Justification by Faith Alone Illustrated Part 2 – Romans 4:9-16
Pastor Mark Hardy April 15, 2012
One day a pastor was visiting an elderly man who was confined to a wheelchair because of a physical illness. As they talked the man happened to have his Bible open in his lap and the pastor noticed that the word “Proved” was written in bold print numerous times in the margin. Curious, he asked the man what that meant. The elderly man explained that he really took God’s Word seriously and depended on the promises of God to get him through all of the difficult trials of his life. Therefore, beside each promise that he had personally found to be true in his own life experience he had written “Proved” in the margins of his Bible.
Now God’s promises are true whether we personally “prove” them to be or not, but He has given many precious promises in His Word that apply to us that He wants us to tenaciously cling to in our daily lives. These gracious promises are the assurance that something He has said He will do will happen and is therefore to be trusted, depended on, and proved to be true. This is because our God is a promise-keeping God. We will see one of these promises this morning as we continue on in our study of Romans 4.
In Romans 4:1-25 we see six truths about justification by faith alone as illustrated primarily from the life of Abraham that contain valuable lessons for us today. Thus far we have seen the first two truths:
1) Abraham was justified by faith alone (vv. 1-5)
2) David’s testimony confirms justification by faith (vv. 6-8).
This morning we will be looking at the next two truths in vv. 9-16. The third truth about justification by faith alone in this:
III. Abraham was Justified before his Circumcision
A. Look at vv. 9-10: Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? (Stop there)
1. Having just quoted David in Psalm 32:1-2 to confirm the “blessing” of justification by faith apart from works (vv. 6-8), Paul now uses the word “blessing” to transition from David back to Abraham. Here in v. 9 he asks the question whether this blessing of salvation is only on “the circumcised,” referring to the Jews, or on “the uncircumcised also,” referring to the Gentiles.
2. He then repeats the authoritative scriptural declaration of Genesis 15:6 that he quoted back in v. 3, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” This immediately prompts a question as to Abraham’s condition when this happened in his life.
3. So Paul asks, “How then was it credited?” In other words, under what circumstances was Abraham justified by faith? “While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised?”
4. Paul then answers his own question clearly and directly at the end of v. 10: “Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.” Not after but before!
5. Abraham was declared righteous before God before he was ever circumcised. This would have come across as a shock to most Jews of Paul’s day because they believed the rabbinical teaching that salvation was based on their obedience to God in being circumcised.
6. And yet, here Abraham is said to have been justified by faith before he was circumcision. The chronology of the book of Genesis proves Paul’s point.
7. In Genesis 15:6 Abraham was declared righteous by God on the basis of his faith in God’s promise of giving him a son. This happened sometime before the birth of Ishmael, at which time Genesis 16:16 says that Abraham was eighty-six years old (Gen. 16:16). Then Genesis 17:23-25 states that Abraham was circumcised when Ishmael was thirteen years old and Abraham was ninety-nine.
8. Therefore, the time gap between Abraham’s justification by faith and his circumcision is at least fourteen years. Traditional Jewish chronology puts Abraham’s circumcision twenty-nine years after the promise of Genesis 15:6.
9. Paul’s point is obvious: Circumcision had absolutely nothing to do with Abraham being declared righteous before God. He was justified by faith while he was still uncircumcised.
10. This proves that faith alone has always been God’s way to save people. Galatians 5:6 says the same thing, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.”
11. Now since Abraham was justified by faith before his circumcision, why then was circumcision given?
B. Look at v. 11: and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised… (Stop there)
1. The “sign of circumcision” means “the sign that is circumcision.” Circumcision itself was the physical “sign” or distinguishing mark of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants, the Jews, who were set apart by God as His chosen people.
2. This was not merely a mark of racial identity but “…a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he (i.e. Abraham) had while uncircumcised.” In other words, while circumcision did not secure Abraham salvation, it was an outward and visible confirmation, validation, and authentication of his righteous standing with God by faith that he already possessed “while uncircumcised.”
3. Circumcision was merely the external sign that was to confirm one’s internal faith in God. “Circumcision of flesh” was always intended to be symbolic of one’s “circumcision of heart.”
4. And when that wasn’t the case, God directed His focus at the people’s hearts. For example, God through Moses said to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 10:16, “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” (30:6) “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.”
5. And through His prophet Jeremiah God declared in Jeremiah 4:4, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.” (Lev. 26:41; Jer. 9:24-26; Ez. 44:9)
6. This is why Romans 2:28-29 states, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”
C. Now notice God’s purpose in Abraham’s justification by faith. Look at the end of v. 11, “…so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them.
1. Abraham is the father of two groups of people: Physically and racially he is the father of all Jews, the nation of Israel. And spiritually he is the father of all believers in Jesus Christ.
2. First, Paul refers here to the believing Gentiles or Gentile Christians. Abraham is the spiritual father “…of all who believe without being circumcised.”
