Exposition of Romans 4:6–8 Only God can offer total amnesty

One of our foundational documents, the Declaration of Independence, declares that we have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Unfortunately, those things are not that easy to come by. Happiness in particular has proven elusive for many.

In the final analysis, happiness — blessedness in the language of our Scripture passage — only comes from God, and it is based on not having our sins counted against us. Are you blessed?

(ESV) Romans 4:6–8  just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

As we follow Paul’s argument in support of justification by faith apart from works of the law, we should note that he relies on the interpretation of OT revelation to make his point. All sound theology is based primarily on biblical revelation, not unguided human opinion or even traditional interpretations of the Bible.

Paul is also sensitive to the traditions of those who are his Jewish theological opponents. Jewish scholars had certain techniques they used for interpreting the OT. One such technique consisted of first locating two verses which contained the same word and then interpreting each verse in light of the other. Paul has been using Genesis 15:6 and the Greek verb logizomai (reckon or calculate), and he clearly set out to find another verse containing logizomai that also mentions forgiveness of sins. He found what he wanted in Psalm 32:1–2a, which says:

 (ESV) Psalm 32:1–2a  “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,”

Paul also scores another point ? according to the methods of his time ? for getting his primary reference from the Pentateuch (Genesis 15:6) and a secondary reference from the prophets and the writings (Psalm 32:1–2a).[1] In the bargain Paul adds the voice of David to the example of Abraham. To his contemporaries, this was skillful argument!

Since we are studying Romans, you may wonder why I am telling you about Paul’s methodology. The reason is that you will run into Bible passages where you may not understand why the author ? here Paul ? chooses the words that he does. You should take away the lesson that there is always a reason, even if we do not always know it. And you should recall that this letter was not written in the first instance to us, even though its principles may be applied to us.

In Romans 4:6–8, Paul demonstrates another reason that justification must be found apart from works; too many of our works are actually sins! Grant Osborne explains: “The particular ‘works’ mentioned in the psalm are ‘transgressions’ and ‘sins.’ Not only can they not produce righteousness; they must also be ‘forgiven’ and covered.’ Thus the flip side of God’s crediting righteousness is God’s not crediting sin to one’s account.”[2]

Paul speaks of the negative acts in two ways (4:7): ‘lawless deeds’ (Greek anomia) and ‘sins’ (Greek hamartia). The first term, anomia, refers to those lawless things done by people who care nothing for what God wants; the noun means here “the product of a lawless disposition, a lawless deed.”[3] The second term, hamartia, deals with those people who are mindful of God’s standards but fail to meet them; the noun means here “a departure from . . . divine standards of uprightness.”[4]

When he speaks of how God deals with these different types of people and violations, Paul says God forgives the lawless deeds and covers the sins. The only way God can forgive lawless deeds is “by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:23, NET). God has dealt with the sins by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, whom “God put forward as a propitiation by his blood” (Rom. 3:25). In Israel the blood of the atoning sacrifice was poured by the high priest on the mercy seat, which was on top of the Ark of the Covenant. Jesus is our mercy seat, and his death supplies the blood that covers our sins (Rom. 3:25). He resolved God’s wrath against us.

Because he has dealt with our sins through the death of Christ, we are blessed (4:8) because the Lord will “not count” (logizomai) our sins against us!

How to obtain happiness

The Bible reveals God’s thinking, so its conclusions do not agree with those defined by culture. The good news is that to be happy or blessed, you do not need to be rich, powerful, young, beautiful, educated or born into the right nation or family. All blessedness comes from God! To be happy, relate to God through faith in Jesus Christ and then devote yourself to strengthening that relationship.

1. How does society deal with sins and lawless deeds? How effective are those methods and how do they compare to God’s methods?

2. Through Christ there is a way to be forgiven before God and to have a fruitful relationship. In what ways do we or do we not provide ways for forgiveness between ourselves and other family members or among our friends?

Since God and God alone is the source of both amnesty for our sins and happiness based on faith in his Son, what possible reason could lead someone to neglect the opportunity?

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 265.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 110.

[3] BDAG-3, anomia, lawless deeds, q.v.

[4] BDAG-3, hamartia, sin, q.v.