Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 4:1–8
Moving to Apple Valley 7 years ago was a big change for many reasons, but one of the biggest changes was adjusting to a very different climate. I am a Yankee. I was used to mild summers, lots of moisture, and cold winters. So, moving to the desert in June rocked my world. Every day felt overwhelmingly hot, and I couldn’t believe how dry the air was. I distinctly remember B. J. Proctor complaining about how humid it was and thinking, “What is wrong with you?”
That fall was also a big adjustment. To me October equaled crisp, cool weather, colorful trees, and chilly football games. I went back to Detroit that October for a conference, and I was excited about frost on my windshield. To me that’s what October was supposed to be, but I was still sweating in Apple Valley.
So, I had to totally rewire my expectations. I had to learn to enjoy new things and ignore others. It’s taken intentional work, and it has been a 7-year process. Changing the way you think is a big process, especially for someone who’s not adventuresome.
Therefore, imagine how hard it must have been for Paul’s Jewish peers to accept and apply Romans 1–3. They had been hardwired to believe circumcision and obedience to the Law are vital to salvation. But Paul comes along and says that circumcision can’t save, and that Jews are just as sinful as Gentiles. To top it off, salvation is by faith not by works. That’s a lot to take in, and it required a total rewiring of his faith.
And most Gentiles face the same challenge when trying to grasp the gospel. We naturally try to relate to God based on something we do or some quality in ourselves. So, it’s hard to simply rest in the finished work of Christ. We want to do something.
Maybe that’s where you are. You understand Paul, but it’s just a lot to accept and believe.
Paul understands; therefore, in Romans 4, he patiently examines the testimony of Abraham to demonstrate conclusively that Christ is our only hope of justification. Today, we’ll study vv. 1–8. This passage gives a wonderfully encouraging perspective on the salvation we can enjoy through Christ. Paul begins in vv. 1–3 by demonstrating that…
I. Abraham was justified by faith (vv. 1–3).
To fully appreciate this passage, we must first appreciate…
The Significance of Abraham (vv. 1–2): The Jews revered Abraham. Verse 1 says Abraham was the “forefather” of the Jewish people. We know that they were very proud of their Abrahamic ancestry. Furthermore, the Jews revered Abraham as the supreme model of godliness. Listen to these quotes from the rabbinical literature. “Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well-pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life” (Jubilees 23:10). Another author says, Abraham “did not sin against thee” (Pr. Man. 8). Another says, “No one has been found like him in glory” (Sir. 44:19).”
Paul has argued that we are all sinners, but the Jews weren’t sure that Abraham was. They assumed that surely Abraham earned his justification. Therefore, they believed that Abraham must stand in the way of Paul’s doctrine. So, Paul must address Abraham.
He gets right to the point in v. 2. That builds off what Paul just said in 3:27–28. Paul states that justification by faith alone excludes boasting. But what about Abraham? Was he justified by works? Does he have room to boast? And if Abraham could boast in his works, who’s to say someone else couldn’t also? So, v. 2 raises a very important question?
Most commentators understand “not before God” as a quick answer to the question. Paul won’t tolerate for a second the thought that Abraham was justified by works. He will explain why in vv. 3–5, but he can’t wait to answer no. So, the point is that if Abraham were justified by works, he could boast even before God, but, “No, he was not justified by works; therefore, he can’t boast before God.” So, how was he justified? Verse 3 explores…
Abraham’s Salvation (v. 3): This verse quotes Genesis 15:6 (turn), and it is crucial to Paul’s entire argument. By Genesis 15, God had already promised to make a great nation from Abraham’s seed and that “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” So, Abraham obeyed God and moved to Canaan.
Several years later God spoke to Abraham again (15:1–6). Abraham has been in the land for 5–7 years. He’s in his mid-80s, and Sarah is in her mid-70s. God said he’d make a great nation out of Abraham, but he has no children.
