Last week we were introduced to the concept of justification. Justification refers to the forgiveness of a person’s sins and the pardon of their judgment. When an individual accepts Jesus by faith unto salvation, God graciously places their sin and punishment on Christ’s account. He further exchanges the righteousness of Jesus for the unrighteousness of the sinner, thereby removing any hindrance between the new believer and God. This glorious transaction is known as justification, the full acquittal of a person based upon the merit of Christ Jesus.
We further learned that justification results in reconciliation, which is the restoration of one’s relationship with God. When the barrier of sin is removed, the relationship between man and God is renewed. This reunion leads to regeneration, or new birth, as the Holy Spirit indwells the new believer. The residence of the Spirit within a person produces spiritual life and vibrancy. The old creation becomes a new creation, saved and secured by the mighty hand of the Lord.
All of this takes place when someone places their faith in Christ. But what about those who lived prior to the incarnation of Jesus? Historically the Jews had followed God, and were known the world over as His chosen people. For centuries they expressed faith in the LORD, yet had not seen the promised Messiah. Could they receive salvation having never actually accepted Jesus Christ specifically?
In chapter 4 of Romans, Paul cites Abraham as an example of someone who had a saving faith prior to the atoning work of the cross. He describes how the faith of the Old Testament saints resulted in justification and salvation even before the advent of Christ, just as it does now for those who place their faith in Him.
We will explore this chapter in a 2-part message called “The Faith of Abraham”. We will begin today with Part 1 and conclude next Sunday with Part 2. Let’s begin...
I. FAITH CREDITS RIGHTEOUSNESS (Romans 4:1-5)
Paul has already shown in the latter half of chapter 3 that salvation comes as a result of faith alone, completely “apart from works”. He now applies this truth to the father of the Jewish nation, the great patriarch Abraham. Even Abraham was not justified by his works, and thus had no reason or basis upon which to boast. He also was saved by faith just as the New Testament Christians were. But how?
Scripture says that Abraham believed or had faith in God, and “it was credited to him as righteousness”. Remember that Paul is using the words righteousness and unrighteousness to describe one’s condition of being before God, and thus we can understand this phrase to mean that Abraham’s faith resulted in his right standing before the LORD. The conclusion is this that faith alone was responsible for Abraham’s justification, not works of the flesh. Again we are reminded, this forgiveness and pardon of sin is the undeserved gift of God.
Have you ever bought something using a credit card? The idea is that you can go ahead and acquire that which you’ve purchased, although you have not yet paid for it in full. Credit allows you to make payments over time to pay off expensive items that you may not be able to buy outright. The credit card company or bank trusts that you will eventually pay them back (with interest) for purchasing the item for you. This explanation is helpful in understanding what Paul is teaching.
The righteousness of Abraham was “credited” to him, meaning that he acquired it even though it had not yet been paid for. God applied the righteousness of Christ to Abraham, trusting that Jesus would pay for it when the appropriate time came. Jesus’ cry from the cross, “It is finished!” actually translates “Paid in full”. Jesus paid off the sin debt of those who lived before His coming, along with those living at the time and all who would live in the future. We call this redemption.
II. FAITH INVITES A BLESSING (Romans 4:6-8)
Though still referring to Abraham, Paul quotes one of the songs of King David - specifically Psalm 32:1. In this verse, David describes three specific actions. The first is forgiveness of sins, the second is covering of sins, and the third is not taking sins into account. Let’s take a moment to apply each of these actions to Abraham.
First, God completely forgave his sins. How? By reckoning them to Christ, who bore the sin of all mankind. Second, God did not hold Abraham accountable for his sins. Why? Because Jesus would assume the accountability for them instead. Third, God would cover the sins or “blot them out”. How? By imputing or crediting the righteousness of Christ to Abraham. And what do these 3 actions depict? Justification - perfectly described in the Old Testament centuries before Paul even wrote the book of Romans. Thus, the doctrine of justification is not limited to the New Testament alone.
We must recognize that righteousness comes as a blessing of God. It is given to us as an act of His goodness and grace. Salvation is not something that we have earned, that we are entitled to, or that we deserve in any way. It is granted to those who place their faith in Him solely on the basis of Christ’s merit. As believers, we should understand that we are recipients of God’s blessing and should live accordingly.
III. FAITH APPLIES TO EVERYONE (Romans 4:9-12)
Spurred by the voice of God, Abram left his homeland and journeyed to Canaan. There the LORD promised him a son through whom the nation of Israel would be established. In Genesis 15:6 Moses writes that Abram wholeheartedly believed that God would make good on His promise, and this belief was credited to Him as righteousness. This preceded the changing of Abram’s name to Abraham and the institution of the covenant of circumcision some years later (described Genesis 17). Thus, the righteousness of Abraham was reckoned to him while he was still uncircumcised!
Seeing that Abraham was justified and saved though not circumcised, so also are all Gentiles who place their faith in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Abraham remained saved following his circumcision and thereby demonstrates that the Jew also is saved by faith. Whether Jew or Gentile, circumcised or not, faith is the requirement for salvation - not works. Abraham may be considered the “Father of the Jews”, but his testimony of faith applies to all non-Jews as well.
To the Jews there is no person more significant that Abraham. He had been highly regarded for centuries as the patriarch of their nation. It is understandable that, in light of the necessity to receive salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, some might wonder about those folks like Abraham who never actually knew of Jesus specifically. How could such a person be saved, especially seeing as they died before the atonement for man’s sin on the cross? And if Abraham wasn’t saved, why would any Jew give credence to this new doctrine?
Paul’s answer regarding Abraham’s salvation is the same as it is for those who know Jesus personally - by justification through faith. Old Testament Christians may not have known or even heard of the name Jesus, yet they looked forward to a coming Messiah nonetheless. Their faith was much more than a mere acknowledgment of the existence of God, but rather formed the foundation of a relationship that depended on Him. Men like Abraham, Moses, David, and others walked closely with God and trusted Him to deliver them from their sinfulness. Thus, they were saved by faith in the same way that we are today.
It helps to remembers that God is timeless. This is a difficult concept for us because all we know is “time”. We understand the universe in terms of the clock, yet the work of God transcends time. Eternity does not only extend forward into time but also backwards, applying to all moments past, present, and future. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross covered all sin for all time, including those who lived prior to it’s happening. From the beginning God foreknew that the Lord would pay the debt of sin at some point, and thus it was just for Him to “credit faith as righteousness” for Abraham and others.