One of the most cherished of all fallacies is that man has some spark of goodness, which needs only to be fanned into flame. To refute this idea, Paul appeals to the case of ABRAHAM, the greatest of the patriarchs and one of the chief saints of the OT, to show that no human being can make himself righteousness. And then to DAVID, the greatest of kings and one of the chief sinners of the OT, to show that no human being need be excluded from righteousness.
Chapter 4 of Romans uncovers the three channels God used to credited righteousness to Abraham.
Abraham is Justified by Faith
Abraham is Justified by Grace, not by Law
Abraham is Justified by Divine Power, No Human Effort
Salvation is designed to give glory to God, not glory to man. So even the great patriarch Abraham had nothing he could boast about before God according to Romans 4:1-3—
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
This quote from Genesis 15:6 shows that righteousness came to Abraham by grace and that is was appropriated by faith. So Abraham had absolutely nothing to boast about before God.
If a Abraham were justified by works, he had grounds for boasting. If you were justified by works you would have grounds for boasting. However, heaven contains not one person who obtained salvation by works. God never credited righteousness for works, not even to someone like Abraham, who had many good works to boast about.
Last Sunday, we discovered that James used this very same quote from Genesis 15:6 to explain that faith without deeds is dead and that living faith produces deeds that prove faith to be genuine. Faith that does not lead to works is not saving faith.
At this point, we should ask, “What was Abraham’s faith like?” Chapter 11 of Hebrews provides the answer.
FIRST, ABRAHAM HAD OBEDIENT FAITH, Hebrews 11:8—
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
Abraham lived in the city called Ur. His family, his possessions, his reputation, his business, and his life were there. God said to him, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” So Abraham left the land of his birth, forsook his home, friends, and abandoned present security for future uncertainty!
Why did Abraham do it? Because he believed God. He believed that God would take him to a good place, and that He would bless his life. He believed, and that’s all God wanted.
SECOND, ABRAHAM HAD PATIENT FAITH, Hebrews 11:9—
By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.
To God, Abraham was the chosen man. He never saw God’s people possess the Promised Land. He never owned any lived that he lived on, only the cave where he and Sarah were buried. He spent his life as a tent dweller, wandering throughout the land like Isaac and Jacob. If his eyes were on the present, he never saw the fulfillment of his dreams.
It was to be another generation from out of his body that would inherit the Land. He received that promise from God with great patience!
By faith, Abraham had left the past behind, lived in the present, with an eye on the future. Hebrews 11:10—
For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Abraham had his eyes on God. He had a heavenly perspective and a heavenly vision. THIRD, ABRAHAM HAD A TRUSTING FAITH. Hebrews 11:17-18—
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
Abraham obeyed. He put his son Isaac on the altar, and was ready to plunge the knife. Why did he do it? Verse 19 tells us—
Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
Abraham thought, “If God says that I’m going to have a nation out of my son, but He wants me to kill him, then I will kill him in confidence that God will raise him from dead.” Now that is great faith!
Had Abraham ever seen a resurrection or heard of one? Never! What faith Abraham must have had to go to a land he had never seen, have a child he could not have, and kill the child who was the hope of all God’s promises! And he would have done it all, so great was his faith.
Abraham TRUSTED God, not matter what the LORD asked of him! He is the model of faith!
How did Abraham gain righteousness? How did he become acceptable to God? Was it through his works? NO! Was it through his perfection? NO It was through his faith.
In fact, Abraham’s faith wasn’t always perfect. Genesis 12:4-5 tells us—
So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
Abraham exercised IMMEDIATE OBEDIENCE, but INCOMPLETE OBEDIENCE. He left, but took along his idolatrous father Terah and his nephew Lot—against God’s command. When his father Terah died, we see IMPROVED OBEDIENCE, at least sufficient enough for God to honor.
Then we read of IMPERFECT OBEDIENCE, when he compromised the truth by lying to Pharaoh about his wife. That happened because he went to Egypt when a famine came in Canaan. Instead of trusting God to meet his needs in the midst of the famine, he trusted Egypt.
