A Devotional Commentary on Romans 4

To read the previous commentary click here: Chapter 3

I highly recommend you download and read the PDF version here of this commentary as it contains extra annotations and the bible passage alongside the commentary: Devotional Commentary on Romans 4


ROMANS 4:1-6 – ESV

1What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:


ROMANS 4:1-6 – Commentary

Verses 1-3: Paul focuses now on Abraham. If it is that Abraham was justified by works and keeping the law it would work against Paul’s argument so far. However, Paul’s thesis is that Abraham’s righteousness is through faith.

Verses 4-5: If you could earn righteousness, it wouldn’t be grace—it would be your due. However, God justifies the ἀσεβῆ (asebē) “ungodly”—literally, those without respect of what is holy. His faith is λογίζεται (logizetai) “reckoned or counted” to him as righteousness. Where we get the English root for “logic or logical”. Properly it means to “compute, take into account, or reason to a logical conclusion.” So how is faith computed as a logical conclusion to the ungodly as righteousness?


ROMANS 4:7-12 – ESV

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.


ROMANS 4:7-12 – Commentary

Verses 7-8: Paul quotes Psalm 32:1-2 which says that the one whose lawless deeds are forgiven, sins are covered and whom God doesn’t count his sin against him is blessed. This “blessing” is a righteousness counted to him not just apart from his works, but in spite of them! How is God just to do this though? Paul will answer this question at the end of the chapter. If you continue to read, verses 3-5 of the Psalm are a beautiful description of conviction of sin leading to repentance, confession and forgiveness:

“For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
(Ps. 32:3-5)

Verse 9: Paul poses another question regarding the scope of this blessing from verses 5-8. Was it just for the Jews?

Verse 10-12: Answers that question. It was counted to him before circumcision and thus not dependent on circumcision. Therefore, circumcision, much like baptism, was the sign/seal of what already took place. So we see that the righteousness Abraham received was not because he was circumcised, and thus it could be available to all—so he is the father of the faith of both the Jews and Gentiles who have come to faith through Christ.


ROMANS 4:13-17 – ESV

13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.


ROMANS 4:13-17 – Commentary

Verse 13: The promise comes from the righteousness of or from faith not the law.

Verses 14-15: The law cannot bring the promise, only wrath because by it we become transgressors of the law because we all have sinned (3:23). But doing away with the law doesn’t solve the problem either since then there is no transgression and thus no need for justification by faith. Also, as Paul had stated earlier, even without the written law, the law on people’s hearts and common knowledge of God through creation renders all people inexcusable (chapter 1).

Verse 16: The promise then by faith rests on grace which is accessible to all and thus opens it up not just to the Jews but to everyone who believes.

Verse 17: This is how Abraham can be the Πατέρα πολλῶν ἐθνῶν (Patera pollōn ethnōn) “The father of many nations”. The word ἐθνῶν (ethnōn)—where we derive ethnicity, ie. Ethnic groups or nations. If salvation was only to the Jews—to whom the law was given—Abraham would only be the father of the Jewish nation. However, through faith he is the father of many nations as God’s people are those who come to faith in Christ regardless of ethnicity.

God giving life to the dead and calling into existence what didn’t exist is exactly what happens at salvation. God makes us who were spiritually dead alive in Christ (Eph 2:1-10) and calls into existence faith and a new nature which were not there before.


ROMANS 4:18-25 – ESV

18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.


ROMANS 4:18-25 – Commentary

Verses 19-21: This extolling of his faith can seem weird since we know this was not the case. Abraham doubted. However, his faith held not because he was so amazing but because of what God had done to make him πληροφορηθεὶς (plērophorētheis)—Aorist Passive Participle—“fully convinced.” The passive voice of this word showing this was an action done to Abraham—not something he did for himself. So it may be better translated “having been fully convinced.” This compound word joins plḗrēs—”full” and phérō—”carry or bring”. It is used of God’s power bringing the believer to maximum potential, matching their true knowledge of Him (cf. 1 Cor 12:13). It is often translated “giving full-assurance,” but it properly means “bearing (wearing) the work of God to the fullest extent.” That is, to the full capacity of the individual believer who is “fully persuaded” by Him. The reason ultimately then why he hoped against hope, didn’t weaken in faith or waver but grew in faith was because God had done it in him by taking him through these situations and showing His own faithfulness to fully persuade and convince Abraham that He would fulfil His promise.

