Topic: Justification Explained using the example of Abraham
Text: Romans 4:1-25
Memory verse: Rom 4:25
From the last week lesson on Romans 3:21-31, the Good News of justification by faith was introduced and explained. Its related terms of sanctification, redemption and propitiation were further introduced. In Rom 4 & 5, the theme of justification is given a detailed explanation. Today’s lesson seeks to throw more light on the theme of justification using the life of Abraham as an example. The main purpose of Romans 4:1-25 is therefore to explain that Justification is by faith. Here, the chapter elaborates how God justifies (declares righteous ungodly people) through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Using the example of Abraham, three great facts about justification by faith that have been elaborated in Rom 4 include: justification is by faith and not works, justification is by grace and not law, and justification is by resurrection power and not human effort.
I. Justification is by Faith, Not works (4:1-8)
Every Jew revered Abraham and from Gen. 15:6 knew that Abraham had been justified before God. Abraham’s acceptance by God was so certain that they referred to heaven as Abraham’s bosom. Paul therefore chooses Abraham to illustrate the concept of justification by faith. He makes it very clear that Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith and not by works (see Gen. 15:1-6). The gift of righteousness came, not by works, but by faith in God’s revealed Word.
Paul used the words reckon, impute, and count in his argument (vv. 3-6, 8-11, 22-24). These words all mean the same thing: to put to a person’s account. Justification means righteousness imputed (put to our account) and gives us a right standing before God. Sanctification means righteousness imparted (made a part of our life) and gives us a right standing before men, so they believe we are Christians (cf. James 2:14-26).
Verse 5: states that God justifies the ungodly through faith and not works. The Jews thought that God justified religious people on the basis of their works; but Paul argues differently pointing out that Abraham was saved simply on the basis of faith. Then Paul refers to David and quotes Ps. 32:1-2, proving that the great king taught justification by faith, apart from works. God does not impute sin to our account, because that was charged to Christ’s account (2 Cor. 5:21, Philemon 18). Rather, He imputes Christ’s righteousness to our account purely on the basis of grace! What a wonderful salvation we have.
II. Justification is by Grace, Not Law (4:9-17).If justification according to Paul is by faith, then what about the law? What about the covenant God made with Abraham? Paul answers this question by pointing out that Abraham’s faith and salvation took place fourteen years before he was circumcised! Circumcision was the seal of the covenant, the rite that made a Jewish child a part of the system of law.
Circumcision was merely an outward sign of a spiritual relationship, as baptism is today.
- Abraham is actually the father of all believers – all who belong to the household of faith (see Gal. 3:7, 29). See Rom. 2:27-29, not all Jews are truly the Israel of God.
Paul in verses 13-17e contrasts law and grace. The key word here is promise (vv. 134, 14, 16). God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the heir of the world (v. 13) was not given in connection with the law or circumcision, but by God’s grace alone. The law was never given to save anyone; the Law only brings wrath and reveals sin. The Law completely cancels grace, just as works will cancel faith; the two cannot exist side by side (vv. 14-15). How could the Law save Abraham, when the Law had not yet been given? Paul concludes in v. 16 that justification comes by grace, through faith; and thus all people – Jews and Gentiles – can be saved! Abraham is not only the father of the Jews, but he is the father of us all,, all who follow in his steps of faith. (Read Gal. 3).
II. Justification is by Resurrection Power, Not human effort (4:18-25)
The first section (vv. 1-8) contrasted faith and works; the second (vv. 9-17) contrasted Law and grace; and now the third (vv. 18-25) contrasts life and death. Note that Paul in v. 17 identifies God as the God who gives life to the dead. How could two people, one, ninety years and the other, one hundred years, ever hope to have a son? But when the flesh is dead, then the resurrection power of the Spirit can go to work!
It was Abraham’s simple faith in God’s Word that justified him, and that is how sinners are justified today. We are saved the same way Abraham was saved: by faith (vs. 24). Note how important this word believe is in Romans: it appears in 1:16; 3:22, 26;4:3, 24; 5:1; 10:4, 9-10; etc. When a sinner believes the promise of God in the Word, then the same resurrection power enters the person’s life, and he/she becomes a Christian, a child of God, as was Abraham. We must confess that we are dead and believe that Christ is alive and will save us.
Verse 25 explains the basis for justification: the death and resurrection of Christ. The verse reads: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Jesus was delivered because of our offences, and was raised again on account of our justification. The fact that He died proves we were sinners; the fact that God raised Him from the dead proves we have been justified by His blood,. This is evidence again that justification is a matter of resurrection power and not feeble human effort.
Using the example of Abraham, Paul in Rom 4 has given detailed illustration on the theme of Justification that he introduced in the previous chapter. Indeed the example of Abraham shows that justification is by faith and not works, it is by grace and not law and subsequently it is by resurrection power and not human effort. Understanding of this explanation should therefore cause us to deeply trust in what Christ has done for us on the cross. Subsequently we are enjoined to appreciate the price paid on our behalf on the cross and thereby live in humility. In the next lesson, we will look at the blessings of justification.
1. What did Abraham do for him to be declared righteous in Genesis 15:6 and what does that teach us today to be saved?
2. If justification is by faith, then what role does the law play?
3. Explain the statement that “we are saved by resurrection power and not human effort.”
4. How does the death and resurrection of Jesus relate to our justification?