Justification: Abraham’s Example

by Mike Ratliff

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:27-31 ESV)

In our last post we ended with the passage above in which Paul makes it very clear that genuine salvation is by the law of faith not by a law of works. In v28 he says, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Justification is by faith alone and does not depend at all on doing any works of the law. In vv29,30 he tells us that since God is the Lord of all, whether Jews or Gentiles, there can only be one way of justification, which is by faith alone. What does it mean that believers uphold the law rather than overthrow it by our faith? Justification by faith alone does not denigrate the law, but, instead, underscores its true importance by providing a payment for the penalty of death, which the law required for failing to keep it; by fulfilling the law’s original purpose, which is to serve as a tutor to show mankind’s utter inability to obey God’s righteous demands and to drive people to Christ (Galatians 3:24); and by giving believers the capacity to obey it (Romans 8:3,4). Then Paul moves into the obvious objection to these arguments by using the Old Testament Patriarch Abraham whom God declared righteous in Genesis 15:6. 

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”  (Romans 4:1-8 ESV)

Actually, Paul’s case is made in vv1-2. Did Abraham have anything to boast of before God in which to justified by works? Nope, not at all. Abraham was a sinner just like us. In v3 Paul says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” This is quoted from Genesis 15:6. This is the basis for Abraham’s right standing before God not his works.

A few years ago I got into a discussion about Justification with someone who is actually an evangelist who used to travel all over the country doing youth revivals. When I attempted to our doctrine of Justification by Faith alone as it relates to Ephesians 2:8,9 and other passages dealing with regeneration and such, it became obvious that he had a huge issue with all of this being in the hands of our Sovereign God. He actually saw most of this as being some sort of reward from God for believer’s making right decisions. In his theology, justification came as a result of something the believer did first by their free will. All came after that was as a result the believer exercising that free will. Who is sovereign in that man’s theology?

Think about vv3-8 with me. Here are those verses again, “For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Was Abraham godly or ungodly when he believed God? If his belief was his own work by his own free will then it would also be as filthy rags and worthless in God’s eyes. The only works man can do that are acceptable to Him are those done by His grace. Therefore, we must understand that Abraham believed God as a gift from God just as we do as is clearly taught in Ephesians 2:8,9. This is why God counted this belief as righteousness. It was a work of faith by God’s grace as a gift from God.

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:9-12 ESV)

Circumcision is unnecessary in order to belong to God. The Judaizers who attacked the Galatian Church taught that circumcision and law keeping was necessary in order to belong to God and be a real Christian. Think of any “work” that we are told is necessary in our time that separates real Christians from everyone else. That is a false teaching.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:13-25 ESV)

Abraham’s faith is our example. Paul uses this to show us that God’s plans for His Church go back into the Old Testament and even further. These examples of faith were written down for our benefit. In v25 we are given an analogy of Abraham’s justification by faith applying to all believers. Both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are necessary for forgiveness of sins and justification. When God the Father raised Christ from the dead, it was a demonstration that He accepted Christ’s suffering and death as full payment for sin, and that the Father’s favor, no longer His wrath against sin, was directed toward Christ, and through Christ toward those who believe. All in Christ are truly united with Him or Baptized in Him in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:6, 8:11; Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 2:12; 3:1), therefore, God’s approval of Christ at the resurrection results in His approval also of all who are united to Christ. Therefore, this makes if possible for their justification, which has become an eternal reality. Amen!!!

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “Justification: Abraham’s Example

  1. “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.” The law of faith rescues us from the biggest snare, pride. Is there anything more dangerous to a believer, especially when it is dressed in its most pious garb, working for God?

  2. C.H. Spurgeon said:
    “You are to do good works as zealously as if you were to be saved by your good works, and you are to trust in the merits of Christ as though you had done nothing at all.”

  3. In vogue today, is a saying “Never waste a good crisis”. I believe it was popularized by Rahm Immanual. But God was way ahead of Rahm, once again, as he has never wasted a crisis but has used each and every one to work out his glorious transformational process in our lives. Abraham was conformed to God’s will and his faith was transformed through…yes, life’s crises.

    Who understands a remedy without a crisis…this one for instance:

    “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, WHO WAS DELIVERED UP FOR OUR TRESPASSES AND RAISED FOR OUR JUSTIFICATION.

    A good crisis will throw us into dependence on the remedy. But until we see our need, the remedy is useless.

    When life creates a crisis and we come to understand, AS THE THIEF ON THE CROSS DID, that we are at the end of our own limits of righteousness, then we understand that we DO need an external remedy.

    And, that’s when, need for a saviour, with the remedy of a saviour, mixed with faith, will come our appreciation OF the Saviour…CHRIST WAS DELIVERED FOR OUR OFFENSES AND RAISED FOR OUR JUSTIFICATION.
    Can you stop yourself from shouting hallelujah!!!?

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