FAITH PRECEDES WORKS
Lord, I want to make a difference for You in the lives of others. Today I will rest in You, work for You, and seek to become like You.
Read ROMANS 4:1–12
Abraham Justified by Faith
4 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”[a]
4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”[b]
9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘… did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?’1
Five hundred years ago Martin Luther (1483–1546) underwent a transformation while studying Romans (and Galatians). He had been taught to believe that salvation (acceptance by God) depended on our ability to accrue merit through good deeds. He came to see, through passages like this, that salvation depended instead wholly on faith, acceptance of Christ’s saving work through trusting in him.
Sadly, the misconception developed that the Old Testament taught salvation by works whereas the New Testament taught salvation by grace. Not at all. The whole Bible teaches that salvation is a gift of God, not a human accomplishment. To establish this against any who thought differently, Paul goes back to Abraham –the progenitor of Israel and therefore of Christianity. Abraham had faith in God before he was circumcised. Basing his argument on Genesis 15:6 (v 3), Paul establishes that faith precedes works when it comes to our standing before God (vs 5,10). Circumcision came later, as a seal and sign of what was already true (v 11). We are set right with God neither by marks of identity such as circumcision and food laws nor by moral achievements (vs 4,5) since ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’.2 Salvation is by grace through faith leading to a faithful life within the community of God’s people. Faith in Christ is the marker of identity for the Christian community. It binds Jews and Gentiles, the circumcised and the uncircumcised, together as one community (vs 11,12). Grasping this is the heart of the message of Romans.
For Paul and for us, the blessing of justification by faith is that it delivers us from the constant fear of being condemned.3 We are set free to do good.
Reflect: faith means ‘accepting that I am accepted even while continuing to find myself unacceptable’.4
Loving Father, I thank You for the wonder of grace. It reminds me that no person is beyond redemption, no stain beyond cleansing. Thanks be to God.
1 Gal 3:2 2 Rom 3:23 3 Rom 8:1 4 Paul Tillich, 1886–1965