Section 6: Salvation – Part 1
Week 4: Justification – God’s Declaration of Our Righteousness
Day 2: Justification Isn’t Based on Anything We Do
We saw yesterday that justification is a declaration by God of our righteousness. How does one go about obtaining such a declaration from God? To answer that question, in Romans 4, Paul takes a look at the life Abraham. God called Abraham from his homeland in the city of Ur and told him to go to a place God would show him. Having no idea what was in store for him, but trusting God, Abraham packed up and left because God told him to. At the time, Abraham and his wife Sara were childless and well past the age where they could expect children. Yet God promised Abraham He would give him a son. In fact, God promised to make him into a great nation and to even bless all the nations through him. Abraham trusted God, and God fulfilled those promises. Abraham and Sara had a son named Isaac. Then Isaac had a son named Jacob who had 12 sons who would become the 12 tribes of Israel, which – true to God’s word – eventually became a great nation. And from Abraham’s line, Jesus was born, through whom all the nations are blessed.
Because of his faith in God’s promises, today we tend to think of Abraham as a great man of faith. But at the time Paul wrote, the Jews focused much more on what he did. In fact, tradition held that Abraham had perfectly obeyed God’s Law.[i]
If anyone could be declared righteous, it had to be Abraham. So Paul asks what was Abraham’s experience? Paul writes in verses 1-2: “What then shall we say that our forefather Abraham discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works he had something to boast about.” In other words, if God had declared Abraham righteous because of all of his good works, then he would have something to boast about. Abraham could point to those good works and take pride that he had earned salvation because of them.
But Paul reminds his readers Abraham was not justified because of his works. To verify this, in verse 3, Paul quotes from Genesis 15. “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness”. If Abraham’s good works had made him righteous, he could have been credited with righteousness even without faith. The fact that Abraham was credited with righteousness only because he had faith means his good works did not put him in a right relationship with God.
Even though Abraham was better than most, his good works were not enough. He still did not deserve to be declared righteous. Why? God is holy and hates any sin. A right relationship with him requires that we obey him perfectly. Despite the tradition, not even Abraham had obeyed God perfectly. As a result, sin prevented Abraham from being in a right relationship with God. Because Abraham did not have righteousness of his own, he needed God to credit righteousness to his account for him.
Why is that such an important truth to grasp? Well, for one thing, we need to place our trust in what Christ has done and we can’t do that unless we’ve let go of the delusion that our good works are somehow good enough to save us. This fundamental truth, however, also has a lot to do with the depth of gratitude we ought to have for the gift God has given us.
Imagine you’re going through the drive-through and the person ahead of you pays for your meal. Cool! You’d no doubt we thankful. But how thankful would you be? The fact of the matter is you would have been able to pay for the meal yourself. Your need, therefore, wasn’t that great. But what if desperately needed that meal? What if you had no money and hadn’t eaten anything substantial for several days and neither had your kids? What if someone paid for your meal then? Would your gratitude be greater in the first or second scenario? It would no doubt be significantly greater in the second because your need was significantly greater.
The same is true when it comes to what God has done for us. The greater our appreciation of the need, the greater our appreciation of the gift.
Why do you think Paul uses Abraham as an example in this passage? What does Abraham’s experience say about your need for Christ?
Take a moment to thank God for saving you by doing what you could not.
[i] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (1996), 256.