What was the object of Abraham’s saving faith? It was the God who is able to fulfill the promises He has made. Abraham believed in the God who justifies the ungodly. Here we have the connection between the promise of God and the very act of justification itself. It was Abraham’s faith based upon the character of God as the one saving and not upon the facts as he saw them. This is imputed to Abraham as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
In this post we will look at Romans 4:13-5:1 which is the application of the theology that Paul presents in Romans 3:20-31, which could be summarized with the statement, “By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight since through the law come knowledge of sin, but the righteousness of God is manifest through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” It is imperative that we also understand that Romans 4:13-5:1 is an extended discussion of the supremacy of the promise (our justification) to the law and how if one makes observance of the law (works) the means of securing righteousness, then the promise is void, grace is undone, and the gospel loses its power.
Here is the entire passage:
13 For the promise to Abraham and his seed that he should be heir of the world was not through the law, but through a righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is those of the law who are to be the heirs, faith has been made void and the promise has been nullified. 15 For the law works wrath, but where there is not a law, neither is there transgression. 16 It is therefore of faith, that according to grace it may be a sure promise to all the seed, not to the seed of the law only, but also to the seed of the faith of Abraham who is father of us all. 17 As it has been written–A father of many nations I have appointed you– before whom he believed God the one making alive the dead and calling the things not existing into existence. 18 Who beyond hope on hope believed that he should become a father of many nations according to the thing having been spoken, “So will be your seed.” 19 And not having weakened in faith, he considered his own body already dead being about one hundred years old and the deadness of the womb of Sarah. 20 But at the promise of God he did not waver in unbelief, but was empowered by faith, giving glory to God 21 and having been fully persuaded that what he has promised he is able also to do, 22 wherefore it was also accounted to him for righteousness. 23 Now it was not written, “It was accounted to him” because of him only, 24 but also because of us. It will be accounted to the ones believing on the one having raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was given over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 4:13-5:1 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
In vv13-15, Paul presents Abraham as the model of faith for us all. He also demonstrates the superiority of the promise (ἐπαγγελία) to the “law.” A study of the Old Testament makes it clear that this ἐπαγγελία precedes the law in time. I can remember as a young Christian with little to no theological “training” actually believing that the Jews actually were justified through the keeping the “law,” but that is not according to Pauline thought. To him, God has always justified his people by faith alone as per Abraham. In v13 Paul insists that the ἐπαγγελία to Abraham did not come through the “law” but through the righteousness “that comes by faith.” Why is it that the “law” cannot, not ever could, function as a means of justification? The law brings wrath because, “where there is not a law, neither is there transgression.”
Paul logically concludes in v14 that since the law “works wrath” justification is, therefore, from faith according to grace. We must get this straight. Because law works wrath, justification is by faith. It is by faith so that it may be in accordance with grace. Think of Ephesians 2:8,9. I know there are so many who try to say that saving faith is not part of the gift in Ephesians 2:8,9, but when we compare with this passage doesn’t this clearly show us that Paul’s understanding of the faith that genuinely believes God and causes God to justify believers, in accordance with His grace?
In vv17-20 Paul gives us the experience of faith in Abraham’s life after the giving of the promise. The circumstances in his life seem to contradict the promise, but he did not waiver. He grew strong in faith. This gave glory to God.