Romans Chapter Four
I. Content of the Chapter
The Example of Justification by Faith ---- Abraham
A. Justification by faith, not by the wages of works:
1. The importance of faith (v.1-3);
2. The principle of faith (v.4-5);
3. The effect of faith (v.6-8);
B. Justification by faith, not by the law ---- circumcision (v.9-12);
C. To be the heirs by faith (v.13-16);
D. The faith of Abraham
1. The object of faith ---- who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did (v.17);
2. The condition of faith ---- contrary to hope, in hope believed (v.18);
3. The spread of faith ---- all those who believe Christ who died and has risen again (v.23-25);
II. Verse by Verse commentary
Rom. 4:1 “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?”
YLT: “What, then, shall we say Abraham our father, to have found, according to flesh?”
Literal Meaning: “then”, it follows the previous verse. If we want to know the truth of justification by faith in chapter three, we shall receive the proof from the example of Abraham as below.
“Abraham our father”, “Abraham” was the forefather of the Jews, who boasted that they were the children of Abraham (Matt. 3:9; John 8:33).
“What … has found according to the flesh?” ---- “According to the flesh”, it refers to “the works by men’s own strength”. Abraham could receive nothing before God through his own works.
Controversial Clarification: according to the Book of James, Abraham was justified by works (James 2:21-23),
and Abraham’s act of offering Isaac his son
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) To those who have not been saved, God only asks them to “believe”, not “do”, because all the works of those who have not been saved are of the flesh and are of no value.
2) To those who have been saved, God not only asks them to “believe” but also require the proof of faith ---- namely, works (see Eph. 2:10).
3) If the works of believers are of themselves, they can still not be accepted by God. Any service before God should not be done by the fleshy strength.
Rom. 4:2 “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”
YLT: “for if Abraham by works was declared righteous, he hath to boast -- but not before god;”
The Background: in the hearts of the Jews, their forefather, Abraham was the most typical example of justification by works. They thought that that God blessed the children of Abraham was totally because Abraham obeyed God’s voice and kept God’s charge, His commandments, His statutes and His laws (see Gen. 26:4-5). Paul here intended to reverse the concepts of them and pointed them that Abraham’s being justified by God was on account of his faith, not his works. The works of Abraham blessed by God were after his being justified by faith.
Literal Meaning: “if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about”, in the life of Abraham, he might have some good works, but those good works could not make him be justified before God. Therefore, he could not boast about his good works.
“But not before God”, Abraham’s good works had nothing to boast about before God for the following reasons:
1) Good works are what men have to do before God. They are not outstanding performance.
2) Any good work itself cannot reach the standard of God in the sight of God.
3) In fact, there were still flaws in the life of Abraham. He was not perfect.
That Abraham was justified by God was not because of his flesh and works, but his faith in God. Such faith was accounted to him for righteousness (v.3). Therefore, he had nothing to boast about.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) A man who has some works to boast about still has nothing to boast about before God. What most pleases God is not the external good works, but the internal firm faith.
2) Works out of oneself shall make him boast about himself (see Eph. 2:8-9).
3) We were all sinners who had received the grace of the Lord, so we had nothing to boast of. Therefore, we shall still not boast of anything of us after we have been saved, for the good works thereafter are out of God’s grace and life.
4) The principle of works is to manifest the strength of man, so it makes man puff up. The principle of faith is to manifest the God man believes, so it makes man be grateful and humble.
Rom. 4:3 “For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." ”
YLT: “for what doth the writing say? `And Abraham did believe God, and it was reckoned to him -- to righteousness;'”
Meaning of Words: “account”: reckon, take an inventory (a commercial terms);
Literal Meaning: “Abraham believed God”, Abraham’s faith was accounted to him for righteousness (Gen. 15:6). The scriptures had scarcely mentioned works.
“And it was accounted to him for righteousness”, the word “account” means “taking an inventory”. God took his “faith” into the inventory of God and reckoned it to be his “righteousness”.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) What most pleases God is not the external good works, but the internal firm faith.
2) If a man can really believe God, God will render him into the list of “righteousness”. Our faith in God has the eternal value.
3) Faith is not one of the righteous works, but the origin of the righteous works as well as the basis of being justified.
4) “Believing God” means believing God’s word ---- which is true and sure. We believers should have such believing actions and commit ourselves unto Him and look upon His favor.