Verse 22: That’s why—because at the end of the day it was God working in him.

Verses 24-25: Just as for Abraham, this promise and blessing is for us also as Gentiles (non-Jews) through faith in Jesus. This answers the question raised in verses 4-8.


Reflection:

            Paul takes his argument now to the forefather of the Jewish faith, Abraham. If Paul can show that justification was by faith and not by works of the law even from Abraham, he would show that the Gospel was not a contradiction of the OT, but rather the fulfillment of it. Paul uses Genesis 15:6 to show that it was Abraham’s faith which was counted as righteousness to him. God justifies the ungodly by counting their faith to them as righteousness. But how is this possibly just? It is just because it is not their righteousness which is being credited to their account, but rather Jesus’. It is part of the great exchange—Jesus has our sins counted to Him and we have His righteousness counted to us. This is why it is not just the crucifixion of Christ which is important (to pay for sin) but also His sinless life (which is His righteousness earned and credited to us). This is how faith can be λογίζεται (logizetai) “counted as a logical conclusion” to us as righteousness. Oh what joy to the unrighteous that we are counted righteous apart from works!

            Paul addresses another question—is this blessing of justification apart from works limited only to those descendents of Abraham by blood? He shows that Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness to him before he was circumcised and that circumcision was in fact the sign which sealed that covenant of faith. This was so that the promise would be open to not only the Jews (circumcised) but also the Gentiles (uncircumcised). The promise comes not through the law—which brings wrath due to our inability to keep it perfectly—but rather through faith which rests on God’s grace to justify the unrighteous through Christ’s work on the Cross. The law then was our schoolmaster, showing us our sin and increasing the trespass, bringing us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). So then, because it rests on grace through faith, it is open to all people of every nation and thus Abraham becomes the father of many nations!

            However, if Paul had left it only to our own ability to believe or have faith, we still may fall away—for how easily do we doubt? Paul reminds us of Abraham’s faith, which—though he was doubtful—was made complete and sustained by God who had fully convinced him that He would keep His promise to him. Therefore, this promise that “it was counted to him” is for us also—as we believe in the Gospel, secured in the fact that God Himself upholds us and keeps us in the faith by His Divine power and providence. This is the glorious doctrine of the Perseverance or Preservation of the Saints! Our confidence therefore does not lie in any way in ourselves but in God who justifies the ungodly. Thank be to God!


Prayer:

            Lord thank You for your plan of redemption even from the time of Abraham to justify the ungodly. I know that in light of your perfect law my sins are ever before me. So have mercy on me according to your steadfast love and abundant mercy whereby you blotted out my transgressions through the blood of Your beloved Son, Jesus. Lord wash me thoroughly from my sins that I may continually glorify Your Name. Thank You that You made salvation available to us all and showed us through Abraham that Your plan of salvation has always been based on Your goodness and faithfulness, not our own. It is not limited to our ethnic pedigree or religious piety, but freely and graciously bestowed on all those from every tribe and tongue which You have redeemed to the praise of Your Name.

            To the only wise God, to the One from Whom salvation comes, to the merciful and gracious Saviour Who justifies the ungodly, Who calls the wicked to Himself, making enemies His friends, Who descended from on high to stoop to humanity’s rescue and provided salvation to those undeserving Whom He had chosen in love from before time that they may glorify Him and walk in good works He foreordained—to the King of Ages forever, Jesus Christ—to You alone be all glory, honour and worship now and forevermore.

Amen.


Click here to go to the next commentary: Chapter 5


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