Father Abraham’s Faith – Works Vs. Grace

Romans 4:9-17Paul cuts to the heart of Judaism and works theology in Romans chapter four. Paul, like a masterful attorney, examines the evidence for a works based justification and then proceeds to disprove it by smashing the very foundation of works based theology. Many Jews believed that specific types of works would get them into heaven. Paul takes two of those works and one very famous man and unleashes a severe attack upon the works based righteousness belief system of his day. Paul examines the faith of the great Patriarch – Abraham. In his examination, Paul evaluated whether or not Abraham was justified by his works or through the Grace of God. In the end of the passage, Paul provides the answer with clear and pointed precision.

Was Abraham Justified By Circumcision? (Vs. 9-12)

The Jewish Apocryphal Book of Jubilees says,

“The law is for all generations for ever, and there is no circumcision of the time, and no passing over one day out of the eight days; for it is an eternal ordinance, ordained and written on the heavenly tables. And every one that is born, the flesh of whose foreskin is not circumcised on the eighth day, belongs not to the children of the covenant which the Lord made with Abraham, for he belongs to the children of destruction; nor is there moreover any sign on him that he is the Lord’s but (he is destined) to be destroyed and slain from the earth (15:25ff).” 

In his first step to disproving a works based justification, Paul asks if Abraham was justified by Circumcision. For many Jews, Abraham was the one to mask their lives and faith after – and whatever Abraham did – that is what they would want to do as well. Therefore, with this understanding of Abraham’s influence, Paul uses him as an object lesson for justification. Paul then answers his own question by claiming that Abraham was justified while in uncircumcision. For the strict follower of the Jewish law – this must have been very troubling!Abraham’s History:Warren Wiersbe says,

“Abraham was declared righteous when he was in the state of uncircumcision. From the Jewish point of view, Abraham was a Gentile. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised (Gen. 17:23-27). This was more than fourteen years after the events in Genesis 15. The conclusion is obvious: circumcision had nothing to do with his justification (The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 1, 525).” 

John MacArthur says,

“Abraham was called in Ur of the Chaldeans, he was an idolatrous pagan. Before God’s covenant with Abraham, there were no Jews and therefore no Gentiles, strictly speaking. But Paul’s point here is that God reckoned Abraham’s faith as righteousness before any such distinctions were made (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Romans 1-8, 258).” 

Therefore, it is abundantly clear why Paul used Abraham as an example to disprove works righteousness. Abraham was not justified by his works, his goodness, or any other fleshly factor. It is abundantly clear that God chose Abraham based upon His will and nothing more! Since Abraham was justified fourteen years before his circumcision, Paul proves that circumcision is not the basis of justification.

Was Abraham Justified By Keeping The Law? (Vs. 13-15)

It is clear that Abraham believed (had faith in God) and God counted it as righteousness. For Paul, that was not an issue. However, for some Jews it was a very big issue. Many believed that Abraham kept the law and that his keeping of the law was one of the deciding factors in his justification. Paul rightly points out the weakness of the “law” theory as he successfully disproves it in his argument.Faith Is Void If Justification Is Through The LawAs the account of Abraham’s justification is unfolded in Old Testament literature (Genesis) – it is very clear that Abraham believed God. Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find a passage that claims that Abraham was made right before God due to his circumcision or keeping of the law. Paul rightly demonstrates that if the law saves – it nullifies faith.Promises Of God Are Void If Justification Is Through The LawAbraham’s covenant with God involved four distinct promises. God promised Abraham a land, a people, a blessing, and a Redeemer. Paul points back to that promise from God and claims that it is null and void if the law saves. What need is there for a Redeemer if the law has power to save? Paul makes his case crystal clear!The Law Provides Wrath Not JustificationPaul brings to light that the law brings the wrath of God upon the sinfulness of man rather than justification. Paul understood that the law was the school master which points to the inability and weakness of the flesh to live up to the perfect law of God! Therefore, the law points to Christ – the need for the Redeemer that God promised Abraham. Again, Paul continues to make his case very clear.