3. This is the fulfillment of Genesis 12:3 where God promised Abraham that in him “all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Galatians 3:7-9 says: Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
4. Therefore, John Murray is correct when he says, “Circumcision is not an excluding factor and neither is it a contributing factor to that by which we become the children of Abraham.” (pg. 139)
5. When it comes to salvation, circumcision means nothing! Since saving righteousness is available only by faith, the uncircumcised, like Abraham, have their faith credited to them for righteousness.
6. Second, Paul shows that Abraham is the spiritual father of the believing Jews or Jewish Christians. Look at v. 12: and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.
7. Paul is referring here to the Jews, but notice that he clarifies that he is talking about Jewish Christians by saying, “…who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.”
8. The phrase “follow in the steps” is military terminology meaning “to march in file.” In other words, Abraham is the spiritual father of those Jews who follow in the same footprints or tracks as Abraham when he was justified by faith before he was circumcised.
9. Abraham is the spiritual father of “all who believe” in Jesus Christ, regardless of circumcision. The central issue is that their faith has been credited to them as righteousness.
10. The fourth truth about justification by faith alone in this:
IV. Abraham wasn’t Justified by the Law
A. Look at v. 13: For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.
1. The word “For” (gar) here links v. 13 with vv. 11-12. Abraham is the spiritual father of all believers, for he acted in accordance with the righteousness of faith not the Mosaic Law or any other system of works-righteousness.
2. William Hendriksen correctly observed, “As the Jews saw it, the promise made to Abraham was to be realized through obedience to the Mosaic Law. The rabbis even maintained that long before the law was promulgated from Sinai, Abraham already had a thorough knowledge of it and obeyed it in all its details.” (pg. 154)
3. That’s simply not true! Abraham was justified by believing God’s promise, not obeying God’s law, which didn’t even come until 430 years after Abraham lived (Gal. 3:17). He had no way of knowing what the Law required.
4. Notice that the content of this promise unconditionally given “to Abraham or to his descendants [is] that he would be heir of the world,” and them by association along with him. Since this exact language “heir of the world” is not found in the Old Testament, what does it mean?
5. It can be summarized in four promises given to Abraham by God in Genesis:
• First, the promise of a people. Abraham was promised an immense number of descendants, embracing many nations (Gen. 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 17:4-6, 16-20; 18:18; 22:17; Rom. 4:17).
• Second, the promise of a land. Although Abraham lived in the land of Canaan his descendants would not possess it until under the leadership of Joshua (Gen. 12:7; 13:12, 14-17; 15:7, 12/18-21; 17:8).
• Third, the promise of a blessing. God promised Abraham that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18).
• Fourth, the promise of the Messiah. This is the promise of redemption through Abraham’s “seed” or descendant the Messiah, the Christ (Gal. 3:16, 29). He is promised to one day rule and reign the entire world with a rod of iron during the Millennial Kingdom (Gen. 15:18-21; 22:17; Ps. 2:8; Isa. 9:7; 55:3-5; Matt. Matt. 5:5; Lk. 13:28; Rev. 19:16).
6. Together these four promises summarize God’s gracious promise to Abraham of being “heir of the world.” And all of his spiritual descendants will share in this promised inheritance of salvation as well “through the righteousness of faith” not “through [the keeping of] the Law.”
7. Paul then sets out to show why God’s promised inheritance cannot be attained through the Law. But for the sake of argument, he first assumes the position that law-keeping can make us heirs of God’s promise to reveal its consequences.
B. Look at v. 14: For if [1st class condition—if and it’s true or since] those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified.
1. If God’s promised inheritance of salvation can truly be earned or deserved by keeping the Law what happens to faith and God’s promise?
2. First of all, “faith is made void.” The word “void” (kekenotai) means empty or vain, deprived of power, rendered ineffective, put out of business, and made null and void.
3. Second, “the promise is nullified.” The word “nullified” (katergetia) means to be permanently annulled, destroyed, rendered inoperative and worthless.
4. If working hard to keep the Law could really make us right with God and earn our salvation then faith is absolutely useless and God’s promise of salvation itself is destroyed and will never be fulfilled in anyone’s life. Why is that?
C. Because Paul says in v. 15: for the Law brings about wrath… (Stop there)
1. All that law-keeping can do in anyone’s life is eventually bring about God’s wrath because absolutely no one can ever keep the perfect standard of God’s Law (Matt. 5:48). Remember what James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
2. To earn salvation is not a matter of “doing your best” to be a good person and live right, it involves being totally perfect in every way, which is an utter impossibility for every one of us! Only the God-man, Jesus Christ, was sinless.
3. Therefore, the Law was not given as an instrument of salvation but of condemnation (Gal. 3:10). It declares what God demands and requires conformity to it, but it can never give us power to obey it or atonement when we break it.
4. This is why Romans 3:20 says, “…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”
5. God’s purpose in the Law is to reveal His perfect standards of righteousness, so that we can see in our complete inability to keep it that we are sinners in need of a Savior. This is intended to lead us to despair in ourselves and drive us to Jesus Christ in saving faith, for He alone can grant forgiveness of our sins.
