Exposition of Romans 4:23–25 Abraham believed to show us how

If we were talking about receiving old treasure — Spanish gold doubloons, say — you would snatch them up in an instant! How is it that old words — from God, say — do not produce a similarly enthusiastic reaction?

An older scholar says that God did not put all the cookies on the lower shelf. But they are within your reach. Just how much do you want them?

(ESV) Romans 4:23–25  But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

How easily we dismiss events of the past as belonging to another age! Even though we know the Bible is the Word of God, spiritual maturity is required to apply biblical principles to ourselves. Douglas Moo points out, “Paul’s conviction that the OT everywhere speaks to Christians is fundamental to his theology and preaching.”[1] The revelation must be applied with discretion, but that is always so.

Concerning 4:23–24a, Grant Osborne says: “Abraham’s faith was not merely a historical event but was a paradigm for believers in every age. . . . When we exercise the same faith Abraham did, then for us too that faith is ‘counted as’ righteousness.”[2] The “will be counted” language is not future from our standpoint but rather from the viewpoint of Abraham’s time; for this reason it refers to our salvation through faith and not to deliverance from final judgment. Thomas Schreiner says: “We could paraphrase the verse as follows. ‘Genesis 15:6 was written for the sake of those who would in the future be reckoned righteous by faith.’”[3]

But there is more in the depths of Romans 4:24. Notice that those to whom righteousness will be counted are described as “[we] who believe in him” (4:24). The italicized word is a Greek present participle, and the present tense most commonly refers to ongoing action in present time. NT grammarian Daniel Wallace says concerning this participle, “The present was the tense of choice most likely because the NT writers by and large saw continual belief as a necessary condition of salvation.”[4]

In other words, believers are not those who for one minute think favorably about Jesus, pray a short prayer and then lead a life independent or even defiant of God. No, believers are those who, like Abraham, demonstrate their faith over and over. They have committed themselves to faith in Jesus and keep on living for him. Continuing to believe is not a matter of losing our salvation or working for it; it is a matter of demonstrating our saving faith is real. God knows the difference!

Just as he began this letter with the resurrected Jesus, appointed the Son-of-God-in-power (1:4) after rising from the dead, Paul again returns to that theme in 4:24 as he nears the logical end of this portion of the letter. But in making his sectional conclusion, Paul hits some beautiful themes about what Jesus did for us.

Paul joins the death of Jesus with his resurrection (4:25), and that combination maintains a holistic perspective. In saying Jesus “was delivered up for our transgressions” he uses the verb paradidomi, which sounds with ominous regularity in John’s gospel (John 18:2, 5, 30, 35, 36; 19:11, 16, 30) while Jesus is taken to his trial and execution.

Paul does not elaborate here on the statement that Jesus was “raised for our justification” (4:25), but Paul does make comments elsewhere. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” But Christ has been raised!

Osborne summarizes: “His death, as seen in the epistles, is the theological basis of justification, and his resurrection, as seen in Acts (2:31-36; 13:32-39), is the apologetic basis of salvation; that is, it proves the reality of the salvation produced in Christ.”[5]

Imitating Abraham’s faith

For the sake of interacting with the questions below, I would define biblical faith as responding in a positive way to what God has said and done. That is what Abraham did.

1. Are there parts of the New Testament that you read over quickly or skip because you do not like what they say? If you are not sure, read a major section of Matthew 5–7 (The Sermon on the Mount) and then answer.

2. If you have identified parts of the New Testament that you skip over or avoid, is it not reasonable to think that facing those issues could be the greatest source of further spiritual growth? What would it take for you to talk to God, to one of your pastors, or to your life group leader about how to respond to those issues with faith?

Abraham did not relish talking with God about his barren wife and the long-dormant promise God had made about an heir. But when he finally spoke, God gave him even more revelation to accept by faith along with further blessings. Why not give that a try?

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) 287.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 121.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 242.

[4] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 621, footnote 22, with numerous examples.

[5] Osborne, Romans, 123.

Almost “Alone in the Void”

Adam Frank, a professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Rochester, has done us a favor. His op-ed in the New York Times forces us to face the music about our future prospects of mastering interstellar travel. His conclusion is that “There will be nowhere else to go for a very long time.” As a man who grew up with an astronomy book in one hand, a science fiction book in the other and a telescope of my own making in the garage, I find that a very hard pill to swallow!

Yet, as a physics major with a graduate degree in engineering, I understand the scientific principles that lead to Frank’s pessimistic assessment. He speaks of our love for “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” but he says, “The truth is we propel ourselves into space using much the same physics as the Chinese played with when they discovered what we came to call gunpowder more than 1,400 years ago.”