5) Believing often brings about actions of obedience, because believing is not only a kind of truth received in heart, but also a normal relation with God in life.
Rom. 4:4 “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.”
YLT: “and to him who is working, the reward is not reckoned of grace, but of debt;”
Literal Meaning: “to him who works, the wages”, “works” refers to the deeds of man; “wages” refer to the reward of God.
“Are not counted as grace”, “grace” is free. Any one shall obtain it without any cost. If man comes to obtain God’s righteousness through his good works, it shall not be counted as grace.
“But as debt”, if man’s works can really reach the righteous standard of God (note that no one can reach God’s righteousness), he will naturally be justified by God.
According to equity, he who works shall receive wages. He who does not work shall not receive wages. In other words, he who does good shall be justified. He who does not do good shall not be justified. If it is to be so, Abraham can be in no wise justified.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) That God justifies us is not God’s reward to us according to our good deeds, but purely God’s free grace because of the redemption of Jesus Christ.
2) If God justifies man
out of His grace,
then it is no longer of works. Otherwise
grace is no longer grace (
3) Works and grace cannot exist side by side. Man’s works can in no wise replace God’s grace.
4) The basic principle of salvation is “grace”. If man has to be saved by adding any man’s good works or any religious rites (e.g. circumcision or baptism), it will be not grace.
5) Grace means: we had nothing at all, but God gives us the principal because of the redemption of His Son so that we can live before Him (it is just like that God works in partnership with man, but man has no principal. However, God trusts man because of His Son and gives the principal to man.).
6) If we have some opportunities to serve in the church, it is the grace of God. We shall not due it to ourselves nor feel complacent. Otherwise, we shall not be rewarded by God.
Rom. 4:5 “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,”
YLT: “and to him who is not working, and is believing upon Him who is declaring righteous the impious, his faith is reckoned -- to righteousness:”
Literal Meaning: Abraham believed God only just as he was a sinner, not by works. Such faith shall be accounted as “righteousness”, which means that one can obtain wages without works. This is the gracious way of accounting.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) “Works” and “Being justifies” are two different spheres. Works are of man, of the flesh and of the earth. Being justified is of God, of the spirit and of the heaven. It is hardly possible to be justified by works.
2) One shall not be justified by works ---- it is to encourage man to believe on God in rest, not to be idle.
Rom. 4:6 “just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:”
YLT: “even as David also doth speak of the happiness of the man to whom God doth reckon righteousness apart from works:”
The Background: verse six to verse eight are words of David who wrote when he repented before God and was forgiven by God after he had committed the sins of adultery and murder (Ps. 32:1-2; see 2Sam. 12:13).
Rom. 4:7 “"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered;”
YLT: “`Happy they whose lawless acts were forgiven, and whose sins were covered;”
Meaning of Words: “forgive”: lay aside, let alone; “lawless”: violation of law or (genitive case) wickedness; “sin”: miss the mark;
Literal Meaning: “those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered”, Paul quoted the words of David to explain that Abraham’s being justified by God not because he was a righteous. He was the same as David and you and I ---- we are all man having trespasses and iniquities before God.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) Every man is a sinner. No one can boast that he has never committed any sin. All men have done many things that they should not do and have failed to do all that they should do.
2) If God marks iniquities, who shall stand? (Ps. 130:3)
YLT: “happy the man to whom the Lord may not reckon sin.'”
Literal Meaning: blessed is the man to whom God shall not impute sin. Note that David here described the blessedness of sinners by three words ---- “forgive”, “cover (v.7)” and “not impute”. Forgiveness and covering refer to the work of Christ’s crucifixion. He who believes that Christ had been crucified for the sake of his sins shall be forgiven and his sins shall be covered. “Not impute” refers to the work of Christ’s resurrection. He who believes that Christ had risen again shall be justified before God (see v.25).
All of the three words of “forgive”, “cover” and “not impute” carry the meaning of grace. In the principle of the law, a sinner cannot be freely “forgiven” nor “be covered” and God will “impute” it to the sinner himself. Only in the principle of the law, he who believes the Lord shall be forgiven and his sins shall be covered under the divine blood, thus becoming a man to whom the God shall not impute sin.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) The righteous principle of God is that as long as one is willing to repent, he shall be forgiven, no matter what sins he has committed (see Ps. 32:3-5; Ezek. 18:23, 27-28; 33:14-16).