Was Abraham Justified By God’s Grace? (Vs. 16-17)

Yes! Paul points to the fact that Abraham’s justification was of the Grace of God. Abraham received it through faith in God and His promises. This completely destroys the system of religion for many Jews in Paul’s day.If Salvation is by GRACE – It is Received By Faith. (16a)GRACE is a gift! It is not earned through the works of the flesh. It is merely accepted by faith. In order to make his point loud and clear – he starts off with circumcision and moves to the law. Then at the end of this section he deals with the fact that GRACE is given through faith – as a gift. Paul was making it clear that God gives GRACE as a gift apart from works.If Salvation is by GRACE – It is Available to All People Groups. (16b-17)When Abraham was called of God in Ur of the Chaldeans – Abraham was like us all prior to salvation – pagans! Abraham was declared righteous through his faith in God prior to Jews and Gentiles – therefore – no distinctions existed according to the flesh. It would be through Abraham that God’s covenant would encompass both Jew and Gentile in the ages to come. This truth provided at the end of this passage should excite us Gentiles – and it should also strengthen the fact that Jewish law and circumcision are not the means of justification!Conclusion:Today, we have many people who have based their justification upon works – much like the people that Paul was dealing with in his day. The Catholic Church and many other protestant denominations hold to a baptismal regeneration heresy. Baptismal regeneration beliefs are much like the circumcision beliefs of Paul’s day. It is important that we examine our faith to make sure we are trusting in the blood of Jesus Christ alone for the remission of our sin.

Jonathan Edwards said,

“I do not now pretend to define justifying faith, or to determine precisely how much is contained in it, but only to determine thus much concerning it, viz. That it is that by which the soul, which before was separate and alienated from Christ, unites itself to him, or ceases to be any longer in that state of alienation, and comes into that forementioned union or relation to him, or, to use the scripture phrase, it is that by which the soul comes to Christ, and receives him. This is evident by the Scriptures using these very expressions to signify faith. John 6:35-39, “He that cometh to me, shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me, shall never thirst. But I said unto you, that ye also have seen me and believe not. All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me; and him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” Verse 40, “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up the last day.” — John 5:38-40, “Whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the Scriptures, for — they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.” Verse 43, 44, “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another?” — John 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” If it be said that these are obscure figures of speech, which however they might be well understood of old among those who commonly used such metaphors, are with difficulty understood now. I allow, that the expressions of receiving Christ and coming to Christ, are metaphorical expressions. If I should allow them to be obscure metaphors, yet this much at least is certainly plain in them, viz. that faith is that by which those who before were separated, and at a distance from Christ (that is to say, were not so related and united to him as his people are), cease to be any longer at such a distance, and come into that relation and nearness, unless they are so unintelligible, that nothing at all can be understood by them (http://biblebb.com/files/edwards/justification.htm).” 

All for the glory of God!

Pastor Josh Buice

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  1. Josh;

    Let me ask you, are you saying that all one has to do is believe that Jesus Christ is the Christ and we are saved? And if so, then that would mean that the devil is saved because he believes and trembles at the name of Jesus Christ…

    I also ask you, do we obey God’s commandments?

    If I am reading your post correctly, you are saying that baptism is a works and not necessary for salvation, am I correct?

  2. No! That is the problem in our day! Many people do not understand what the word “believe” is talking about in the Scriptures. This word – “believe” as it relates to Abraham “believing” God is referring to faith – not mental comprehension.

    Galatians 3:6
    Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

    Believed = episteusen = to believe something to be true and, hence, worthy of being trusted — to believe, to think to be true, to regard as trustworthy.

    Therefore, the point is very clear – nobody is saved (justified) through their works! They are justified through the Grace of God. Abraham believed (had faith in) God. We must have faith in God, but we cannot expect our church attendance, our offerings, our service, or any other work to get us into heaven. Faith alone in Christ alone for the remission of sin.

  3. Oh yes . . . you can add baptism to that last list as well! Baptism does not save!

  4. Johnnie,

    Two things:

    1. I’m not sure that the blood of Christ was shed for rebellious angels.

    2. There is a difference in saving faith and believing. (Which is what JOsh is addressing)

  5. Josh;

    Okay, you say that baptism is not a requirement for salvation…

    Then why was Jesus Christ baptized?

