Romans chapter 4

Show Notes for Romans 4:1-25

Study Notes

4.1  Romans 4:1-25


4.1  Abraham was Justified by Faith  (4:1-25)


4:1    Abraham
4:1, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?” NIV

I.    Abraham is the forefather of all believers [not just Jews]
“Abraham, our forefather” NIV

II.    Jewish tradition had taught that Abraham was the epitome of what it meant to be Jewish

i.    According to tradition God chose Abraham because he was the only righteous man of his time (based on deeds, not faith)

III.  We all need to learn what Abraham discovered about righteousness


4:2    A Wrong Assumption
4:2, “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God.” NIV

Definition:  “But not before God”
Or, “But this is not how God sees him.”  That is, if Abraham was justified by works, then he could boast, but in God’s eyes Abraham was not justified by works.

I.    Wrong with good intentions is still wrong
“If Abraham was justified by works” NRSV

i.    The Jews were trying to earn God’s approval [well intentioned, or arrogantly]

ii.    Misguided efforts, well intentioned or not, need to be corrected

II.    The intent of “working to be good enough” is based on wrong assumptions
“He has something to boast about” NRSV

i.    It assumes that we can cause God to owe us something, as though it were possible for God to be in debt

ii.    It fails to recognize the depth of human sinfulness

iii.    It displays disregard for God’s holiness and authority

III.    The error: Jews believed that Abraham was justified (and had every reason to boast) because his obedience to God made him righteous
“He has something to boast about” NRSV

i.    As Abraham’s descendants, they believed they had reasons for pride

IV.    We have no reason for pride before God
“But not before God” NIV

i.    The Jews did not have special status of lineage based on someone’s historical action of causing God to be in debt


4:3    Affirmative Response
4:3, “What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.””

Definition:  “Abraham believed God”
Jews of Paul’s day held that Abraham was justified by his deeds, his sinlessness, and they used Genesis 15:6 as the supreme proof of this fact.  According to Rabbi Shemaiah (about 50 BC), God had said, “The faith with which their father Abraham believed in me merits that I should divide the sea for them, as it is written: “And he believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness.”

The Jews regarded Abraham’s faith as the greatest of his many meritorious works.  Paul insisted that 1) Abraham was not sinless, and 2) Abraham’s faith did not earn righteousness but moved God to gift him with righteousness.  Abraham’s occasional lapses did not forfeit Abraham’s righteousness because perfect performance had not earned that righteousness.

I.    It was Abraham’s faith [his affirmative response to God’s promise] that was credited as righteousness

II.    It is submission to God that causes the favourable response from God, “Now, that’s good!”


4:4    Role Reversal
4:4, “Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due” NRSV

I.    If salvation were given according to performance, God would be obligated to us

II.    If God were obligated to us our roles would be reverse: God would become our servant and we would be divine.


4:5    Clarifying Justification
4:5, “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” NIV

Definition:  “Credited” and “Count”
(4:3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24)  “Counted,” “reckoned,” and “imputed” in KJV.  This word from the marketplace means “to put to someone’s account.”  Both gifts and wages are credited to a person’s account (4:4).

I.    God’s justification is not based on good or evil actions

II.    Abraham was not justified based on his performance


4:6    Similarity
4:6, “David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:” NIV

I.    Just as forgiveness comes by grace, righteousness comes by faith


4:7-8    Perfectly Effective
4:7-8, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. [8] Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”

I.    Effort and good performance does not remove sin, but grace perfectly does
“Blessed are those… whose sins are covered” NKJV

II.    Personal experience is subordinate to the eternal reality of God’s grace


4:9    Not by the Law
4:9, “Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.” NIV

I.    Forgiveness and grace do not depend on rituals (ie, circumcision)
“Is this blessedness only for the circumcised?” NIV

II.    Faith is not based on observance of the Law
“Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness” NIV

i.    The term “circumcised” refers to the whole law because it implies a desire to live under the Law’s demands


4:10    Context
4:10, “Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!”  NIV

Definition:  “Not after, but before”
God pronounced Abraham righteous (Genesis 15:6) some fourteen years before he was circumcised (Genesis 17:23-24).

I.    The Bible can only be truly understood when we read it in context
“Credited … after he was circumcised, or before?” NIV

i.    God called Abraham in Genesis 12, declared him righteous in Genesis 15, then introduced the circumcision ceremony in Genesis 17 (when Abraham was 99).

II.    In the case of Abraham, context teaches us that justification has always come by faith


4:11    A Sign is not a Road
4:11, “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.” NIV

I.    A sign or seal cannot be confused as the means (ie, circumcision did not cause righteousness)
“A seal of the righteousness that he had by faith” NRSV

II.    Faith precedes and supersedes signs and seals (ie, circumcision)
“Father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised” NKJV


4:12    The First Example
4:12, “And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” NIV

I.    Because Abraham set the example of placing faith in God, all who place faith in God can call him “forefather”
“Also the father of the circumcised” NIV

II.    There is no substitution that replaces faith in God

III.    We imitate Abraham’s example when we place our faith in God
“Walk in the steps of the faith” NKJV

i.    The faith we need to imitate is the faith that Abraham had before he was circumcised


4:13    Large Promise with Large Obstacles
4:13, “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” NIV

Definition:  “Through law”
On the basis of fully obeying God’s Law in the future.

