A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
Salvation: The Old Testament Illustration of Justification
When the apostle Paul, in the latter part of the third chapter, discusses how God justifies a man, he shows that God does it by faith, apart from works. This is in accord with what "justification" means, namely, "to declare and treat as righteous." This is one of the things the devil would like to confuse in our thinking. Justification does not mean to make a man righteous. That belongs to sanctification. In order to make this clear we shall see in this chapter how God justifies the ungodly. A concrete instance of this remarkable procedure on the part of God is now presented.
When the apostle Paul shows that divine justification comes by faith and not by works, the first response of the Jew would be, "What about our father Abraham?" And until Paul has dealt with Abraham, he can get no place with the Jew, because Abraham was the father of all the Jews and the great prototype of all the saved. Israel looked back to him as the father of the faithful; and so Paul must explain the question of how he was justified, which he does in chapter 4:
Verse 1 begins, "What shall be say then [about] Abraham?" At the outset let me clarify that it does not mean "Abraham is our father as pertaining to the flesh." More particularly it means "what has Abraham found as pertaining to the flesh?" Paul is using the word "flesh" to stand for human activity, fleshly activity, works. The Jew, of course, held that justification and salvation must come by the works of the law, and so Paul is going to discuss that point. "What has he found? What did he get?" Every Jew would hold that Abraham received at least three things: 1. Righteousness, the very essence of justification; 2. an inheritance, "I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it" (Genesis 15:7); 3. a posterity, "And thou shalt be a father of many nations" (Genesis 17:4).
These three items stood out in the mind of the Jews. The question: How did Abraham get those three things? The answer will settle the whole matter, and the apostle Paul is going to show how Abraham acquired his righteousness, his inheritance, and his posterity. Paul's discussion will form the outlines of the chapter. The movement of thought is very logical.
The chapter starts out with an introduction of two verses. In the order of discussion e takes up righteousness first. This i the subject of verses 3-12. Then he turns to Abraham's inheritance, which is the theme of the second division (vv. 13-16). Finally, he comes to Abraham's posterity (vv. 17-21). "As it is written a father of many nations have I made thee" (v. 17). The chapter closes with an application in which he confronts believers with the personal implications (vv. 23-25).
You may wonder why we should be discussing Abraham, a man of ancient times. The answer is clear. Even though this was written back there it contains lessons for us today, and so Paul closes with an application.
How did he get it? By faith: "For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God." And then what did God do? "It was counted unto him for righteousness." Count, impute, and reckon: all three of these words are one word in the Greek, not different words. The men who translated the King James Version were seeking to produce a good English version, and they thought the translation would become too monotonous if the same word were used too often. So they varied the translation and confused the English reader by using different words for the translation of the same Greek word. The same Greek word is used eleven times. The rendering is either "count", "impute", or "reckon" all the way through, which means "to put to one's account." It is like taking five dollars to the bank and putting it on deposit. The bookkeeper puts that to your account.
So Abraham believed God, and God in effect got out His book and put it down to Abraham's account as righteousness. Paul quotes Scripture which takes on particular force for the Jew, because it takes him right back to Genesis 15 where it is recorded that God promised to Abraham certain things. Abraham "...believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).
In essence the Jew asks, "Didn't works have something to do with it?" So Paul addressed himself to this question in verses 4 and 5. "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness" (v. 5). You might have something to put to your account that you earned. There are two ways you may get your righteousness: someone might give it to you or you might earn it. Paul is going to discuss those two ways. He says, "If it is a reward for works, it is not from grace at all, but out of debt" (v. 4).
That verse, and especially one phrase in that verse, is without doubt the greatest presentation of free grace and righteousness by faith in all the Word of God. God justifies whom? "The ungodly." That is a strong word. He does not mean merely a sinner, but a man whose sin is ungodly. God justifies that kind of man. He declares him righteous and treats him as righteous, and He does it on the ground of faith.
So Paul rules out all works. Righteousness is not "to him that worketh," but it is "to him that worketh not." He is the man whom God justifies, even though he is an ungodly man. That was a new thought to the Jews about their father Abraham.
In verse 6 Paul is not introducing a new case but is only bringing testimony from David to support his argument. David was another great man in the mind of the Jew, second only to Abraham.
Verses 7 and 8 declare that sins are covered. Sins were no taken away in the Old Testament, only covered. But they were taken away at the Cross of Christ!
So Paul finishes with the "works" part of it. He shows first of ll that Abraham received his righteousness by faith; he shows second that works had nothing absolutely nothing, to do with it.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 38)