    Why is it a commandment from Jesus Christ himself for us to be born of the water and of the Spirit in order to enter into heaven? (John 3:3-5)(Matthew 28:19) (Mark 16:16)

    Apostle Peter said;(Acts 2:38)(Acts 10:47-48)(1 Peter 3:21)

    Apostle Paul: (Romans 6:3-4)(Colossians 2:12)(Galatians 3:27)

    Baptism is how we were buried with Christ…Baptism is for remission of sins…

    I must disagree with you about baptism not being part of salvation…

    Baptism is the second step unto salvation…

    I do agree that we are not saved by works, although, one might say that baptism is a works, but it is also a commandment from God to do so…

    The book of Hebrews chapter 11, is a chapter about the hero’s of faith, however, it will take more than faith to save you, it will take more than just believing to save you, according to the word of God…

  6. The Apostle Paul said,

    Romans 4:16 – “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be be of grace…”

    Paul does not say, “Therefore it is of circumcision, law, baptism, etc… that it might be of man…”

    Note the difference!

    Rev. Josh Buice

  7. To All Who Have Eyes To See:

    The Good Apostle Paul states in no uncertain terms, “… FOR WE SAY THAT FAITH WAS RECKONED TO ABRAHAM FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Rom. 4:9b). It does not say faith + baptism was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

    Baptism is an important ordinance which man performs, however, it is a work nonetheless and is not necessary for salvation.

    This is why the Good Apostle Paul concludes later in the passage that our father Abraham had faith “WHICH HE HAD BEING YET UNCIRCUMCISED” (Rom. 4:12b). Abraham had saving faith before he had circumcision.

    The Good Apostle’s point: Justification is by faith alone, apart from works (which include, but are not limited to, baptism).

    Good Tidings,

    Chipley McQueen Thornton

  8. Jonnie,

    You said, “Baptism is how we were buried with Christ…Baptism is for remission of sins…”

    In Romans 6:4 — The Apostle is speaking of a symbolic burial and resurrection on our behalf that took place at baptism. Our baptism was a symbol which shows forth the death, burial, and resurrection of our old life of sin and our raising to walk in a new life in Christ.

    Baptism is NOT for remission of sins! If so – the thief on the cross next to Christ could not experience paradise as Christ promised him. He would need to be baptized first!

    Baptism is a work of man! It is important, and I believe that we should always seek to obey the ordinance — but it does not save. Just as observing the Lord’s Supper is important in the Christian life, but it has no saving power!

    Rev. Josh Buice

  9. Josh;

    What does Acts 2:38 say?

  10. Before anyone thinks I am being critical of Baptism in any way I am baptised. Baptism is a wonderful and public declaration of one’s desire and commitment to follow Christ. Baptism is wonderfully symbolic of the death we share with Christ so that we can share in His life.


    The question should be when exactly is one saved? Is it at the moment of Christ’s Death? Is it the moment one prays the sinners prayer? Is it the moment the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the unbeliever that they are Born Again? Is it in the moment of submersion into water?

    There is one condition of Salvation, that one is Born Again. The Baby does not chose, nor even wants to be born. Birth is traumatic for the child, without it though the baby will surly die. The same is true of the spiritual or second birth.

    If one is born again and is hit by a bus on the way to the baptism service are they still saved? Of course.

    Baptism, like all good works, are an act of worship and submission to the will of Jesus Christ. They are not the currency needed to purchase salvation.

    C.S. Lewis writes that (if I may paraphrase) “Our good works are not our gift to God, but His gifts to us.”

    We are not saved because of our works (baptism included), But we can perform those good works because we are Saved.


  11. Josh;

    Baptism cannot save you by itself…Baptism is one step unto salvation…

    The works that you are talking about are the works of the flesh…By doing good doesn’t save you, Good deeds doesn’t save you…A man/woman can be good and upright citizens their whole lives, however, being good and upright will not get you into heaven…

    The only way is through the blood of Christ, by being obedient unto His word…


    (1) Believe (Must believe that Jesus is the Christ, Lord..)

