Justification by Faith: Romans 4

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Theology of justification by Faith

God is one, He is the God of both Jews and Gentiles and he justifies both Jews and Gentiles on the basis of the same criterion –Faith (3: 29-30). Jews and Gentiles then have equal access to salvation. This is in effect an argument against the law as being in any necessary for salvation.

  1. Justification by Faith, Not by works: Abraham is the Model (Rom 4: 1-8)

St. Paul defends his gospel that justification of God is by the faith. Therefore, he appeals to the Scripture to make his defence against the Jewish objections that Abraham was the clear example of one who was justified by the works, or he won God’s favour by meticulously following the law. (esp. his obedience to God in willing to offer up his son Issac). Therefore, he admits that Abraham was justified not by the faith.

Abraham has no ground of boasting before God because Abraham was reckoned as upright by his faith in God.  Therefore, Paul quotes Gen 15: 6 which say that he believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Paul makes the point that a person who works for justifications receives it not as a gift but as a due, but the one ‘who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly’ has faith reckoned as righteousness and Abraham falls into this second category. So, far from being justified by his works the great ancestor of Israel had righteousness reckoned to him because he believed God. Paul also takes the example of David who speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from one’s works (Ps 32: 1-2).

  1. Justification by Faith without Circumcision (Rom 4: 9-12)

Paul opposes the Jewish notion of justification of God which is restricted only to the Jews /covenant people/ circumcised. For Jews, circumcision was not optional but required and no real relationship is with God without it. Therefore, Paul clearly asserts that circumcision is not the prerequisite to Abraham’s righteousness. He was reckoned to righteousness before it was required to him (Gen 17: 10). Paul is quick to make the point that since Abraham believed before he was circumcised, he is the spiritual father of all the “uncircumcised who believe” 4: 11b). In other words, Paul has totally turned the tables on the particularism of his opponents. Now Abraham is the spiritual father of believing Gentiles.

Abraham himself was justified without circumcision, and then the blessing of justification cannot be limited to those who are circumcised. Because the blessing of justification depends upon faith alone, it is available to the uncircumcised (Gentiles) as well as to the circumcised (Jews). Paul can thus claim Abraham as the father of all believers, Gentiles as well as Jews.

  1. Promise Received by Faith, not by the Law (Rom 4: 13-24)

The promise to Abraham that he would ‘inherit the world’ through numerous progeny (Gen 15: 5) has nothing to do with the law, but dependent on the righteousness of faith. It was a part of covenantal relationship with God. Even more importantly, Paul is implying that God’s promise was His affirmation of Abraham’s faith and not of Abraham’s supposed perfection in keeping the law. The promise is thus the result of relationship, not of works. Because the law brings wrath but where there is no law, neither is there violation. Two functions of the law are implied here. 1. It pronounces God’s wrath upon those who transgress that is those who fail to fulfil its demands. 2. It makes transgression a possibility. Therefore, the promises of God are realised by faith. The fulfilment of the promises may be guaranteed in respect of all who believe. It applies not just to possessor of the law (believing Jews) but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (here meaning believing gentiles). Thus, Abraham is the father of us all, and so the scriptural promise to Abraham (I have made you father of many nations) is fulfilled. He is the father of all faith be it Jews or Gentiles.

He uses the example of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise of a son to illustrate the true nature of faith. The key phrases are “hoping against hope” (4: 18), “without growing weak in faith” (4: 19), “he never questioned or doubted God’s promise” (4: 20), “fully persuaded that God could do whatever he had promised” (4: 21). What all these phrases have in common is that they describe total confidence that something will happen which appears to be absolutely impossible. Thus, faith is characterised by its complete trust in God’s Word and all appearances to the contrary is not withstanding. According to the ways of the world, it was impossible for Sarah and Abraham to have a child. But God’s reality is stronger and deeper than the ways of the world, and they had their son. According to the strict interpretation of Jewish law, it would be impossible for anyone to be saved. But the business of God is salvation, and He is known for coming up with creative alternatives. Faith was Abraham’s response, his personal acceptance of God’s Word.

  1. Justification by Death and Resurrection of Christ Event (Rom 4: 25)

Just as God promised Abraham new life, He promises us eternal life. Our task, as St. Paul points out in verses 23-25, is to make the same faith-response to God’s promise of salvation in Jesus. Because Jesus was “handed over to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Therefore, our justification is reckoned through faith in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Abraham believed against all the impossibilities, so faith was reckoned to him. Same way, if we believe in God who raised Jesus, if we trust God totally we also will be justified.

What do you think?