I. Abraham’s Faith (vv. 1-3)
A. Paul’s continual discussion that salvation is by neither works nor heritage or through the Law.
1. It may appear Paul belabors this point, but establishing a proper foundation for how salvation is attained is just as necessary today as it was in his time. Basing salvation on an erroneous premise has temporal and more importantly eternal consequences.
2. Consider the building of a ship. It is important to do it right or when it gets in the ocean someone is going to have problems.
3. The Jewish people were proud to be called children of Abraham.
4. Paul refers to him as the founder of the Jewish nation. (v. 1)
5. Abraham is called a Hebrew in Scripture. (Genesis 14:13) The term Hebrew is derived from Shem’s (one of Noah’s sons) descendant Eber.
6. Abraham is also a Jew, a name derived from one of Jacob’s (Israel) sons, Judah.
7. Paul will appeal to the example of Abraham-one they held in such high regard, to prove faith has always been the way to approach a holy God.
8. Abraham lived before the Law was given to Moses, but Paul is not appealing to Abraham to show disregard for the Law or to propose it was not important but simply to show that obedience to it did not lead to salvation.
9. Paul proposes the question as to whether Abraham was saved because of his good deeds. (v. 2)
10. Among the many good deeds that Abraham performed, his initial one was leaving his homeland and going in the direction God told him to move-toward the Promised Land.
11. But later Abraham also obeyed when God instructed him to sacrifice the son through whom his promised descendants would come. The commentary in Hebrews says he believed God had the power to raise Isaac from the dead to procure these descendents. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
12. Did God accept Abraham because he did this, or did this have anything to do with his salvation at all?
13. God accepted Abraham because of his belief which is the very thing that led him to leave his homeland not knowing where he was going and to be willing to sacrifice his promised son.
14. He trusted God unreservedly, and this was counted unto him as righteousness.
15. Jewish tradition taught Abraham was chosen for his unique role in history because he was the only righteous person alive at the time.
16. But simply being the descendent of this godly man was not enough to gain acceptance from God and this is one of the main points Paul is trying to impress upon his Jewish listeners.
17. The fiery wilderness preacher, John the Baptist, promoted this same idea when he told those coming to him for baptism not to trust in their descent from Abraham for acceptance with God. (Luke 3:7-9)
18. Jesus also in speaking to those who trusted in this heritage reminded his pious listeners that if they were true children of Abraham they would do as Abraham did. (John 8:39)
19. As Paul teaches, being a child of Abraham involves much more than just physical lineage.
20. Since Abraham was not made right with God by his works, he has no reason to boast, nor does anyone else.
21. It is all because of God’s grace, and the resulting honor and glory are attributed to him.
22. When Abraham believed God, God declared him righteous. (v. 3)
23. The Greek word for declared-that is variously translated, is logizomai (la ge’ zo my) and means to reckon, count, compute or calculate.
24. The focal point in salvation history is the cross, and whether one was saved before or after that event, the salvation is based on what took place there.
25. Christ took our sins upon himself; he paid our sin debt.
26. When we accept that payment for our life through repentance and belief, like with Abraham, God reckons it to us as righteousness.
27. We are not actually made righteous, but we are reckoned as such because Christ’s righteousness is applied to our life.
28. Our account is not credited with good deeds, but once we stop trying to be good and let Christ make us good, then righteousness is credited to our account.
29. We have no power to live the Christian life unless we allow Christ to live it through us.
B. The worker and his wages (v. 4-5).
1. All of us who have been paid for our work do not consider the wages a gift.
2. Rather, we consider pay our due for the hours of time we have put in that have allowed our employer to make a profit and continue running his business.
3. If God gave us salvation based on good works, it would no longer be a gift but simply what he owed us.
4. This is Paul’s point in his next illustration.
5. Salvation is free; it is not pay for what we have done for God.
6. A proper understanding of this is important, for misunderstanding this essential point could actually lead us to possess God’s role and him ours.
7. If God was required to reward our good works with salvation but reneged on his obligation, we could sue him for breach of contract. If we had this power, we would be placing ourselves in authority over him.
8. Paul then relates this to the salvation process and concludes once again that acceptance with God is not based on works but rather faith. (v. 5)
9. Martin Luther said, “God does not accept the person on account of his works, but he accepts the works on account of the person.”
10. We are so works oriented in our society that many, when they discover salvation is by faith, begin to wonder whether or not they have enough faith or if their faith is strong enough to save them. This mindset again reflects a misunderstanding about the salvation process.
11. Some theologians even maintain we cannot muster the faith to come to Christ but that even the faith is a gift from God enabling us to come.
12. Jesus is the one who saves, not our faith or how strong our feelings might be.
13. We do not earn our salvation through our strong faith any more than we do through good deeds.
C. Paul’s Account of One Declared Righteous (vv. 6-8)
1. Paul appeals to King David to describe what happens when an undeserving sinner finds forgiveness.
2. David is described as a “man after God’s own heart.” At the same time, he was guilty of adultery, murder and lying.
3. The verses quoted come from Psalm 32 which most scholars believe is David’s account of his feelings after his grievous sin with another man’s wife.
4. As you recall, David committed adultery with Bathsheba and even had her husband killed in an attempt to cover up his sin.
5. For nearly a year, David refused to confess his sin to God and during that time felt God’s heavy hand of discipline.
6. After sending Nathan the prophet to confront David about this sin, David confessed and had the joy of his salvation restored, which these verses testify to.
7. Paul says these verses are the testimony of an undeserving sinner who has been declared righteous.
8. Like David, we often try other means to get rid of guilt. We can deny it, try to cover it up, or blame someone else for it, but it remains ours nevertheless, and only God can adequately deal with it.
9. Denying guilt places us in a prison of inner turmoil from which there is no escape. While there is a difference between false and genuine guilt, guilt feelings over sin are always genuine and need dealing with.
10. Neither will God accept our attempt to transfer the blame to someone else.
11. It is also important we not live with unnecessary or false guilt. We should not feel guilty over sins we have confessed or acknowledged and God has forgiven. If you continue to feel guilt over past sins you have confessed, be assured this is Satan’s ploy to make sure you live in misery believing God can never use you because you are or were too big of a sinner.
12. God can and does use people with sordid pasts. When he does, his name is glorified, not theirs.
D. When Was Abraham Declared Righteous (vv. 9-11)
1. Whether it was before or after circumcision is vital in answering the question of how God’s grace is acquired.
2. Circumcision was a very important sign and rite for the Jew as we have already examined.
3. It was the sign of God’s covenant with his people.
4. It set apart the Jewish people from those nations surrounding them who worshipped pagan deities.
5. This ritual, however, was not why Abraham was accepted by God.
6. Abraham had been accepted by God because of his faith, and this took place before he was circumcised.
7. God’s call to Abraham, and his acceptance of God’s mission by faith, was made when Abraham was 75 years of age. (Genesis 12:1-3)
8. The ceremony of circumcision was introduced when he was 99. (Genesis 17:1-14)
9. Abraham’s willingness to undergo the rite was proof of his faith not the reason for it.
10. Modern day Christians also have ceremonies and rituals we observe in connection with our worship, but they too are the result of our faith and not the reason God accepts us.
11. It is our faith not our faithfulness to certain rituals that makes us acceptable to God.
A. The example of Abraham is important in reminding us that faith is the means by which we find acceptance with God.
B. While our rituals and ceremonies testify of our faith, they are not the source of our faith.