For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

Romans 4:2-3

In Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he lays out for us a wonderful, systematic presentation of the gospel. The first three chapters deal largely with the problem of sin, demonstrating that whether one is a pagan idolater, a morally upright person, or even one of God’s chosen people, the Jews, all alike are guilty of breaking God’s laws and stand condemned by the law: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Jewish people would have been shocked by Paul’s words. They thought that their status as God’s chosen people gave them an advantage over the Gentiles (i.e., the nations). On the other hand, it seems that some Gentile Christians believed that since the Jews had rejected Jesus and called for His death, God was done with them. But Paul wants us to know that the gospel “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Since we all have the same problem of sin, the solution is also the same for everyone: faith in Jesus Christ.

In a tightly compressed argument, Paul explains that the Law of Moses was never intended to save people, yet it was vital for two important reasons. Firstly, to demonstrate our guilt before God by exposing our sin (Romans 3:19-20). Ignorance of the law is never an excuse, either in a human court of law or at the great white throne of God (Revelation 20:11-15), but it allows us to know in what ways and to what extent we have failed. But secondly, the Law was provided to witness that the righteousness of God comes to us through faith (Romans 3:21-22). Sadly, the Jews had not rightly understood their own Scriptures, for Paul is pressing home the truth that God counts as righteous all who put their trust in Him by pointing to Abraham, who more than 400 years before the Law was given, “believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3; compare Genesis 15:6). Of course, the message we are called to believe today is fuller and richer than that which Abraham believed because Christ has come as God’s full and final revelation (Hebrews 1:1-5). “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5).


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