Abraham, the model of faith, committed adultery in a stupid effort to produce the offspring that he wasn’t sure God could produce. As a result of the adultery he committed with Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar, he produced a nation of enemies toward Israel.
But in spite of his imperfection, Abraham recovered from his lack of faith to be known as a man who believed God. No one believes God perfectly, but Abraham is a model of belief despite his imperfection. He left his city, his environment, and his idols to go to a place that was unknown to him. He believed God for a child, even when his wife was barren her whole life. And thus, Abraham became the pattern of faith.
Hebrews 11:13 is Abraham’s Epitaph—
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.
Abraham died LIVING BY FAITH. He never saw the promises of God fulfilled. He never saw his offspring inherit the Promised Land, he never saw the nation of Israel, he never saw all peoples being blessed in Christ.
Yet, this alien and stranger on the earth is known as THE FRIEND OF GOD, who citizenship is in heaven.
Abraham’s obedience was immediate, yet incomplete; it improved, yet it was imperfect. Abraham cannot boast before God! His righteousness, therefore, is a gift from God. Romans 4:4-5—
Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Righteousness is a gift, which cannot be obtained by human effort. In verses 6-8, Paul turns to David, who discovered this truth—
David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
The king had grievously transgressed God’s Law and wanted his sins not only forgiven but forgotten; not only covered but cancelled.
Romans 4:7-8 is a quote from Psalm 32:1-2. When David wrote that Psalm, he was experiencing guilt. He had been involved in adultery. He had been involved in murder. He had desecrated his throne and sanctity of his own virtue. He was a vile, wretched sinner. Psalm 51 reveals the agony and pain he endured. He felt as if God had abandoned him He was experiencing horrible guilt.
In Psalm 32:4, he said that his life juices dried up. That’s what happens when guilt occurs. Saliva dries up. Anxiety creates pressure in the head, and that restricts the flow of blood. The lymphatic and nervous systems are affected,. He was getting old before his time. He began to ache in his joints. Guilt does that!
But in the midst of all that guilt, he experienced the goodness of God. That is why David said—
“Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
In verse 7 a sinner is characterized by transgressions and sins, and in verse 8 he is characterized by sin alone. In both cases the LORD forgives and does not hold sin against a person.
These verses show us that salvation is not by works because the individual is defined as a sinner. How can a sinner be blessed? If he has been forgiven, the LORD does not credit sin to his account. The blessing is not the results of works, but of faith. The truly blessed man is forgiven of his sin.
Abraham was before Moses and David was after Moses. That shows us that God redeemed people before the Law and after the Law by faith. Forgiveness is always a matter of faith resulting from imputed righteousness. What is the impact of God crediting righteousness?
FIRST, TRANSGRESSIONS ARE FORGIVEN. In Leviticus 16:21-22, the high priest put his hands on a goat, symbolically transferring the people’s sin to it, and sent the goat outside the camp. John the Baptist talked about the removal of sin when he saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
SECOND, SINS ARE COVERED. The word COVERED has OT roots. Sacrifices covered sins. In those days, the sins were covered up and not fully dealt with according to Hebrews 10:1-3—
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered?
For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Therefore, the symbol of the scapegoat looked forward to the day when sin was sent away. On the Cross, sins were uncovered and sent away for good.
Jesus didn’t just cover up our sins; He removed it. When Jesus died on the Cross, He dealt with the sins of the people who would live after Him and those who lived before Him. Abraham and David’s sins were dealt with on the Cross. Sin was no longer covered; it was uncovered and sent away. Psalm 103:12 declares—
As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
THIRD, SINS ARE FORGOTTEN—Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him. Yahweh testified in Isaiah 43:25—
I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.
Paul asks in verses 9-11a—
Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.
The Jews believed that when a male child was circumcised, he was placed into a covenant with God. They actually believed that a man was made right with God when the surgical act was performed on him when he was eight days old.