Frank calls on us to think about it:

No salvation from population pressure on the shores of alien worlds. No relief from the threats of biosphere degradation in the promise of new biospheres. No escape from our own destructive tendencies by spreading out among the stars like seedpods in the wind. For as many epochs in the future as there are epochs of human history in the past, we may simply have to make do, get by with what we have and, in the end, learn to get along.

In light of our shared history, what would you estimate to be the chances of our learning to get along? Not so good!

Ah, but we are not alone, in spite of Dr. Frank’s realistic estimates. God created our cosmos and ever lives as its master. He pierces the vast, lonely void in the person of Jesus Christ to offer us salvation from ourselves, our sin, and our cosmic isolation. He offers us a purpose, a destiny, and, yes, he even offers us the only viable opportunity we will ever have to see what he has made.

I suggest you put down the astronomy book and the science fiction book and pick up the Holy Bible, which contains God’s offer of a relationship that will span the ages and the awesome distances that chill our human hopes. Trust in Jesus Christ, who alone can fill your spiritual void and show you the wonders of all he has made.

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Aurora, Colorado shootings and sin

In the early hours of 7/20/2012, a single man executed a carefully designed plot and killed 17 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The death toll will certainly rise higher in days to come. I have intentionally omitted this man’s name because he deserves shame, not fame. If only the news media would do the same!

People are totally mystified about one question: Why? What mystifies me is that this is still a question. Have we not seen enough wars, enough torture, enough human slavery, enough terrorism and enough mass murder to believe in sin in the human heart? Have we all forgotten the one (unnamed) man who murdered 69 teens in Norway just one year ago (7/22/2011)? It happens over and over; so, how can we not look for real answers instead of dwelling on pretended mysteries?

Okay, so millions do not want to hear what God says. They want to put pictures on Facebook, post their opinions, watch the latest videos, play the latest games or have sex with their latest partner. God has given them the ability to make such choices, and our distracted generations have firmly seized that opportunity. Since they do not want to address the serious issues of life, we should not be surprised when they have no clue about how evil occurs through human agents or how it exists within their own hearts.

In asking why, the public never looks beyond their own insensitivity to God. The biblical Book of Romans describes the situation like this:

28 Just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 3:28–32)

But just as God has described the cause of the shootings in detail, he has also provided a solution for human sin and its horrible consequences:

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8)

On the basis of Christ’s death for our sins, God offers complete amnesty to all who have ignored him in their rebellion and ignorance. But all amnesties have conditions. The condition for God’s amnesty is this:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John  3:16–18)

Sin caused the killings in Aurora. Human sin. Only God can fix what is wrong with humanity. I urge you to accept God’s amnesty by committing your life to Jesus Christ. Give him your allegiance so that you can be part of the solution to human sin rather than part of the problem.

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Exposition of Romans 4:16–17 Grace toward all — faith from all

It is easy to wonder how Paul ever thought he would get Jews and Gentiles together, but Paul had a secret weapon: God. God was the one who wanted the unified worship of every nation, race and language. He did it by extending grace to all and by demanding faith from all.

Many have sought God’s favor by showing how their deeds set them apart. But God’s free act of grace in Christ means his children must share a common faith no matter what their deeds might be.

(NET) Romans 4:16–17 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants– not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed– the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do.

Romans 4:16 is another of those formidable creations by Paul that is best understood by dividing it into its constituent parts. Note the switch to NET, which sticks closer to the Greek text in this verse than ESV does.

(NET) Romans 4:16a “For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace,”

The phrase for this reason points forward, not backward. We might rearrange the sentence to say: “The reason it is by faith is so that it may be by grace.” Critical to Paul’s entire argument is that being declared righteous by God involves faith on our side and grace on God’s side.

The word “it” has twice been italicized in our rearranged sentence so that we may focus our attention on determining what the prior reference might be. Thomas Schreiner says, “The subject could be God’s plan of salvation . . . or the promise . . . but ‘the promised inheritance’ is probably the most comprehensive and precise rendering.”[1]

(NET) Romans 4:16b “with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants– not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all”

Because the promise is grounded on faith, it is certain for all who, when under the law, shared the faith of Abraham, and those who, like Abraham, demonstrated their faith apart from the law. In that way, Abraham is the father of all who receive righteousness by faith. Schreiner says, “Here the intent is to say that the inheritance is available to both Jewish Christians and Gentiles who share the faith of Abraham.”[2] The words “Abraham, who is the father of us all” would have shaken Jews to the core!