2) Note that here from verse six to verse eight the phrase “blessed is the man” has been mentioned thrice. Therefore, what the blessedness that a sinner is justified by God. We should not despise the blessedness.
Rom. 4:9 “Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. ”
YLT: “this happiness, then, upon the circumcision, or also upon the uncircumcision -- for we say that the faith was reckoned to Abraham -- to righteousness?”
Literal Meaning: “does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also?” “The circumcised” refers to the Jews; “the uncircumcised” refers to the Gentiles.
Here, it draws out another question: Abraham enjoyed the blessedness of being justified outside of his works, and he was the forefather of the circumcision (Gen. 17:9-10). Therefore, the circumcision might have quite close relation with justification. Possibly, Abraham was blessed by his circumcision. If it was so, we Gentiles the uncircumcised would have no portion of the blessedness of justification before God.
Rom. 4:10 “How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.”
YLT: “how then was it reckoned? he being in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision;”
Literal Meaning: “not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised”. According to the Old Testament, Abraham was justified before God in chapter fifteen (Gen. 15:6) and was circumcised in chapter seventeen (Gen. 17:24, 26). Both of the two matters were at an interval of at least fourteen years (see Gen. 16:16; 17:24-25). According to the traditional saying among the Jews, it was at interval of more than twenty years. Obviously, the justification is before circumcision. It proves that Abraham’s justification had nothing to do with the circumcision.
Rom. 4:11 “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, ”
YLT: “and a sign he did receive of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith in the uncircumcision, for his being father of all those believing through uncircumcision, for the righteousness also being reckoned to them,”
Literal Meaning: “and he received the sign of circumcision”, since Abraham’s faith was accounted to him for righteousness when he had not been circumcised, what was the use of circumcision? This verse tells us that circumcision is a “sign”. The value of a sign is the object that it represents. The true value of circumcision does not lie in itself, but in the truth of justification by faith that is represents.
“A seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised”, “seal”: to show and assure the verity of a matter. A document will be true after it is sealed. The circumcision of Abraham proved the truth of justification by faith, showing that it was true that God pleased him and justified him.
“That he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also,” it means that the circumcision of Abraham is not only the seal of his personal justification by faith, but also the seal of the righteousness of the faith of all the circumcised. From this aspect, Abraham was also the father of the Gentile believers (Gal. 3:7).
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) Man shall enjoy the grace of the Lord because of spiritual revelation ---- faith. Man’s artificial works are of no value. However, real revelation will bring about external works. Such works are the “seal” of the inner revelation.
2) If one declares he has some revelation in his spirit but lacks external seal of works, perhaps the so-called “inner revelation” is flase, unreal and dead. Just as what James said, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17, 26).
Rom. 4:12 “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.”
YLT: “and father of circumcision to those not of circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of the faith, that in the uncircumcision of our father Abraham.”
Literal Meaning: “who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised”, “walk …. in the steps of”, it is like the actions of marching. The steps of the next one should follow the previous one closely. It indicates that one shall intimate the example of the forefathers completely.
The circumcision of Abraham rendered him to be the father of the Jews the circumcised, but circumcision was merely an apparent sign. The real meaning of the sign was the righteousness of Abraham’s faith. In other words, circumcision is an external sign of one’s internal faith. Therefore, the real circumcised are those who are not only circumcised but also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised (see Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 5:6).
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) There is only one way of being justified before God for the Jews or the Gentiles, namely, by faith.
2) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision has any force, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love (Gal. 5:6).
3) For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision; but new creation (Gal. 6:15) ---- namely, to be a man who also walks in the steps of Abraham’s faith.
Rom. 4:13 “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.”
YLT: “For not through law the promise to Abraham, or to his seed, of his being heir of the world, but through the righteousness of faith;”
Literal Meaning: “for the promise that … to Abraham or to his seed”, “promise”, there are two words of “promise” in Greek: one is conditional promise, and the other one is unconditional promise with goodwill. Here it is the latter one ---- the promise of God given to Abraham was not because of Abraham’s works. “His seed” here does not refer to Christ (Gal. 3:16), but all those who take Abraham was their father (see v.11-12).