Abraham asks the million-dollar question, “God, how are you going to do that?” God doesn’t say how; instead, he simply assures Abraham that he will. And God’s promise is enough. Abraham “believed in the Lord.”
Then comes the crucial statement for Paul’s argument. God “reckoned it to him as righteousness.” This verb “reckon” (logidzomai) looms large in Romans 4. Paul uses it in vv. 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24. So, it is important that we understand exactly what Paul means.
Logidzomai comes from the world of accounting. It means that something of value is transferred to the account of another. It can be translated as “reckon” or “credit.” The KJV translates it several times as “impute.”
Based on this translation, imputation is an important term that come up often in discussions of justification. We need to take a moment to understand exactly what this is. Dr. McCune states, “God judicially constitutes the sinner righteous by the imputation to the sinner of Christ’s righteousness so that He can then declare him righteous and forever and treat him as such on that basis” (3:100).
So, the doctrine of imputation is built on the alien righteousness we discussed several weeks ago in 3:21–22. We aren’t justified based on our own practical righteousness; instead, we are justified based on righteousness that is outside us—Christ’s righteousness.
What’s important for today is that this righteousness is not imparted to us. That would mean alien righteousness makes us righteousness and thereby deserving of justification. Instead, it is imputed. It is a legal credit by which we are declared not guilty while we are still sinners.
Yes, after we are justified, God progressively makes us righteous. Imparted righteousness is real and necessary. Christians want to become like their Savior, and we must do so. But that is not what justifies; instead, we are justified by the imputation, or the legal crediting of Christ’s righteousness to our account.
And the big kicker for Paul’s argument is that this righteousness was applied by faith. Now, we must be clear that the text is not saying Abraham’s faith justified him, as if his faith made him acceptable to God. We know this because vv. 4–5 say that we don’t earn our salvation; instead, God freely gives it to the ungodly.
So, God is the one who saves based on the redemption Jesus provided on the cross. But this redemption is applied by faith. We believe God is who says he is, we believe Jesus’ death is sufficient for our salvation, and we rest in that work for our salvation.
It’s not complicated, and it’s not even about your great faith. Christ saves, not your faith. Christian, keep resting in Christ and praise God that you are safe in Christ. If you have never been saved, please believe God, and rest in Christ. You can receive the greatest gift imaginable.
To wrap it all up, v. 3 is huge for Paul’s argument. The Bible says that Israel’s founder was saved by faith, not works. That’s huge because if Abraham wasn’t saved by his works, who can be? And justification by faith is not Paul’s invention of Paul. Genesis 15:6 demonstrates that it is deeply rooted in Scripture. Paul builds off this quotation in vv. 4–5 to make the point that…
II. Faith equals dependence (vv. 4–5).
These verses set up a contrast between working and not working for our salvation, between wages and grace. First, v. 4 makes the point that…
Legalism puts God in our debt (v. 4). This verse makes a relatively simple point. When you work a job, you earn what you receive. We get that. Therefore, most people don’t bear hug their boss and throw him a party when he pays them. Why? Because he didn’t do anything gracious; he simply did what was expected.
Therefore, v. 4 points out two big problems with works salvation. First, the Greek word behind “favor” is charis or grace; therefore, Paul is making the point that works salvation eliminates the grace of God. Therefore, man gets all the glory, not God.
But Christian worship is so different. We glory in our Redeemer with joy, passion, and rest. We love God because he first loved us. Legalism kills all that. Worship becomes an effort to earn acceptance, and I get the glory for it. The differences in how we worship are drastic.
But a second problem with legalism according to v. 4 is that legalism compromises the freedom of God by putting him in our debt. Think about it. If I could be saved by my works, I would have grounds to make demands of God, and he would be obliged to honor them. God would no longer be truly free or sovereign. Obviously, that’s a problem.
Now, the reality is that sinners want to make demands of God, and we frequently pretend that we can. Have you ever thought that God owes you more than he has given you and complained that God is unfair? I have.