John Chrysostom summarizes with great skill: “Here Paul mentions two blessings. The first is that the things which have been given are secured. The second is that they are given to all Abraham’s descendants, including the Gentiles who believe and excluding the Jews who do not.”[3]

(NET) Romans 4:17 “(as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed– the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do.”

In support of his shocking assertion that Abraham is the father of all who believe (4:16b), Paul cites one of God’s promises to Abraham from Genesis 17:5. The clause “He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed” (4:17b) stresses the solemnity of the promise by reminding the reader that God spoke directly to Abraham in naming him the father of many nations.

The final clause — “the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do” (4:17c) — provides a marvelous double-edged meaning. In Abraham’s time, when the promise was made, God made the sexually dead Abraham alive and thus ensured the existence of his countless descendants.

The second meaning affected those to whom Paul wrote and us as well. The two present-tense verbal forms stress that God is still making the dead alive and summoning things that do not exist into reality. What things? For one he is creating a new people of God comprising all Abraham’s descendants and including both believing Jews and Gentiles. This is exactly Paul’s message in Ephesians 2:11–3:6.

What do we have in common?

In previous chapters of Romans, Paul has shown that works are wholly insufficient to achieve salvation. Today he demonstrates deeds are actually irrelevant for salvation. Because salvation is by grace through faith, all who believe come to God in exactly the same way. That commonality is the basis for unity in the church. Whatever differences make one a Jew and another a Gentile do not matter; what makes each a Christian is exactly the same!

1. Who has a right to call themselves a Christian? Who is eligible to call Abraham their spiritual father?

2. Read Ephesians 2:8–10. What role do works play after salvation?

Most of us find it alarmingly easy to focus on our differences. But the narrow gate that leads to life requires each of us to enter on the same basis ? by grace through faith.

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

 


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 231.

[2] Schreiner, Romans, 232.

[3] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 120.

Exposition of Romans 4:13-14 An unqualified promise requires no works

Some of us grew up around churches that had a set of rules which, if violated, meant we could be hell-bound ? so they said. The list contained things like drinking, dancing, wearing makeup, swearing, immodest dress and other such things. (Some of you may need comforting now!)

However, there were a few problems. First, the list seemed to vary a bit from church to church. Second, it was not quite clear whether we went to heaven by keeping the list or whether it only served as a signpost marking the way to hell. Questions about the list were not exactly solicited. :)

Even more puzzling — what did all of that have to do with faith in Jesus?

(ESV) Romans 4:13-14 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. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Since Christians hold ideas that are nowhere recorded in Scripture — such as the three Magi or purgatory — it is no surprise that the Jews of Pauls day did as well. One such bogus idea was that Abraham had obeyed the Law of Moses perfectly before it had been given.[1] [In the following discussion the Hebrew word t?rah is sometimes used to refer to the Law of Moses.]

The Jews did not believe this idea on a whim; it allowed them to claim that one could be Abrahams child only by taking on oneself the yoke of torah.[2] So, the claim about Abraham keeping the torah before there was one was a convenient way of tying together the patriarch who had received the promises from God and the law given through Moses over 430 years later. Yet, in Galatians, Paul argues: The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise (Gal. 3:17, NET).

Of course, the idea that Abraham could obey the law before there was a law has always been ridiculous. For example, Lev. 17:4 requires that a sacrifice be brought to the Tent of Meeting and given to the priest for sacrifice on that spot. But in Abrahams time there was no Tent of Meeting, and the Aaronic priesthood had not yet been established. So, how did that work? This simply shows that you should never be surprised at the creativity of theologians when they float free of the Bible; in that case they are like scientists speaking authoritatively about non-scientific matters. :)

In a way Paul cuts through all these specious theological assumptions by returning to what God originally promised Abraham (Rom. 4:13). The Greek sentence throws the phrase not through the law near the beginning of the sentence to stress the incongruity of the idea that the law had anything to do with the promise. Instead, Paul says the promise came through the righteousness of faith (4:13b).

Now that Paul has expressed his thesis that faith was the basis of the promise to Abraham rather than the law (4:13), he next explains why this is so. Grant Osborne expands the logic of Romans 4:14 by saying: If it were possible to be righteous and thus gain an eternal inheritance on the basis of personal achievement, then faith would be unnecessary. If works and obedience were sufficient, the need for Gods promise would be removed.[3]

The final clause of 4:14 — faith is null and the promise is void (ESV) — has two Greek verbs in the perfect tense. This probably emphasizes the state of affairs that would exist if law-keeping were actually the way of attaining righteousness before God, the premise that Paul denies.[4] Basing righteousness on law-keeping simply throws faith and promise into the trash!

