Abraham Justified by Faith, Rom. 4:1-25
The ancient nation of Israel took great pride in Abraham, the renowned patriarch of the Jews. To Abraham profound promises were made, including the land of Israel and a savior to come through Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 12:1-3; Gal. 3:26-29). When John the Baptizer came preaching repentance, the Jews thought, “We have Abraham as our father” (Matt. 3:9). Jewish scholars of the 1st century taught that Abraham was saved by works. Paul introduced Abraham into his message to the Romans to show that Abraham was saved by faith, and not by the Law of Moses, or by works of merit of any sort. Salvation is a gift, not an earned wage. Abraham was saved by obedient faith and he stands as one of the greater examples of saving faith.
Writers sometimes seize on verse 3 and take their stand for salvation by faith alone. Do we wish to be saved like Abraham? Then our faith must lead us to do whatever God demands. When believing God’s promise was all that God required, Abraham’s faith was counted as obedience (Gen. 15:6). When the time came to act on that faith, Abraham did so in spectacular fashion. The writer of Hebrews spends several verses relating how Abraham passed every test of faith by performing whatever action God required (Heb. 11:8-19). James refers to Abraham as an example of faith plus deeds of obedience. “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (James 2:22-24). God put Abraham’s faith to a severe test by telling him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-18). What would become of God’s promise to build a great nation through his descendants? We remember that God spared Isaac, but Abraham had proven he would do whatever God required. God said to Abraham, “Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Gen. 22:18). Now that is salvation by faith.
Paul goes to great length to demonstrate that Abraham was not saved by any part of the Law. He lived his life of faith long before the Mosaic Age. Furthermore, he was pronounced righteous in the sight of God even before he received the command and covenant of circumcision. The Jews put great stock in this physical mark of compliance with the Law. Paul states that Abraham is the example of salvation by faith for both the Gentile and for the Jew (4:11-12, 16).
Abraham’s great faith was so strong that Paul writes, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations” (4:18). When he was promised a son and descendants as numerous as the sands of the shore and the stars of the heavens, Abraham was already an old man. He was 100 and Sarah was 90 when Isaac was born. Abraham had a moment of hesitation (Gen. 17:17-18), but the depth of his faith is described as “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (4:21). Abraham’s faith was genuine, obedient faith. The faith that will save Jew and Gentile alike is one that trusts God and obeys Jesus Christ. We believe in the risen Savior and we commit our lives to him fully.
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.