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Credited As Righteous (4:1-12)

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It is difficult to change one’s beliefs. The longer a person has held a particular belief, the harder it is to give it up. Perhaps one of the most difficult beliefs to change is the idea that we can please God and rescue ourselves from the consequences of sin by our own efforts. Our pride keeps us from admitting that we are helpless in the face of sin and we need someone to redeem us from it.

The Jewish people face an additional barrier to accepting the idea that they need a Redeemer. Though one of the purposes of the Law of Moses was to demonstrate that we are incapable of meeting God’s standards; though the Law itself points to the coming of a Redeemer, the Jews have trouble accepting that the Law cannot make them right with God.

To help us understand these two concepts, that is that neither our own good works nor a system of Law can make us right with God, the Apostle Paul gives the illustration of Abraham. The Jews revere Abraham as the “father of the faithful” and the forefather of their nation. That he was pleasing to God is beyond dispute. Therefore, by looking at his example we can learn how we also can please God.

In verses 1 through 12 of chapter 4 of his inspired letter to the church at Rome, Paul writes, “What then will we say that Abraham, our forefather, has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not toward God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the reward is not counted as grace, but as something owed. But to him who doesn’t work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. Even as David also pronounces blessing on the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whom the Lord will by no means charge with sin.” Is this blessing then pronounced on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it counted? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was in uncircumcision, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they might be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might also be accounted to them. He is the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had in uncircumcision.”

We humans like to boast about our good works: We have given this amount of money to this cause; we have fed that number of people who were hungry. We even boast about the evil we didn’t do: We had the opportunity to cheat somebody, yet refrained from doing so. But Paul points out an important truth. Even if we refrained from doing what is wrong all the time; even if we did what is good all the time, we still would not have any right to boast before God. The reason is that when we do good or refrain from evil, we are only doing what God expects. We have done nothing meritorious or deserving of God’s praise.

If even perfection does not give us the right to boast before God, then how much less do we have the right when we have not lived up to God’s standards! As Paul pointed out previously, there is not a single one of us who has not sinned. Not one of us has been able to keep God’s laws, let alone do more than God requires of us.

Paul likens our situation to that of an employee. If a man does the work for which we hired him, we are obligated to pay him the wages we agreed upon. In addition, he has no reason to boast for he has only done what he was supposed to do. However, if the man does not do the work we contracted him to do, then he does not deserve his wages. If we are going to pay him, it will be on some other basis or principle than obligation.

It is the same way with God. We have not done what we should, therefore we have no reason to boast and God is not obligated to us. If He grants us eternal life it will be on a different principle than our good works. What is that principle? It is the principle of faith. Paul quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures to establish that it was not because of Abraham’s good works, but because of his faith that God declared him righteous.

Abraham was not the only one whom God declared righteous on the basis of his faith. Paul quotes from the Psalms to illustrate that this is a universal principle. God not only credited righteousness to Abraham, but to everyone who believes. It is not our good works, but our faith which saves us from the consequences of our sin.

People not only boast about their good deeds, they also boast about their ancestry. They are proud to have Abraham as their forefather. They reason that if God considered Abraham righteous, then his physical descendants must also be righteous in God’s estimation. Since God commanded circumcision for Abraham, then circumcision must make his children righteous too.

However, Paul points out that people who think like this have things backwards. God declared Abraham righteous before he was circumcised. It was not circumcision which made Abraham righteous. Rather it was because of Abraham’s faith that God declared him righteous. It was his faith which caused him to obey God’s command about circumcision. Circumcision was the result, not the cause of Abraham’s righteousness.

In the same way, it is not a physical mark which makes us righteous today. All we have to do is look around us to know that many people are very wicked in spite of the fact that they have been circumcised. Nor, does physical ancestry going back to Abraham make us righteous. Instead, it is the kind of faith that Abraham had which God is looking for in us. If we have Abraham’s faith, then God will declare us righteous just as He did Abraham. It is those who have faith who are the true descendants of Abraham, regardless of whether they are circumcised or not, regardless of whether they are Abraham’s physical children or not.

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. If you would like to know more about this, listen to our next program.