The final clause of 4:14 makes for an interesting study in English translations. NET probably has the most literal translation in relation to the meaning of the Greek verbs:

(NET) faith is empty and the promise is nullified (Rom. 4:14)

We can compare the NETs translation to two other important English translations:

(ESV) faith is null and the promise is void (Rom. 4:14)

(NLT) faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless (Rom. 4:14)

Since the ESV and NLT have strongly different translation philosophies, it is surprising to find them using a similar approach to this clause. Null and . . . void has a nice idiomatic ring in English, uncommon for ESV. NLTs not necessary and . . . pointless uses words that are very powerful from a pragmatic, American viewpoint. Both ESV and NLT run away from the semantic range of the Greek verbs, but they do a superb job of conveying the futility of basing righteousness on the law.

If the law does not bring righteousness, then what does it do? In 4:15 Paul explains what the law does — produces wrath — as opposed to what it cannot do — secure the inheritance.[5] He will develop these ideas more fully in Romans 5:12-14 and 7:7-13. C.K. Barrett captures the essence of Pauls point when he says, Law, though good in itself (7:12, 14) is so closely bound up with sin and wrath that it is unthinkable that it should be the basis of the promise.[6] Faith carries no such baggage.

The clause where there is no law there is no transgression (4:15) does not mean where there is no law there is no sin. On the contrary, the law makes sin all the more grave. Thomas Schreiner says, Transgression of the law involves greater responsibility since the infraction is conscious and therefore involves rebellion against a known standard.[7]

Faith and the law

The primacy of faith in Jesus Christ does not mean that the rules mentioned in the introduction of this lesson are totally without value. In a way more approximate and less authoritative than the Law of Moses, those rules at the start of this lesson were meant to motivate godly behavior, however imperfectly. The confusion sewn about keeping the rules as a way of salvation is less forgivable.

1. There is more to being a good citizen of the U.S. than keeping the laws of your state and the United States. By analogy, what does it take to be a good Christian?

2. Read Ephesians 2:810. How do these verses help clarify the relationship between faith and works? In what way can Ephesians 2:8 be said to constitute a promise to those who put their faith in Jesus?

The tension between grace and law is ancient. What God promises in an unqualified way will come to pass without regard to what we do. What we do truly matters, but we cannot overturn the promises of God. That is cause for rejoicing!

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

 


[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 227.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 273.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 114.

[4] Moo, Romans, 275, footnote 25.

[5] Moo, Romans, 276.

[6] C.K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1957) 95.

[7] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 230.

Exposition of Romans 4:9–10 Study carefully to get it right!

One of the big questions philosophers juggle is “what are the sources of that which we know?” Knowledge comes from a number of sources, but for a Christian, the revelation recorded in the Bible has primacy over all other written sources. An observant Jew would regard the Old Testament with the same esteem we have for the whole.

Even a sitting Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has recently commented on the value of such biblical sources by citing the Jewish Babylonian Talmud, which “instructs with respect to the Scripture: ‘Turn it over, and turn it over, for all is therein.’. . . . Divinely inspired text may contain the answers to all earthly questions . . .”[1]

Presumably, if God has spoken at book length to reveal himself, then he has been careful to say what he means. Since God has used such care, we must sift what he has said with diligence to get it right. Paul said, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

(ESV) Romans 4:9–10  Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 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.

In keeping with accurate interpretation of the Old Testament, Paul challenges his Jewish opponents to go back to Genesis and determine whether Abraham was declared righteous before or after he was circumcised (4:10). By doing so they will find the answer to the question posed in 4:9, which asks: “Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?” If righteousness is available to the uncircumcised (i.e. Gentiles), then being a Jew is not required! Even a Roman Catholic like Justice Scalia would be eligible.

In the second half of 4:9, Paul takes us right back to Genesis 15:6 and repeats his thesis “that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness” (4:9b). In Genesis 17:1, we find that Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised. Going back to Genesis 16:16, we find that Abraham was 86 at the time Ishmael was born. The Jewish interpreters assumed that the events of Genesis 15:6 took place 16 years prior to the birth of Ishmael. By the reckoning of the rabbis, Abraham was declared righteous 29 years prior to being circumcised.[2]

From his biblical analysis, Paul concluded that Abraham was uncircumcised when his faith led God to declare him righteous. Not only did Abraham attain righteousness by faith, but he was not yet qualified to be a Jew at the time!