I.    Abraham believed God’s impossibly large promise despite impossibly large obstacles
“Not through law that Abraham… received the promise” NIV

II.    God’s promise that Abraham would be heir of the world is implicitly stated in the Old Testament

i.  Many descendants

ii.  Possession of Canaan

iii.  A medium of blessing to all the people of the earth

4:14    Unconditional Promise
4:14, “For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless,” NIV

Definition:  “Live by law”
Base their claim to inheritance on fully obeying the Law.

I.    The Law came four hundred years after the promise, therefore, living by the Law could not be a condition to the promise


4:15    The Law’s Wrath
4:15, “because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.” NIV

I.    The Law’s function is to reveal sinfulness and impose penalties
“Law brings wrath” NIV

II.    Lack of Law would result in a lack of judgment
“There is no law, neither is there violation” NRSV

i.    If no one defines right and wrong, then no one knows the difference, and no one can sin.

ii.    In terms of the gospel, if the punishment required by the law is diverted to Christ, then we are judged “not guilty”


4:16    By Faith Alone
4:16, “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” NIV

I.    The promise refers to those who will follow Abraham’s example of faith
“The promise comes by faith… by grace… guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring” NIV

II.    Because Abraham is the initial example of justification by faith, he is considered the father of all who follow his example
“Father of us all” NKJV

III.    Abraham’s example shows us that salvation comes by faith in Christ alone (ie, faith in Christ plus nothing)


4:17    The Initial Plan
4:17, “As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” NIV

Definition:  “Who gives life to the dead”
Abraham believed that God could bring life from Sarah’s dead womb (Romans 4:19) and that if he sacrificed his son Isaac in obedience to God, then God would raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill His promise of descendants through Isaac (Genesis 22).

Definition:  “Calls things that are not”
Abraham knew that God created the world from nothing and could create a son and a myriad of nations from what looked like nothing.

I.    From the beginning, God’s plan of salvation which began with Abraham extended beyond the Jews to all the nations of the world
“I have made you a father of many nations” NKJV

II.    Paul’s description of God is consistent with how the Jews have always understood God, thus, Paul’s point is that salvation by faith has been God’s plan from the beginning
“The God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” NIV


4:18-19    Abraham’s Belief
4:18-19, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” [19] Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” NIV

I.    In faith, Abraham believed…
“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed” NIV

i.    Abraham realized that God’s ability was greater then circumstances

ii.    Abraham’s faith was not an irrational decision, but rather a deliberate choice to place his confidence in God

iii.    Abraham had only God’s promise to hold on to


4:20  Abraham’s Trust
4:20, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,” NIV

I.  Abraham took God at His word and committed to his decision to believe

II.  Abraham could not offer God more then simple trust, yet God accepted his trust

III. Abraham’s faith increased with experience as he repeatedly acted upon trust

4:21    Consistency
4:21, “being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” NRSV

I.    Abraham consistently trusted God, obeyed God, and waited for God to keep His word


4:22  Fully Convinced
4:22, “This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.””

I.  Faith is being fully convinced and relying on nothing but God


4:23  Our Abraham Faith
4:23, “The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone,”

I.  If we follow the example of Abraham by exercising the same kind of faith he exercised we will also be acceptable to God
“Not for him alone” NIV


4:24    God’s Word
4:24, “but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”

I.    God’s Word is trustworthy
“But also for us” NKJV

i.    Paul challenges the original readers (and us) to base hope on the written Word

ii.    God’s transaction with Abraham is universally valid: it was preserved in Scripture for later generations to read

II.    God’s Word is a record of who God is and how He relates to His people
“Who believe in him”

i.    God wants to deal with current readers on the same basis – faith

III.    Paul is directing readers to the same kind of faith that Abraham had, but the object of that faith is Jesus [the fulfillment that Abraham never saw]
“Who raised up Jesus our Lord form the dead” NKJV


4:25    The Effective Jesus
4:25, “Who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” NRSV

Definition:  “Delivered… sins… raised… justified”
“For” here means “on account of.”  Jesus was delivered to death in order to atone for our sins, and He was raised to guarantee our justification and encourage us to put faith in that justification.  Of course, Paul doesn’t mean that Christ’s death had nothing to do with justification, nor that He resurrection had nothing to do with atonement.

I.    Jesus took the penalty we deserved by His death, and proved that His death was effective to make us right before God by His resurrection.




Abraham is our forefather.  That is a difficult phrase to understand simply taken at face value, because clearly we are not related to Abraham if we are not Jewish.  Yet, lineage is the key point of misunderstanding.  Abraham discovered that righteousness comes by faith, not by deeds.  God does not declare actions righteous, because righteousness is not a matter of good and evil.  Righteousness is an affirmative response to God’s promise, and a submission to Him.  When we submit to God, in essence God says to us, “Now, that’s good!”  Abraham set the example of placing faith in God.  When we place our faith in God and exercise the same kind of faith that Abraham exercised we follow in Abraham’s footsteps and can be called children of Abraham.

The common misconception is that Abraham was awarded righteousness based on his deeds [as measured by the Law].  However, when we read Scripture in context we learn that Abraham was declared righteous before the law was given, and before the sign of circumcision was given (the sign that God had identified and sealed him has a righteous man in a covenant relationship with Him).  Abraham could not have been declared righteous by observing the Law when the law was to be introduced about 400 years after he died.  From the beginning, Abraham had faith in God apart from observing any part of the Law at all.  The faith that Abraham had (while he was still a Gentile) is the same kind of faith that God wants from us.