    (2) Repent (To turn away from sin)

    (3) Baptize (For the remission of sins; Mar 1:4)

    (4) Holy Ghost (Receiving God’s Spirit, with the intial evidence of speaking in tongues: Acts 2:1-4)

    This is God’s plan of salvation according unto His word…

    So again, I never said that baptism alone would save you…God’s plan for our salvation must be followed…


    Jesus Christ himself commanded us to be baptized in His name, (Matt 28:19) The Apostle Peter commanded it in the book of Acts 2:38…Jesus Christ himself was baptized in the river Jordan and He was without sin…


    So, are you saying that we are saved by grace?

    And if so, then why did God move on the Apostles to write the book of Acts through the book of Revelations, I mean if we are saved by grace, then these other books would not even be necessary…


  12. Question for Roll:

    If baptism is ‘saving’ or part of being saved, would you say that the Pharisees were saved by keeping the Sabbath and all other works of the law?


  13. Johnnie,

    How was any Old Testament saint saved? They were not baptized — right? Therefore, many of them were circumcised — did the act of circumcision save? Was it in any way part of the salvation equation? What about Father Abraham — was he saved by Grace or Grace + circumcision?

    That is the question . . .

  14. Johnnie,

    You said:
    (1) Believe (Must believe that Jesus is the Christ, Lord..)

    (2) Repent (To turn away from sin)

    (3) Baptize (For the remission of sins; Mar 1:4)

    (4) Holy Ghost (Receiving God’s Spirit, with the intial evidence of speaking in tongues: Acts 2:1-4)

    My question — Did Father Abraham speak in tongues?

  15. All,

    I think Paul addresses the current issue in Romans 4. He asks the question: Was Abraham saved works, the law or faith? Answer: Faith alone. And his proof: Abraham’s faith was credited to him as “righteousness” BEFORE the law or even his own circumcision. So obviously the works of the flesh, the law of God and his won good works did not save him, it was faith alone.

    Johnnie will ask: If it’s faith alone, why isn’t the devil saved?

    Answer: The Devil “believes” that God exists, and he trembles. Lots of people believe God exists but don’t have saving faith.

  16. Good-Fellow Johnnie Roll,

    In response to yours, “Jesus Christ himself commanded us to be baptized in His name, (Matt 28:19).”

    Yes, the grammatical sequence is first to “make disciples” and then baptize. Disciples are born-again already, then they are baptized.

    In response to yours, “The Apostle Peter commanded it in the book of Acts 2:38.”

    The text reads, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The word “for” is the Greek word “eis” and is best translated “because of” or “unto,” as it is in Luke 11:32, and Matthew 3:11 and 12:41. Therefore, Peter is commanding them to be baptized because their sins have been forgiven, NOT in order to have them forgiven. I wish you would not take this verse out of context and apart from the analogy of Scripture.

    In response to yours, “Jesus Christ himself was baptized in the river Jordan and He was without sin…”

    Yes, Lord Jesus Christ was without sin. If anything, this proves my point: Baptism is a symbolic, not salvific; Jesus did not need to be saved.

    P.S.–Jesus was circumcised as well as baptized (see Luke 1:21); so, to be consistent, you should add circumcision to your steps of salvation.

  17. Good Evening;

    We are not saved by works in the sense of earning, meriting, or purchasing salvation by good works, I think we all agree on that…However, the grace of God will lead to good works and holiness of life…

    After Ephesians 2:8-9 emphatically teaches salvation by grace and not works, the next verse continues, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

    God gives us grace expressly to enable us to produce good works. “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8)…

    If the doctrine of grace teaches that God does all the work in man’s salvation, are all men automatically saved? This cannot be true because many will receive eternal damnation at the last judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).

    See also; (Isaiah 5:14)

    If the doctrine of grace teaches that man cannot assist God in providing salvation, does God unconditionally choose certain ones to be saved regardless of their own attitudes and responses? This cannot be true either because God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34)…

    When Abraham offered up his son for an sacrifice, tell me, was it a works?