“The heir of the world”, “heir of the world” here refers to the promise of inheriting the land (see Ps. 37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34; Matt. 5:5). This promise will be fully fulfilled when Christ comes again (please see the commentary of verse sixteen).
“Not through the law, but
through the righteousness of faith”, God promised Abraham and his seed that
they would inherit the
Spiritual Meaning: “the heir of the world”, it means that God will give the world created by Him to His elect and let them reign on the earth for Him so as to fulfill the purpose of Him in the creation of man (Gen. 1:26).
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) The promise of God is not only given to Abraham but also to his heir. Man who walks in the steps of Abraham’s faith (see v.12) can even enjoy the blessedness of inheriting the world! Therefore, we shall not despise ourselves.
2) One can be the “heir” by faith. It shows that faith only justifies us, but also has its eternal purpose, namely, attaining to the eternal predestination, or entering into the full glory of Christ (see Rom. 8:17; Heb. 11:8-12; “glory”, “city” and innumerable “children” have all manifested the fullness of Christ).
Rom. 4:14 “For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect,”
YLT: “for if they who are of law heirs, the faith hath been made void, and the promise hath been made useless;”
Meaning of Words: “made void”: become vanity, make empty; “made of no effect”: render entirely idle or useless;
Literal Meaning: “for if those who are of the law are heirs”, “those who are of the law” refer to those who desire to inherit the possessions by keeping the law.
“Faith is made void”, if only those who are under the law can be the heir of the land, it will mean that the promise is given according to the law and thus faith is made void.
“And the promise made of no effect”, if keeping the law is the precondition of the fulfillment of God’s promise and only those who keep the law can obtain the promise, the promise of God will never be fulfilled and is made of “no effect”.
Rom. 4:15 “because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.”
YLT: “for the law doth work wrath; for where law is not, neither transgression.”
Literal Meaning: “because the law brings about wrath”, “bring about wrath”: bring about the wrath of God. The next half verse will explain why the law brings about God’s wrath.
“For where there is no law
there is no transgression”. ---- The law can only manifest man’s sin. And sin,
getting a point of attack by the law, works in man all manner of concupiscence
This verse explains why the law makes the promise of no effect. If there is no law, there is no transgression violating the law. But the law only manifests man’s transgression and brings about the wrath of God. In other words, the law brings man under the judgment of God and makes man be stripped of the gracious promise of God.
Rom. 4:16 “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all ”
YLT: “Because of this of faith, that according to grace, for the promise being sure to all the seed, not to that which of the law only, but also to that which of the faith of Abraham,”
Meaning of Words: “sure”: firm, of force, steadfast, stable;
Literal Meaning: this verse is the conclusion of verse thirteen to verse fifteen, which carries the meanings as follows:
1) “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace”, the promise that Abraham received was of faith, so it was grace. Promise, faith and grace are of one of the same kind. Promise is given because of faith without any cost, so it is grace.
2) “So that the promise might be sure to all the seed”, promise is not given to those who keep the law, so we are sure that we can obtain the promise.
3) “Not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all”, “who are of the law”, the definite article “the” before the word “law” show that it must refer to the Law of Moses, so those who are of the law are the Jews. “Those who are of the faith of Abraham” refer to the Gentiles who believe the Lord. Abraham has two groups of heirs ---- one is the Jews who have the law, and the other is the Gentile believers who have not the law. The former is the offspring of Abraham in the flesh, “as the sand that is on the sea-shore”, and the latter is the spiritual offspring of Abraham, “as the stars of heaven” (Gen. 22:17).
God promised Abraham that he would be
the heir of the world (v.13) ---- it does not mean the
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) That we have received the promise of God is not because of any good work of us, but faith purely. It is a free gift. What grace!
2) Anything is of God’s grace. In fact, man can never do anything for God to obtain the reward of God. It is not man does anything for God, but God fulfills everything for man.
Rom. 4:17 “(as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations" ) in the presence of Him whom he believed--God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; ”
YLT: “who is father of us all (according as it hath been written -- `A father of many nations I have set thee,') before Him whom he did believe -- God, who is quickening the dead, and is calling the things that be not as being.”
Literal Meaning: “God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did”, “gives life to the dead”, it has respect to the power of the risen power of God; “calls those things which do not exist as though they did”, it speaks of the great power of God’s creation. Here, Abraham’s faith in God can be divided into two parts:
1) He believes that God is the God who gives life to the dead. By such faith, he could offer Isaac to God without the least hesitation (Gen. 22:1-10; Heb. 11:17-19).
