Justification and Abraham’s example

by Mike Ratliff

27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.
31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. Romans 3:27-31 (NASB) 

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 maintain that a man 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. 

1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
And whose sins have been covered.
8 “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” Romans 4:1-8 (NASB) 

Actually, Paul’s case is made in vv1-2. Did Abraham have anything to boast of before God in which to justified by works? No, not at all. Abraham was a sinner just like us. In v3 Paul says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited 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.

Several 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 lay out 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 which came after that was as a result of 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 credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered.’Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.’” 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 and, therefore, according to His will. 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.

9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. Romans 4:9-12 (NASB) 

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.

13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.
16 For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. 18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “SO shall your descendants be.” 19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. Romans 4:13-25 (NASB) 

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 it possible for their justification, which has become an eternal reality. Amen!!!

Soli Deo Gloria!

One thought on “Justification and Abraham’s example

  1. Excellent article ! Thanks Brother Mike. Jesus paid it all at the Cross. Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now is see : ) it’s Christ plus nothing !
    Amen ! Come quickly Lord Jesus

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