The Rabbis taught that no circumcised man will ever see hell and circumcision saves from hell. A teaching of the Midrash says, “God swore to Abraham that no one who was circumcised should be sent to hell.” In other words, if you are circumcised, you have been prevented from going to hell.
In A.D. 50, the FIRST CHURCH COUNCIL was held in Jerusalem over the issue of whether Gentiles believers had to be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses to be saved. Peter addressed the council in Acts 15:7-11—
Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.
Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.
All believers are saved by grace through faith—not circumcision! Paul is saying the same thing in this passage. Abraham was not circumcised when God credited him with righteousness. The purpose of circumcision was an outward sign and seal of righteousness that was received by faith. In fact, Abraham was the father of the uncircumcised as well as the circumcision.
Abraham’s name at first was ABRAM, and it means, EXALTED FATHER. God later changed his name to Abraham, which means THE FATHER OF MANY NATIONS, for God gave Abraham that very promises. The promise was twofold. God promised that Abraham would be a physical and spiritual father.
A PHYSICAL FATHER in that multitudes of people would come from his body.
A SPIRITUAL FATHER in that he is the father of all who follow in his footsteps and put their faith in God. Galatians 3:6-9 explains—
Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Abraham not only produced physical offspring; he set the standard for spirituality as well. Millions follow his pattern of faith, occupying a position uniquely identified in the Scripture as CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM. He is the example of justification by faith. Verse 11b—
So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.
What’s the relevance of all of this? Many people today are basing their salvation on infant baptism, confirmation, adult baptism, communion, or some other religious ceremony. There are many people who call themselves Christians in our society who believe that their children are eternally secured by infant baptism. Many are basing their salvation on taking communion. Their perspective of salvation is the same held by the Jews.
If circumcision and baptism to not confer salvation, why have circumcision, why have baptism then?
Circumcision was the mark of racial identification. it was the way that Jewish people in those days could be identified as children of Abraham.
Circumcision was the mark of God’s Covenant, identifying Israelites as God’s separated people for relationship with Him.
Circumcision was the mark of righteousness, it was symbolic of God cutting away the sinful covering—to purge sin. Every male child of Israel was a living testimony the heart needed to be circumcised.
CIRCUMCISION did not confer righteousness, it merely confirmed the righteousness Abraham already received.
Just like BAPTISM is a sign that confirms and proclaims our union with Christ in His death and resurrection, and COMMUNION is a sign that proclaims and confirms our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, so CIRCUMCISION was a sign that confirmed and proclaimed that God was eager to purge the heart through faith and impute His righteousness by grace.
Jesus commands every Christian to be baptized and to remember Him with communion. Just imagine Abraham saying NO to God’s command to be circumcised after God credited him with righteousness by faith. There would be no statements about Abraham like Romans 4:12—
And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
WALK is a military term, to walk in file. Therefore, to step in the footsteps of the one who is in the lead. No only are we to walk in the footsteps of Abraham’s faith, we are to walk in Christ’s as well. 1 Peter 2:21 says—
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
Galatians 5:25 adds—
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Therefore, if we are going to walk in the footsteps of the faith, we must follow the examples of Abraham and Christ as well as keep in step with the Holy Spirit. So we must know all we can about the life of Abraham and Christ.
Obey the commands of Christ, especially the signs and seals—baptism and communion—as Abraham obeyed and was circumcised—they are the outward actions of faith.
Circumcision did not save Abraham, and neither can these signs and seals save you, but without deeds your faith is dead!
Against hope, in spite of circumstances, Abraham staggered not at the promises of God. He believed the LORD being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. He allowed Yahweh to guide him as a pilgrim to the Promised Land.
Once there, he discovered that he was an alien and stranger on the earth, and his real destination was the city of God in the country of heaven.
This is the hope of every person who walks in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
Put your undivided trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t hold back! Allow Him to lead you as Yahweh directed the steps of Abraham.
WALK IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE FAITH.