    Also when Abraham walked the earth, Jesus Christ was not yet glorified, so he would not of spoke tongues…

    In the NT, tongues is the initial evidence of the infilling of God’s Spirit,(Holy Ghost)… God choose the tongue because it is the most unruly part of our bodies which no man came tame…(James 3:5-8)…

    OT, People were under the law and an animal or a portion of bread or corn, or of gold and silver was presented to God as an atonement for sin(sin-offerings, burnt-offerings, peace-offerings, trespass-offering, thank-offering, ect.)

    NT, Jesus Christ by the offering of himself has superseded the use of all other offerings,having made atonement for all men…We need not make sacrifices of animals or food today, we live under grace…

    It is also my understanding of the word of God, that God can show mercy on who he shall show mercy on…God is God, therefore, the man that was hung beside Him on the Cross, Repented of his deeds and excepted his fate..God showed mercy upon him…

    I will not write anymore right now as I do not want to clog up the comment section with to much writing…

  18. Johnnie Roll,

    Let’s try to stay within the Romans 4 9-17 or even Romans 4 (all). We do know that no Scripture is going to contradict another Scripture – right?

    Therefore, you said, “If the doctrine of grace teaches that man cannot assist God in providing salvation, does God unconditionally choose certain ones to be saved regardless of their own attitudes and responses? This cannot be true either because God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34)…”

    My response — Yes! Yes! That is right! God does choose us UNCONDITIONALLY. God does not choose us based on how good of an athlete, student, or moral person we are! When God judges, He also does so without respect of persons. That is for both the saved and unsaved. However, with Abraham – he was a pagan living in Ur of the Chaldeans. He was not chosen due to his works, his circumcision (he was not circumcised at the time God chose him), his keeping of the law (there was no Jew / Gentile distinctions at the time), his willingness to sacrifice his son (for he was chosen years earlier) or any other thing! The point is clear – God picked a pagan named Abram and changed his heart – then changed his name to Abraham later.

    Regarding faith – Faith is a gift from God as well. Eph. 2:8-9 that you cited is proof positive that it is not of ourselves. Therefore, when we look at Salvation – we must not view it as man and God teaming up to bring oneself to redemption. Rather, we should view it as man living in sin and running from God until God changes the desire of man’s heart through the preaching of the Cross!

    Rev. Josh Buice
    All for the glory God!

  19. Josh,

    Well said, my brother. We wish we were still at the beach with you guys. Your fellowship was refreshing.

    In Christ,

    Brad Walker

  20. works, verses faith? are you kidding me??? any scripture giving on salvation after the book of Acts is given to born again Christians. taking a verse from Romans and basing your entire salvation experience on it is dangerous and ignorant. peter command all of the converts in the book of acts to be baptized, but you and your degree in theology says its not needed. paul was writing to churches,people who already were baptized.

  21. Dear Mr. No Name,

    The truth regarding justificaiton by Faith alone in Grace alone is not built upon one verse in Romans as you have before suggested and accused. Rather, it is built upon the entire Apostle’s teaching and doctrine which the Book of Acts claims that the early Christians continued therein from day to day.

    If you look at the entire fourth chapter of Romans, you will see that Paul is defending the doctrine of justificaiton by faith alone in Christ alone. The great Apostle, like a masterful attorney, makes his point by using the Jews’ hero – Father Abraham. The point is simple to see! Abraham was not justified by his flesh being cut. That is a practice whereby God set aside people with a mark of obedience, but it did nothing to the soul of Abraham. God had already done a work in his heart years earlier (approx. 14 yrs. earlier). Therefore, as we approach this same subject in our present day, it is important that we too realize that dunking in the water does just as much good as the cutting of Abraham’s flesh – absolutely nothing! The baptism is a symbol of what occured to Christ and what has already occured to the old man at the point of justification.

    For more clarification on this truth – see Romans 6:1-10.

    Justified By God’s Grace – Not By The Works Of Man!

    Rev. Josh Buice

  22. I believe that baptism is a “public expression” of ones faith in Christ. It is not required for salvation but is a visible announcement of your faith in Jesus death and resurrection. Like the symbolism of Lords supper, or under the old covenant the symbolism of sacrifices pointing to Christ.

    Not to beat a dead horse here, but if you have 99.9% gift and .1% earning, its not a gift any further is it… because you did something. You now fulfilled a qualifying requirement which now makes it due to you as a debt.


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