But God is sovereign, not me. And God doesn’t owe us anything beyond condemnation. Every good gift we enjoy is solely by his sovereign grace, and all glory belongs to Christ not to us. Therefore, boasting is excluded because I didn’t earn anything that I have. And I must zealously and joyfully praise God for the wonder of his grace, first in the gospel, but also in every other blessing. So, legalism is a problem because it puts God in our debt. In contrast…
The gospel freely justifies the ungodly (v. 5). I first want to say that the point of that first statement is not to say that the gospel inspires laziness, and that Christians don’t need to work. Paul frequently exhorts Christians to strive, labor, and discipline themselves to godliness. There was nothing lazy about Paul, and there shouldn’t be anything lazy about us either.
Instead, Paul is specifically concerned with how we come into relationship with God, and he drives home the fact that there is a fundamental difference between working to achieve this relationship and simply believing on Christ to do for me what I could never do for myself.
Specifically, someone who is trying to earn their salvation carries a heavy responsibility. All the weight is on his shoulders. He works to do enough. He boasts in what they achieve. But he also questions if it is enough.
But justification by faith is fundamentally different. We don’t hide from our sin; we face it and confess it. We know that we are “ungodly.” That’s a bleak word, isn’t it? It’s one thing to admit I’m imperfect or unrighteous, but no one likes to think of himself as ungodly, or contrary to the nature of God. But God says I am an ungodly sinner like everyone else who has ever walked the planet including even Abraham.
But praise God that I don’t have to hide from my ungodliness. Instead, I can “believe in Him who justifies the ungodly.” I cling to Christ. I trust wholly and completely in him.
When someone does this, God promises, “His faith is credited as righteousness.” The perfect obedience and righteousness of Christ and his atoning death are credited or imputed to me. My account goes from bankrupt to full. I’m declared “not guilty,” and my relationship to God is forever secure in Christ.
And my disposition toward God is forever different from the one who works. For example, have you been in an awkward social setting with an intimidating crowd? You’re nervous about your appearance and anxious about every word. It’s exhausting because there’s no security. That’s how the legalist feels before God or at least should feel before God.
It’s so refreshing to leave that anxious environment and go home to people who love you and you don’t have to impress. You feel secure, and you can rest. It’s wonderful! Praise the Lord that once I am justified, I’m adopted into God’s family, he’s my Father, and I am his son. He’s promised that this relationship will never change. Therefore, I can rest. The contrast between legalism and grace couldn’t be more drastic.
If you are still trying to earn God’s favor, please see that you never will. We are all ungodly sinners. But God justifies the ungodly when we believe on him. So, confess your sin, rest in, and receive Christ. It’s the most important decision you will ever make.
Then continue to rest in Christ. Satan doesn’t want you to do that. As a child I often doubted my salvation because I put my faith in my faith and I often wondered, “What if my faith isn’t what it should be? What if I didn’t get emotional enough? What if I doubt too much?” Remember that Christ saves, not your faith. Stop looking to yourself and look to Christ. Rest in him.
Satan tempts others to believe that they’ve sinned too much, or their sins are too serious for God’s grace to overcome. Certainly, we must hate our sin and pursue change. We must never be content dwelling in ungodliness; instead, we must pursue the beauty of God’s holiness.
But don’t forget, “Our sins they are many; his mercy is more.” God’s grace is always greater. So, trust the grace and promises of God. Rest in him. Then get up and keep pursuing holiness. Returning the text, Paul has made a powerful argument for justification by faith alone in vv. 1–5. Then he puts a bow on the whole thing in vv. 6–8 by arguing that…
III. David affirmed justification through grace (vv. 6–8).
Verses 7–8 quote Psalm 32:1–2. Psalm 32 is a great psalm in which David remembers and rejoices in God’s forgiveness of his sin. It is a joyful celebration of God’s grace. And it is particularly significant to Paul’s argument that it comes from the mouth of David. Afterall, David, like Abraham, carried tremendous weight with the Jews.