6. Galatians 3:24 says, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
7. Therefore, since law-keeping can never restrain sin in our lives but rather increases it, the Law simply brings about more and more of God’s holy wrath upon us.
8. Douglas Moo said it well, “Before and outside the Mosaic Law wrath certainly exists, for all people, being sinners, and in great detail, stand under God’s sentence of condemnation (v. 18). But the Mosaic Law ‘produces’ even more wrath; rather than rescuing people from the sentence of condemnation, it confirms their condemnation. For by stating clearly, and in great detail, exactly what God requires of people, the law renders people even more accountable to God than they were without the law.” (pg. 277)
9. This is exactly what Paul says at the end of v. 15, “…but where there is no law, there also is no violation.”
10. The word “violation” (parabasis) here means transgression, stepping over the line. It refers to the sinful violation of a clearly defined commandment.
11. Those who think that by trying to keep the Law they can attain righteousness before God have no idea the greater wrath they are bringing upon themselves. This is because even at their best they cannot restrain sin and perfectly obey God’s Law.
12. John Calvin accurately states, “He who is not instructed by the written law, when he sins, is not guilty of so great a transgression as he is who knowingly breaks and transgresses the law of God.” (Moo pg. 277)
13. God’s promised inheritance is impossible to attain through the keeping of the Law. Salvation comes only by God’s grace through faith.
D. This is what Paul says in v. 16: For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.
1. Here we see that the promised inheritance of salvation is received only as one’s faith is credited to him as righteousness, “…in order that it may be in accordance with [God’s] grace” not on the basis of being earned or merited by law-keeping.
2. Remember from 3:24 that God’s “grace” (charin) is His unmerited and undeserved favor toward those who rightly deserve His wrath.
3. It is only faith that can receive God’s grace not works of the Law. John Stott said it this way, “Law-language (‘you shall’) demands our obedience, but promise-language (‘I will’) demands our faith (Gal. 3:12). What God said to Abraham was not ‘Obey this law and I will bless you,’ but ‘I will bless you; believe my promise.’”
4. And that’s exactly what Abraham did! Notice that God’s promise of salvation by grace through faith is “…so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants.”
5. The word “guaranteed” (BeBaian) here means firm, steadfast, secure, sure, unshakable, and certain of fulfillment. What a comfort to know that God’s promise of salvation is absolutely guaranteed and it is His powerful grace that does this.
6. Woodrow Kroll correctly observes, “If fulfillment of this promise depended on law-keeping, our inability to keep the Law would insure that the promise would never be fulfilled and thus would be made of no effect. But God keeps His promises, and He’ll keep this one through His Son, Jesus Christ.” (pg. 58)
7. And it’s all because of His grace! Notice again that salvation is guaranteed “to all the descendants” of Abraham.
8. Paul is not referring here to all of Abraham’s physical descendants, but rather to his spiritual descendants because he has already shown in in vv. 11-12 that Abraham is the spiritual father of both believing Gentiles and believing Jews.
9. Paul first speaks of the believing Jews in v. 16 saying, “…not only to those who are of the Law.” Some of those who treasured the Law were also people of faith and so they were true descendants of Abraham.
10. Then he addresses the believing Gentiles by saying, “…but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.” Gentile Christians don’t have a racial relationship with Abraham because they are not Jews, but as believers they have a spiritual relationship with him.
11. Then Paul summarizes the spiritual fatherhood of Abraham by saying, “…who is the father of us all.” The words “us all” refers to all Jew and Gentile Christians, for he has already called Abraham in v. 11 “the father of all who believe.”
12. Galatians 3:29 says the same thing, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”
13. Just as Abraham was justified because he believed God’s promise and his “faith was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3), all those who believe God’s promise of salvation by grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, will also have their “faith reckoned to them as Christ’s own righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21).
14. Therefore, Abraham is the spiritual example of every genuine believer. No wonder Charles Hodge declared, “The highest privilege of New Testament saints is to be partakers of the inheritance promised to Abraham. They are not exalted above him, but united with him in the blessings which flow from union with Christ.” (pg. 123)
In closing, Paul has again made it clear from the life of Abraham that justification is by faith alone. And this took place in his life before his circumcision and apart from the Law.
God’s promise of salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is no other way! We come to God on His terms or not at all! But all those who come to Him by grace through faith are guaranteed to obtain His promised inheritance. For 1 Peter 1:4 declares that every believer has “…an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” What a promise that God has given believers to cling to in the midst of the struggles and heartaches of this life. Although we as believers can begin to experience eternal life here and now, one day in heaven we will experience it forever.
Beloved, God’s promises can never fail even though we may fail because God never fails. He is a promise-keeping God! Have you “proved” His promises to be true? Only by receiving Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord by faith and living daily in dependence on Him can you personally experience and thus prove the truth of His promises in your life!