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 (” 

All for the glory of God!

Pastor Josh Buice

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