2) He believes that God is the God who calls those things which do not exist as though they did. Therefore he could agreeably receive the calling of God and sojourn as a stranger in the land of promise as a foreign country and see the inheritance of God’s promise with the eyes of faith. Besides, he believes that God will also give his heir the inheritance (Gen. 15:2-6). The birth of Isaac has relation to Abraham’s faith in God “who calls those things which do not exist as though they did”.
“(As it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations") in the presence of Him whom he believed”, “Abraham” means “a father of many nations” in the original. God changed his name to Abraham (Gen. 17:5) in order to make him to be not only the father of the Jews but also the father of our Gentile believers (namely, all those who walk in the steps of his faith).
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) Abraham’s faith is the example to our believers. Since we honor him as the father of faith, we shall imitate his faith.
2) Faith is not an illusory idea, but a real belief that can be applied in our practical life so as to make us march ahead in holding fast God.
3) We believers shall trust in God who raises the dead in the condition that is full of despair of living (2Cor. 1:8-9).
4) When we draw the risen power of God by faith, God’s power will enable us to overcome the threat of death and eliminate the shadow of death. No dead thing can make us despaired or disappointed.
5) God never keeps what is natural. He only accepts resurrection. God would let the natural pass through death. God never changes what is natural. The power that raises the dead is God’s redeeming power. Man wants to protect his own life, but God rejects that life. God will cast the natural life out. When we say to God, “God, I have no way that I can only lie down before you just as the dead”, God will then grant us His risen power. This is the mystery of receiving life and power.
6) If we believers are in the condition having nothing, we shall still not walk by sight, but believe the God “who spoke, and it was; and He commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:9).
7) When we draw the power of God’s creation by faith, we will neither be affected by the environment, nor judge according to any visible fact or news, but only look upon the God who calls those things which do not exist as though they did.
8) The object of Abraham’s faith is the God “who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did”. Jesus Christ that we believe calls those things which do not exist as though they did by the great power of God’s creation and thus becomes the heir of all things (Heb. 1:2-3). He also enters into glory by the great risen power of God and thus become the head of the new creation (Heb.2:9-10). Such a mighty Christ, who is the head and all in the old creation and the new creation, is the object of our faith.
9) Since the object of faith is God Himself, we need not to see the environment, nor find reliance, nor seek proof, for God need not man’s help to accomplish anything.
Rom. 4:18 “who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be." ”
YLT: “Who, against hope in hope did believe, for his becoming father of many nations according to that spoken: `So shall thy seed be;'”
Literal Meaning: the faith of Abraham is “to believe in hope, contrary to hope”. Though there is no possibility as is supposed by man, no matter how good man imagines, he still has hope in his deep spirit and has sure confidence in God’s words ---- this is faith. Such faith makes Abraham our father. And the heir of his faith can also have such faith.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) True faith carries the nature of hope. He who has faith never loses hope.
2) Faith is our “hope” upon God, neither upon man nor environment.
3) Since we are the heir of Abraham, we must also have the same faith as him, namely, faith enabling man to live by the things hoped for (Heb. 11:1).
4) The principle of faith is “contrary to hope … in hope”. “Contrary to hope” means that all that of nature and flesh have been brought to the end ---- “his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb” (see v.19). “In hope” unveils that the risen Christ is our only hope ---- “Christ in … the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
5) In our experience, if we are brought to a position that everything seems to be in despair, we shall not forget that God has only one purpose in such situation ---- He lets us know deeper that Christ is our hope in despair so that we can experience Christ more.
Rom. 4:19 “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb.”
YLT: “and not having been weak in the faith, he did not consider his own body, already become dead, (being about a hundred years old,) and the deadness of Sarah's womb,”
Literal Meaning: this verse reveals the features of Abraham’s faith as below:
1) Which is “enduring” ---- “since he was about a hundred years old”;
2) Which is “contrary to his own mind” ---- “consider”;
3) Which is “not affected by the condition of man” ---- “his own body already dead”;
4) Which “may not be proved by objective conditions” ---- “the deadness of Sarah's womb”;
5) Which never “fails” ---- “not being weak in faith”;
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) It was at least Abraham ten years from God gave Abraham promise of the heir to the birth of Isaac. Therefore, real faith is not transient, but enduring (“since he was about a hundred years old”).