Facts undercut prejudices

Jesus used similar methods to those of Paul: “A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:25–26). To answer the most serious question life offers, Jesus sent the scribe back to the teaching of the Old Testament. Afterward Jesus evaluated what the scribe said and directed him toward life.

1. If you were paid by $5/word for reading the Bible, how much would you make for what you read last week? What does your answer tell you?

2. When you read something in the Bible that you do not understand, what sources of information do you have to clarify it (e.g. study Bible, Christian websites, friends, a pastor or other)? What incentives could you create to motivate yourself and your children, if any, to read the Bible and find good answers for their questions?

Many times the Gospel writers quote Jesus saying “Have you not read . . .” during his teaching ministry (Matt. 12:3; 12:5; 19:4; 21:16; 21:42; 22:31; Mark 12:26; Luke 6:3). A lot of questions have answers, if you look in God’s Word!

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

 


[1] Caperton v Massey Coal, 556 U.S. ___ (2009), Scalia, J., dissenting.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 235.

Exposition of Romans 4:4-5 Since God provides all, believe him!

A powerful image in late 20th century politics was the welfare-cheat, someone who was getting something for nothing. It was easy to say — and was sometimes true — that people on welfare were not willing to work. They were all cast in a negative light.

In America we have historically believed in self-reliance, hard work, and pulling ourselves up by sheer effort. Our media regularly praise such qualities.

Whatever the political value of these concepts, they present exactly the wrong idea with respect to attaining salvation. In attaining salvation, we are both helpless and ungodly. Gods way of solving our problem demands that we be counter-cultural and substitute his efforts for our own.

(ESV) Romans 4:4-5 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Paul continues his argument concerning Abraham by using common knowledge about the nature of work and wages (4:4). One word that is central to Pauls analysis is the now-familiar verb logizomai which here (4:4) means to determine by mathematical process, reckon, calculate.[1] This verb is the very one used in Genesis 15:6 in the Greek version — called the LXX or Septuagint — that Paul is quoting in Romans 4:3.

We could translate Romans 4:3 by saying, Now to the one who works, his wages are not calculated according to grace but according to obligation. Grace is something freely given, but an obligation is a debt which is owed. Paul forces his Jewish opponents to face the fact that attaining salvation-righteousness by works has the inescapable baggage that it means God owes that righteousness to the one who works. Since Paul knows Jewish theology fiercely rejects the idea of God as debtor, the logic forces his opponents to disavow works as playing any part when God credited (logizomai Gen. 15:6) Abraham with righteousness.

But if works were not pivotal to the reckoning of righteousness to Abraham, what was? The answer is found in Gen. 15:6 when Abraham believed God. C.E.B. Cranfield summarizes the message of Romans 4:4-5 when he says, The best explanation of Pauls exposition of Gen. 15:6 in these two verses would seem to be that which understands it to turn upon the fact that the Genesis verse makes no mention of any work of Abraham but simply refers to his faith.[2]

(ESV) Romans 4:5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

If Romans 4:5 explicitly mentioned the name of Jesus Christ, it might be even more famous than John 3:16. The phrase him [i.e. God] who justifies the ungodly (4:5) is absolutely astounding! Grant Osborne expresses the natural reaction: At first glance this does not seem right. It should be the godly, the pious who should be justified.[3] That would work fine if anyone were pious enough.

Romans 4:5 first forces us to realize that no matter what we think of ourselves, we come to God as those who are ungodly. Second, we see that God can justify the ungodly, declaring them to be righteous. Later Paul will explain how God could possibly justify the ungodly: For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6, NET). That leads us to ask: how can we receive such profound benefit?

Paul says that we the ungodly obtain Gods justification the same way Abraham did. We do not work for it, but believe in the gracious God who made our justification possible through Jesus Christ. Romans 4:5 uses both the verb pisteuo (believes in him) and the noun pistis (his faith is counted as righteousness) to nail down the central importance of faith to our justification.

Remember who is reckoning

The church father Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD) said, The root of righteousness does not spring from works; rather the fruit of works grows from the root of righteousness.[4] So, it is God who provides the way for us to become righteousness, and then our works can honor the one who saved us.

1. How do you think the merciful character of God figures into his counting (or reckoning or crediting) our faith as righteousness?

2. Do you think that the faith God wants from us is merely mental assent to an idea (e.g. Jesus died for my sins), or is there more to it than that? Explain.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 3:23-24, HCSB)

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

 


[1] BDAG-3, logizomai, reckon, q.v.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 231.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 109.

[4] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 112.