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Romans 4 Study Notes

Here are my notes from our Bible study on Romans 4, along with a video! Enjoy!

Romans 4

So Paul’s argument that all the world is guilty before God concluded in chapter 3 with the fact that we are saved by grace alone, through faith. Now in chapter 4 we’ll read a new argument about faith going all the way back to Abraham to show that this isn’t a new doctrine but was found in the OT.

On this chapter Adam Clarke has this to say, “The apostle, having proved in the foregoing chapter that neither Jews nor Gentiles have a right to the blessing of God's peculiar kingdom, otherwise than by grace, which is as free for the one as the other, in this chapter advances a new argument to convince the Jew, and to show the believing Gentile, in a clear light, the high value and strong security of the mercies freely bestowed on them in the Gospel; and, at the same time, to display the scheme of Divine providence, as laid in the counsel and will of God.” – Great summary.

1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

To the jew, who called Abraham father, they thought his obedience to circumcision was the critical attribute for being a child of God. They placed huge emphasis on circumcision. So Paul answers this objection.

He says if Abraham were justified by works (i.e., circumcision) then he would have reason to boast in himself and his own works. I’m not a fan of John Calvin but he expresses this point well and says, “If Abraham was justified by his works, he might boast of his own merits. But he has no ground of boasting before God. Therefore he was not justified by works.”

3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

Genesis 15:6. The word “counted” is the same word translated as “imputed” down in verse 22.

4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

This is a great verse that’s easy to just skip over but it makes a big point. IF one were able to earn salvation by their works, then God would OWE them something. If we could do good works to achieve salvation then we would have a claim on God, and God would be indebted to us! An outrageous idea.

5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

So to the man who doesn’t rely on his own works, but seeks justification by faith, his faith will be counted for righteousness.

6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7 saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

Moving briefly from the example of Abraham, Paul quotes David from the 32nd Psalm to again show that salvation by faith alone isn’t a NT concept. The whole theme of that Psalm is to show that God has pardoned the man who asks for forgiveness and trusts in the Lord.

1 John 1:9 is a great verse that goes along with Psalm 32: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

Does this grace and righteousness come from God come upon Jew and Gentile alike in the same way? Or, as the judaizers maintained (see Galatians), do you still need to be circumcised before faith can save you?

10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.

And that answers the question! Abraham, who again the Jews held in very high regard, was credited with righteousness in Genesis 15, and wasn’t told to get circumcised until chapter 17. So our justification comes by way of faith completely independent of any work or ritual we could do.

When reading this chapter people often bring up the supposed contradiction between this chapter and James chapter 2. Here we read that Abraham was justified by faith apart from the law, yet James 2:21 reads, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” This may seem like a “problem” but it’s actually very simple. Context counts: Abraham was counted as being righteous by God for his faith – that’s exactly what Romans 4 here is talking about. This imputation of righteousness happened many years before Isaac was even born. The “work” of Abraham when he offered Isaac on the altar was a demonstration of that faith, it was the fruit of his faith. And obviously these two chapters, Romans 4 & James 2, are describing totally different events making different points. The whole message of James 2 is to show your faith by works; it’s a message to already saved people. Abraham was “justified” in the sense that he proved his faith as an already saved person. It’s pretty simple but many people get confused on this.

Adam Clarke says, “Did not the conduct of Abraham, in offering up his son Isaac on the altar, sufficiently prove that he believed in God, and that it was his faith in him that led him to this extraordinary act of obedience?”

11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: 12 and the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

Paul concludes that both Jew and Gentile are saved in the same way. For believers, we can say that Abraham is our father through faith. Thomas Coke writes, “The whole of the Apostle's argument in this chapter proves, that we believing Gentiles are the seed of Abraham, to whom, as well as to himself, the promise was made.”

We read about this in Galatians as well when Paul writes a whole letter basically to refute the judaizers who were saying you needed to be a circumcised jew FIRST then you could be a Christian.

Galatians 3:6-9 says, “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”

At the end of Galatians 3, verse 29 we read, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Now let’s look at the next verse back in Romans 4, verse 13:

13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

The promise to Abraham that he should be heir of the world wasn’t through flesh or through the law but simply by faith. So that we, by faith, are “joint-heirs with Christ” and we will reign with Him 1,000 years!

14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

The law doesn’t overrule or nullify the law of faith. The law was given as a temporary thing, but faith was before that and faith remains after that. Abraham was the example given but we can even go back to Enoch in Genesis 5. Hebrews 11 mentions him and says, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.”

15 because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

Paul expounds on this idea more in Romans 7. In verse 7 of that chapter the Bible reads, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” That’s the purpose of the law.

The Pulpit Commentaries say this, “The idea that law simply declares what is right, and requires conformity to it; it does not give either power to obey, or atonement for not obeying. Hence, in itself, it worketh, not righteousness, but wrath; for man becomes fully liable to wrath when he comes to know, through law, the difference between right and wrong.”

16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,

Because the law works wrath, righteousness and promise is of faith for both Jew and Gentile. Martin Luther says, “The true children of Abraham are the believers in Christ from all nations.”

17 (as it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. 18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.

This refers to Genesis 17:5, and note it says “MANY nations” meaning not the Jews only but all them which have faith in Christ Jesus as Paul is explaining here. Galatians 3 and 4 talk about this even more.

19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: 20 he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

The faith of Abraham triumphed over the difficulties of his age and Sara’s age. This is the belief of Abraham (belief and faith is the same word in the Greek btw) that caused God to impute righteousness unto him.

23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24 but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

The meaning here is pretty clear, right? The things about Abraham’s faith weren’t just written for him but for us as well since our righteousness is imputed the same way as Abraham’s: By faith! Dr. Bill Mounce says, “God’s entire redemptive plan is summarized in this final verse of chap. 4.” That’s the gospel! And in this chapter we have a lot of answers given to us about the means of our salvation.

Finally, on this chapter and especially the last few verses that we read, Dr. Constable writes, “It serves to show that justification has always come because of faith toward God and not because the sinner obeyed God’s law. This was true before Jesus Christ died as well as after. Faith is the only way by which anyone has ever received justification from God.”


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