2) Abraham did “consider” the difficulty that he was faced with, but faith made him transcend and overcome the difficulty. The great faith supports us to march ahead hopefully in distress.
Rom. 4:20 “He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God,”
YLT: “and at the promise of God did not stagger in unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, having given glory to God,”
Literal Meaning: “did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith”, when Abraham believed the promise of God, he did not go through without struggles, for there was a believing heart and an unbelieving heart struggling in them. However, finally, he neither surrendered to the unbelieving heart nor wavered. “Unbelief” does not only mean lacking faith, but also expressing positive rejection of belief. “But was strengthened in faith”, “in faith”, it can be explained as the sphere of being strengthened, namely, being strengthened concerning faith. It can also be interpreted as the reason or way for being strengthened ---- being strengthened because of faith.
This verse unveils the mystery of Abraham’s faith:
1) He did not look upon himself nor the environment, but God only.
2) God is an unseen God (Rom. 1:20), so he can only “look upon the promise of God”, namely, having hope in God’s word (Ps. 119:74), we can see God through God’s word (or in God’s word).
3) He built the foundation of his faith upon the word of God.
4) He did not let the doubtful concepts root in him.
5) He contrarily let the word of God manifest its power in him (“was strengthened”) so that his inner man could be strengthened and thus all the disbelieving ideas would be cast out.
6) In the positive aspect, he only considered the glory of God and let the thought of glorifying God be filled in him.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) The mystery of faith lies in having obtained the word of God. If our faith does not build upon the word of God, it will waver and collapse finally.
2) “Works” mislead man into the thought that they have the right of demanding something from God. “Faith” makes man glorify God.
Rom. 4:21 “and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.”
YLT: “and having been fully persuaded that what He hath promised He is able also to do:”
Literal Meaning: the six steps mentioned in the previous verse can not only keep his faith from falling. Besides, he cannot spare any room for other things (the meaning of “being fully convinced”) except for faith. What does he believe? He believed that “what He had promised He was also able to perform” ---- to believe that the word of God must be fulfilled and none of them shall fall (2King 10:10; Acts 27:25).
Rom. 4:22 “And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness." ”
YLT: “wherefore also it was reckoned to him to righteousness.”
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) Abraham’s faith is the faith accounted to him for righteousness by God. Believers should take it as example.
2) The reason why Abraham’s faith could be accounted to him for righteousness by God is his faith upon the promise of God without reservation. Such faith is real faith.
Rom. 4:23 “Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him,”
YLT: “And it was not written on his account alone, that it was reckoned to him,”
Literal Meaning: justification by faith not only applies to Abraham but also to all those who have the same faith as him (see v.24).
Rom. 4:24 “but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead,”
YLT: “but also on ours, to whom it is about to be reckoned -- to us believing on Him who did raise up Jesus our Lord out of the dead,”
Literal Meaning: “but also for us”, “us” refers to believers. Abraham and we believers are all men who are justified by faith. The difference lies in that:
1) Abraham believed the promise of God that would be fulfilled in the future. We believe the accomplished salvation by Christ.
2) Abraham believed God could give life to the dead (the fleshly life; see v.17, 19; Heb. 11:19). We believe God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead and gives life to the dead (spiritual life).
“It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead”, there are two great points as regard faith: one is to believe that the Lord Jesus had been dead for us; the second is that He has been raised for us.
What Abraham believed seemed to have nothing with the Lord Jesus, for he had believed early before the Lord was born on the earth. However, the Bible tells us that Abraham exulted in that he should see the day of the Lord Jesus (John 8:56). Therefore, the faith of Abraham is the same as our concerning the spiritual reality ---- “believe God has raised the Lord Jesus from the dead”.
Rom. 4:25 “who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”
YLT: “who was delivered up because of our offences, and was raised up because of our being declared righteous.”
Literal Meaning: “who was delivered up because of our offenses”, “Jesus was delivered up”, it means that Jesus was delivered up to men’s hands to be crucified and be dead for the purpose of bearing our transgressions and iniquities (Is. 53:5-6; 2Pet. 2:24) and satisfying the righteousness of God and resolving our difficulty before God.
