God. Sin is what must be completely dealt with before a man can be justified before God. We cannot hope to outweigh our sinfulness with deeds of righteousness, we’ll never be justified on that basis. The only thing that we can do is put our faith in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us and let God put that on our account for righteousness.
Mingling Faith With Works
It is hard for human nature to accept the fact that there is nothing that we can offer to God so that we can be justified. Some people are willing to accept the fact that they cannot be justified with God based entirely on their own works, but they still feel that somehow God must demand some works for their Salvation. So they attempt to add their works to the equation, believing that God will make up the difference by His Grace.
But the problems pointed out in this passage still remain. We try to magnify our own goodness by bringing our works to God for Salvation, but all we really do is de-magnify God’s goodness. Salvation is a gift paid for entirely by the Lord Jesus Christ when He bore our sins on the Cross. By thinking that it is necessary for us to pay even a small part of that price is to say that what Jesus has done is not enough. Wouldn’t it be insulting if someone gave you a million dollar house as a free gift and you offered them $5 so that you could “pay for part of it?” Especially if you proceeded to brag to other people, “Yes, this house was a gift but I paid for some of it myself.” This would be bad enough, but all of our “good works” wouldn’t even make 5 cents compared to what God has done.
God deserves all of the glory, let’s give it to Him.
In service to Him,