Comment: To be justified or to be declared righteous before God is a common goal in most religions. However, one of the major differences between Christianity and all other religions is that Christianity is faith based and all other religions are works based. What this means is that all other religions believe that one attains righteousness before God by what he does or does not do. The deeds of a person determines his standing before God. If you do good, you will be declared righteous but, if you do bad, you will be declared unrighteous. In this system, there is no guarantee of ever being declared righteous. So, they say the more good things you do, the better your chances of being declared righteous.
On the other hand reformed Christians believe that it is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ that a person is justified and it is not by works but, rather it is a gift from God. It says that the righteousness of Jesus is imputed or credited on one’s life by grace through faith. However, there are those among Christians who say that righteousness before God is by faith plus the good works eg. The Roman Catholic Church. In other words, you must have faith in Jesus Christ and do good things to be justified before God. The works that they normally refer to are baptism, sacraments, obeying the law, etc. These are but common ones.
Is righteousness by faith alone or is it by faith plus works. This is an old age controversy that even Paul wrote about and addressed but somehow, people have decided to reject his explanations or twist his words. In our scripture passage that we will be looking at, Paul addresses this issue and we will learn from him, how to answer this question.
Romans 4:1-8 (ESV Strong’s)
1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?
Word Study: The word flesh represents human nature. It represents what a human being on his own can achieve
Comment: In Chapter 3:1-8, Paul discussed that the standard of righteousness required by God is just. From verse 9-20, Paul indicated that no one is righteous before God and from verse 21-31, indicated that the righteousness of God is only attained through faith. At the beginning of chapter 3, Paul asked what advantage has a jew, and knowing how Jews claimed Abraham as their father and how they obey the law just like he did and therefore as righteous as he was, Paul then takes Abraham and shows how Abraham attained his righteousness before God.
Paul starts by asking the Jews, what can they say Abraham gained according to the flesh or meaning by what he did or by his works. Paul says lets look at it. What did Abraham gain by doing good works. If you look at the beginning words in verse 2 below, one can see that this question was asked in such a way that there was one possible answer in mind and that was “nothing”. So, in a way Paul tells them that this Abraham who is our forefather, gained nothing by his good works. Then from verse 2 – 8, he justifies his statement.
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
Word Study: To be justified means to be declared righteous. It means to be found “not guilty” before God.
Comment: Paul as in verse one, say that Abraham did not gain anything by his works for if he did, if he was justified by his works, if he was made right by his works, then indeed he had something to boast about. If what ever Abraham did, made him righteous, then he can certainly boast that he had achieved righteousness by himself. Paul then says, if he did make himself righteous through his works, then he can boast but, not before God. He cannot come before God and say God, here I am, I have made myself righteous by my own works.
So, Paul says, Abraham gained nothing by what he did or his works and if he did justify himself or make himself righteous through his works, then he can boast but not before God. Take note that Paul says “IF” he was justified meaning, he was not.
This must have devastated the Jews. This is Paul telling them that a man whom they hold as an example of how to attain the righteousness required by God and whom they tried to live up to through their obedience to the law and good works, was not justified by anything that he did. This meant that they were also not justified by anything that they did and could not be justified by anything that they were going to do.
3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
Comment: Paul then quoted Gen 15:6 and it clearly states that Abraham believed God and it was counted, or credited or imputed to him as righteousness. In other words, because Abraham believed God, God declared him righteous. God told Abraham that he was going to have a son and his offsprings will be as many as the stars. At his age and his wife’s age, and with no hope of ever getting a child, he still believed God and because of that, God declared him righteous. This showed the Jews that although they thought that Abraham was justified by works, they were actually wrong.
Then Paul gave them an example and said that when a person does work and is paid, that payment is not a gift, it is what the person deserves. If a person does no work and rather believes in Him who justifies or who declares righteous those that are not righteous, that faith, is counted as righteousness.
This means that God declares righteous, those that are unrighteous, not because of what they do but simply because of their faith. This means that if a person has faith, without doing anything, God finds him not guilty of sin. God does not declare him sinless but rather declares him not guilty of the sins he has committed. Then if you are not guilty of sin, you will enter heaven and not be send to hell. Only those found guilty of sin, will be send to heaven.
6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Comment: Then Paul quoted from Psalm 32:1-2 and states that David speaks of the one whom God declares as righteous or not guilty of sin apart from or without his works. In verse 7, the words “forgiven” and “covered” are in a passive mood, meaning that forgiving and the covering is not done by the person receiving them but rather by God. It is God who forgives lawless deeds and it is God who covers sin. Again in verse 8, it is God who will not count sin. So, clearly Paul has made a case against righteousness achieved through works.
Message: This then comes as a blow to those who believe that salvation is by faith plus works. This verse cannot be misinterpreted. I simply cannot understand how people can completely ignore this passage and preach salvation by faith plus works. Salvation is by faith plus nothing. The works are a result of a saved person. In other words, works shows that salvation has taken place.