“And was raised because of our justification”, if the Lord Jesus has not been raised from the dead, we will have no proof (see Acts 17:31) to prove that His death has satisfied the righteousness of God and we will not be sure whether God has accepted us or not. But now, he has been raised from the dead. Therefore, we can confirm that all those who are in Christ have received the position (Gal. 2:16) and life (1Pet. 1:3; Rom. 5:18) of being justified.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) We can only enjoy the effect of the redemption of the Lord fully if we believe the Lord Jesus has been dead for us and has risen for us.
2) Now this risen Lord lives in us so that we can live the life that is accepted and justified by God through His risen life.
3) When we believe the Lord’s death and resurrection, we are justified on the objective position. When we live by faith in the risen life, we are justified subjectively in our works.
III. Outlines of the Spiritual Lessons
The Experiences of Abraham Proves the Truth of Justification by Faith
A. Abraham was not justified by works:
1. Abraham received nothing and boasted of nothing before God according to the flesh and his works (v.1-2).
2. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (v.3).
3. It was grace that Abraham was justified by faith before God, not by works. He was really blessed (v.4-8)!
B. Abraham was justified while uncircumcised:
1. Abraham was justified by faith while uncircumcised (v.9-10).
2. Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised (v.11).
3. Abraham was the father of circumcision (v.12).
C. Abraham received the promise without law:
1. The promise was not to Abraham through the law, but through the righteousness of faith (v.13).
2. If the promise is based upon the law, faith will be made void and the promise made of no effect (v.14).
3. The law manifests man’s transgressions and brings about the wrath of God (v.15).
4. The promise is of faith, so it is of grace (v.16).
Not “by”s, But by Faith
A. Not by works of the flesh, but “faith” which was accounted for righteousness by God (v.1-3);
B. Not by wages from works, but the grace of God ---- “believe only” (v.4-8);
C. Not by circumcision, but the blessedness of God ---- to those who “believe” (v.9-12);
D. Not by the law, but the promise of God ---- it is of faith (v.13-16);
E. Not by one’s own condition, but “being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (v.21).
The Contrasts Between Justification by Faith and by Works (v.1-16)
A. Be justified by works:
1. No one can be justified by works ---- the purpose of God’s giving the law is not to let men keep, but let men know in failures that they cannot keep the law.
2. Works without faith are of no effect before God ---- the effective works must be out of faith. The circumcision of Abraham was a sign of his faith.
3. Being justified by works is out of the thought of works, which causes man to boast before God ---- that there will be of no voices of praise or thanksgiving.
4. Being justified by works is not the thought of God in the beginning, so it will finally be destroyed by God ---- the eternal thought of God is “grace”.
B. Be justified by faith:
1. Only faith can be justified ---- the object of faith is Christ. Faith declares that one cannot be justified in himself.
2. Only faith can establish and satisfy the law ---- the center of works lies in self, so man’s iniquity will always be manifested before the law and be condemned by the law. The center of faith is Christ. Therefore, faith satisfies Christ and exceeds the law and is justified by the law.
3. Two kinds of blessedness of justification by faith:
1) Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered ---- it refers to the death of Christ;
2) To whom the LORD shall not impute sin ---- it refers to the resurrection of Christ;
4. God renders the promise sure to all the seed of faith ----the center of the promise of God is Christ Himself. Faith is the only way to receive.
Several Ways of Men to Justify Themselves
A. By good works (v.1-8).
B. Circumcision or other religious rites (v.9-12);
C. Do the law (v.13-17);
D. Be restricted by one’s own feeling (v.17-22);
The Contrasts Between Justification by Works and by Faith
A. Be justified by works will make one boast about himself (v.2) ---- the boasting in the flesh (see Rom. 3:27; Eph. 2:9). Justification is of grace (v.16), which makes man be humbled and give thanks unto God (v.7-8).
B. Be justified by works is wages as debt (v.4), but is of no boasting before God (v.2). Justification by faith needs not works (v.5), but is that God imputes righteousness to man (v.6).
C. Be justified by works is through man’s natural power that cannot really justify man (Rom. 3:20). Justification by works is through the power of God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did (v.17). Therefore, it must be performed.
