Main Theme: We are saved by grace THROUGH FAITH just like Father Abraham & King David.
The pride of the Jewish people is focused on 4 symbols of God's favor:
- Circumcision of Abraham
- Law of Moses
- Throne of David
- Temple of Solomon
1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." (Genesis 15:6) 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
Last week showed that salvation is by grace. But how do we get from the wrath of God to the grace of God? Some Jews considered that if grace was extended then it was extended to the circumcised, because of God's promise to Abraham. But Paul is saying that faith is the only exit ramp from wrath to grace. Abraham was called by God in Genesis 12, at age 75. He was not circumcised until Genesis 17 at age 99. But in Genesis 15 Abraham is declared righteous by faith, while he was still uncircumcised.
We learned in our study of chapter three that "justification" means – "to declare and treat as righteous". It is essentially declaring the guilty "not guilty" and then treating them as such. So in the example of Abraham he as justified by faith, not of works.
This word "accounted" is just like imputed we studied last week. God credits you for something unearned. Paul says in verses 4&5, "Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is ACCOUNTED for righteousness" (NKJV). Just like in our lives faith comes before works.
Paul not only refers to the faith of the Hebrew's racial founder, he also refers to the faith of…
5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:
7 " Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;
8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin." (Psalm 32:1-2)
Now we take the second symbol of Judaism, the throne of David. The Jews had a lot of pride in the leadership of David, his military victories. Surely some thought that because of David, Israel deserved the grace of God, maybe that they could obtain grace through David. But Paul turns that around and shows David as a recipient of grace through faith.
He quotes from Psalm 32, which was written after the public exposure of his secret sins with Bathsheba (I Sam. 11-12).
David coveted his neighbor's wife, committed adultery with her, and plotted his neighbor's murder; according to the strict letter of Mosaic Law; there was no hope for him. What animal sacrifice could cover a sin like that? This is why David cried in Psalm 51:16-17, "For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, and a broken and a contrite heart – these, oh God, You will not despise" (NKJV). David's desperate case cast everything on God on grace. Out of this experience, David learned two vital truths about salvation; truths that he wrote down in Psalm 32 which now help further Paul's argument. David had faith in a God of grace.
Salvation is given freely, just as David also described the blessedness of "the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works" (v.6). David discovered the true way to happiness and holiness - without works. How could he restore purity to Bathsheba and life to Uriah? How could he even restore his own lost innocence? HE COULDN'T! His case was hopeless. But then God stepped in and in sovereign grace freely cancelled David's sin and counted him righteous! Nathan said to David in 2 Sam. 12:13, "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die" (NKJV). That was all David had, but it was enough. Salvation is given freely. Not because God would ignore the sins of people he liked, but because Jesus would pay it all.
9 Does this blessedness (of forgiveness) then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.
Do you have faith in your religious symbols, or works as a sign of your faith?
Circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 17:7-14). In Paul's day, many Jewish Christians maintained that salvation was impossible without circumcision (Acts 15:1-29; Gal. 2:1-14) and wanted all Gentile converts to be circumcised. Some people today think that it's impossible to be saved without administering the rites of the church (communion & baptism). Churches art and rituals to focus people on God, but these can become an idol to cover for poor theology. Know the qualities of your God, and you will not need a idol to focus on Him.
Abraham and David were both justified by faith in a gracious God, apart from any symbol.
Paul points out that there were two reasons that God gave Abraham this "righteous picture" of circumcision. It was given that, "[first] he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and [second] the father of circumcision to those who are not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of faith which our father Abraham had WHILE STILL UNCIRCUMCISED" (vv.11b-12).
J.B. Phillips writes, "Paul has turned the Jew's boast upside down. It is not the Gentile who must come to the Jew's circumcision for salvation; it is the Jew who must come to a Gentile faith, such a faith as Abraham had long before he was circumcised."
People who depend on religious rites such as baptism, confirmation or communion are just like the first century Jews that Paul was addressing. They are still depending on their religious works to save them. They are relying on symbols and pictures for their salvation instead of the substance and propitiation of Christ's finished work on the cross. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.
If not the circumcision of Abraham, or the throne of David, how about the Law of Moses? Surely the Law must be the way to grace.
"For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or of his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith"(v.13).
While many promises in the Bible are conditional, those made to Abraham and his seed were unconditional and are guaranteed by the faithfulness of God, not the faithfulness of man (Gal. 3:17-18; Rom. 4:13-18).
The rules and the requirements given to the Jews in the Mosaic Law at a later date do not affect in any way the original unconditional promise. The Mosaic Law had to do with the behavior of a redeemed people already in a covenant relationship with God, and demonstrated the holiness of God. Paul had already made it clear that Abraham's TRUE children were those who walked in Abraham's steps and exercised faith as Abraham did (v.12).
We can draw a parallel here. The practical requirements for the Christian, as found in the epistles, should be adhered to as walking by faith; but they do not add to our salvation. Works of righteousness are evidence of our faith, and meaningless without it.
The idea that Abraham was justified by faith while his children could be justified by the law, makes no sense at all. The law should drive us toward the grace of God, by making us aware of our guilt. Remember from Romans 3, "all have sinned".
So then, Paul pulls the rug out from all those who insist on "trying" for salvation. They have no righteousness that is acceptable to God. Their religious rites and rules cannot save them. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Questions to consider:
- Abraham was declared righteous because he exercised faith in God's promise. What are some ways that we exercise faith on a daily basis? How did you know that you needed to put your faith in God?
- Given God's gracious initiative in our salvation should we brag about our belief?
- What does imputation mean, and how does it relate to our salvation?
- Review the words: justification, redemption, and propitiation as a class.