Notice that v. 6 tells us exactly what point Paul when he says in v. 6, “David also speaks…” Paul is clearly using David’s testimony to confirm for what he has already said about justification being a completely gracious act of God. That said, 5 truths stand out from this quotation.
We are sinners who cannot atone for our sins. There is a strong likelihood that David wrote Psalm 32 following his adultery with Bathsheba, his murder of Uriah, his confession, and God’s merciful forgiveness. David was “a man after God’s own heart,” and he was the father of Messiah. But David committed some horrible sins.
He doesn’t hide from them. He mentions his sin in all 3 lines of the quote, and the first description is especially heavy, “lawless deeds.” David knew that he was a rebel against God’s Law. And he doesn’t hold out any hope that he could atone for his sins. His status as king and as God’s friend would not give him a free pass. And he knows that he cannot possibly do enough good works to outweigh his lawlessness. He was at God’s mercy. Therefore…
Sinners need forgiveness. When you are burdened with guilt, there is no greater relief than forgiveness. David rejoices in this experience. He had known that his guilt was immense. He had understood that he deserved death for his sin. But God still forgave his sin! Therefore, he rejoices, “Blessed are those…”
David rejoiced that God removed his guilt and debt he owed. He was forgiven. And I love the image in the second line. David’s sin was “covered.” God covered the festering, blight of David’s sin, ultimately, by the blood for Christ. Praise God for the gift of forgiveness! And what makes this especially awesome is that…
The sins of the justified do not factor into our standing with God. Verse 8 is what especially drew Paul to this passage because it uses logidzomai, the key verb in this chapter. Verse 3 used it positively to say that God credits his righteousness to sinners. But v. 8 adds that the inverse is also true. In justification, God does not “take into account” our sin. That’s because Christ took it on his account and paid our debt on the cross.
It’s another wonderful expression of the forgiveness we receive in the gospel. Someday, I will stand before God with eternity in the balance. If Christ pulls out my sin ledger and begins judging by it, I will be devastated, and I will be doomed. But praise the Lord that because I am justified, God will not “take into account” my sin. The ledger is gone. It will have no bearing on my eternal destiny. What a relief! This brings us to a 4th and crucial point.
Justification is fundamentally gracious. This is the ultimate point Paul wants to make. Verse 6 says, “God credits righteousness apart from works.” Paul wants his Jewish readers to see that David’s standing with God was not fundamentally based on what David did or did not do because David didn’t atone for his sins; God did. David just simply rejoiced that God did for him what he could never do for himself.
Maybe you have done some horrible things, or maybe you just feel like a crummy sinner. Therefore, you think there’s no hope for your salvation. Or maybe you think God will meet you halfway if you can do your part. Please see that this is not what the Bible teaches. There is nothing you can do to cover your own sin. You need God to remove it.
And Christ already purchased this forgiveness on the cross, and his redemption can be applied to you by faith. Just follow the pattern of v. 5. Admit that you are “ungodly.” Then, “believe in Him who justifies the ungodly.” Cast yourself on Christ, and you will be saved. The 5th truth is…
Justification demands rejoicing. That’s the point of Psalm 32:1–2. Verses 6–8 each use the word blessing because the blessings of the gospel are the greatest blessings imaginable. David understood what he had done, he understood that he had received incredible grace, and he rejoiced.
He wants his readers to rejoice with him, and, ultimately, he wants us to rejoice in our own salvation. As I said earlier, the gospel produces worship that no one else knows. God has removed our sin and replaced it with grace. God is not our enemy; he is our Father. So, we love God. Give glory to God. Boast in the cross. Thank the Lord every day for the grace you have received.
Then boast in God to others. Intentionally glorify the grace of God when you speak with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Share what God has done and is doing by his grace. Then share it with the lost so that they can know that grace also. Christian, you are the man David describes. You are blessed. So, glorify the Lord for his mercy.