The Explanations of Being Justified by Faith
A. The blessedness of justification by faith is given to those who believe (v.9).
B. Abraham had not been circumcised when he was justified by faith (v.10-12).
C. The condition of man’s justification needs not the law (v.13-16).
D. Justification is totally due to faith (v.17-25).
The Faith of Abraham
A. The faith of Abraham is foresighted ---- his circumcision was the sign of faith (v.11);
B. The faith of Abraham is progressive ---- his experiences became steps of faith that all those who believe also walk (v.12);
C. The faith of Abraham is able to grow ---- he had heirs in both the flesh and the spirit (v.16);
D. The faith of Abraham is firm ---- he was strengthened in faith (v.20);
The Faith of Abraham
A. The object of the faith of Abraham ---- the living God (v.17);
B. The time of the faith of Abraham ---- contrary to hope (v.18);
C. The condition of the faith of Abraham ---- strong but not weak(v.19);
D. The base of the faith of Abraham ---- the promise of God (v.20);
E. The effect of the faith of Abraham ---- be strengthened in faith (v.20);
F. The manifestation of the faith of Abraham ---- be fully convinced (v.21);
G. The degree of the faith of Abraham ---- the promise of God must be performed (v.21);
The Faith of Abraham’s Justification
A. Abraham’s faith toward God (v.17a):
1. He believed that God is the One who gives life to the dead;
2. He believed that God is the One who calls those things which do not exist as though they did;
B. Abraham is the father of faith:
1. He had been made “a father of many nations” by God by faith (v.17b).
2. As we are the heirs of his faith, we shall also have such faith (v.18b).
C. The features of Abraham’s faith:
1. “Contrary to hope, in hope believed” ---- which makes him hold fast the word of God, not see the circumstance;
2. “Since he was about a hundred years old” ---- which is enduring;
3. “Consider” ---- which is contrary to his mind;
4. “His own body, already dead” ---- which needs not his own power;
5. “The deadness of Sarah's womb” ---- which may not be proved by objective conditions;
6. “Not being weak in faith” ---- which never fails;
The Law of Faith
A. The object of faith ---- who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did (v.17);
1. God who gives life to the dead ---- the great power of God’s creation; God never relies on anything nor is restricted by anything. Therefore, he who has faith needs not to see the environment, nor seek ground, nor find reliance, nor seek man’s assistance.
2. God who calls those things which do not exist as though they did ---- the great risen power of God;
B. The attitude of faith ---- faith does not fear trial (v.18-20):
1. Contrary to hope, in hope believed;
2. Being weak in faith when it is in no wise possible in the environment;
3. Though all things are contrary to the promise of God, he who believes is strengthened in faith;
4. Giving glory to God at any time and being fully convinced;
C. The ground of faith ---- the promise (word) of God (v.20-21);
1. One shall “look upon the promise of God” when being tried ---- this is the secret of being strengthened in faith;
2. “Being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” ---- such faith is the only way of letting God work and letting God’s will work.
D. The righteousness of faith is to believe the Christ anointed by God (v.22-25).
The Secrets of Abraham’s Keeping His Faith (v.20-22)
A. “Look upon God” ---- who did not see himself and the environment, but God only;
B. “Look upon God’s promise” ---- who caught the word of God;
C. “Did not waver… through unbelief” ---- who gave no room for doubt in his heart;
D. “Was strengthened in faith” ---- who let the word of God strengthen him;
E. “Give glory to God” ---- who minded the glory of God;
F. “Being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” ---- whose heart was filled with “faith”;
The Secrets of Abraham’s Faith (v.20-22)
A. He did not care for the actual difficulty ---- the natural law concerning physiology had indicated that they had no possibility of giving birth.
B. He wholly looked upon the promise of God ---- his faith was based upon the word of God.
C. He did not follow the doubtful reasons to hesitation ---- once he thought God’s faithfulness, his heart would immediately be strengthened in faith.
D. He only desired to give glory to God ---- he did not want to magnify himself.
E. He was fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform ---- He gave no room for doubt.
Believers Can Also Be Justified by the Faith as that of Abraham
A. “It was accounted to him for righteousness”, it is also written for we believers who believe;
B. The faith of us which is accounted to us for righteousness is:
1. To believe that the Lord Jesus was delivered up because of our offenses (to be crucified);
2. To believe that the Lord Jesus was raised because of our justification;
── Caleb Huang《Christian Digest Bible Commentary Series》
Translated by Mary Zhou