Abraham Saved by Faith or Works
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Pauls teaching justification by faith exploded like a bombshell in theological circles of his day (it still does). He now turned to his strongest argument–confirmation by example. Paul will now replace abstract ideas with concrete illustrations.
Paul will prove justification by faith is not heresy, but central to the message of Scripture. It is a doctrine as old as the Jewish faith. Gods covenant with Israel was based on grace through faith 400 years before the Law was given. Far from being a new concoction, justification by faith has always been the only way of salvation.
Romans 41 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to
the flesh, hath found
The Jews believed in salvation by works. A person earned it by merit. Paul used their main hero as his illustration to contradict their theology. Everyone admitted Abraham was justified. The question was how did he find salvation
Abraham was a good example to use, for there is no doubt as to his salvation. God called Abraham My friend (IS 418). To the Jew, Abraham was the ideal man, all a person could ever be before God. He was the best of the best, founder of their race. Abraham was not merely a great Israelite he was the embodiment of all Israel in a single person. All the race proceeded from his loins.
It is important to know whether their forefathers salvation was based on works of the flesh or on grace through faith. The answer would establish an overwhelming precedent. In whatever way Abraham got saved, everyone else must also get saved.
Romans 42 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to
glory but not before God.
If ever a man was good and great enough to boast, it was Abraham. We must confess he was a giant among men. At Gods command, he left Ur as an old man. He had a gracious spirit and a hospitable attitude. He endangered himself to rescue Lot. He was a powerful intercessor and was also willing to sacrifice his own son.
These accomplishments are impressive, but only from the human perspective magnificent. We might be impressed, but not God. The Lord recorded another list Abraham could not leave all his family behind in Ur twice he lied and put his wifes honor in jeopardy consenting to Sarahs request, he had sexual relations with Hagar.
No one, including even Abraham, can boast or claim merit in the presence of God. None of Abrahams good works saved him. There was no saving merit in his deeds. Even great Abraham had to be saved as the rest of us–by grace through faith.
It is difficult for us to believe the best of us have no better chance of earning Heaven than the worst of us. If Abraham had nothing to boast of, neither do we. Surely no one would say they have more holiness than Abraham did.
We might be good enough to impress others, but will never have any ground to boast on before God. Job argued his innocence to his friends, but when God arrived, Job abhorred himself, and repented in dust and ashes (426), saying, Behold, I am vile (404). Isaiah was upstanding, acceptable to his peers, but when he saw the vision of God, he cried, Woe is me for I am undone because I am a man of unclean lips (65). Daniel was revered, but when Gabriel arrived, the statesman was confessing his sin. One great proof that a person walks with God is this however good he appears to others, he senses in himself his uncleanness before God.
If works saved us, we could boast. Salvation would be something we earned based on merit. But since boasting is disallowed, works cant be the way. Then what is the way Before we determine the way, we must agree on where to look for it.
Romans 43a For what saith the scriptures
We will find our answer in the Word of God. To Paul this was the ultimate authority, the Supreme Court. This climaxed his case.
Abide by the same principle, let the Word decide. It matters not what people say or what denominations teach. We decide based not on what others or we think, desire, or feel, but on Gods Word. To the law and to the testimony if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them (IS 820).
This question was about the Old Testament. Do not think Christianity is only a New Testament faith. We live by both Testaments. The two go together. Gods Word is incomplete without either. The testaments complement one another.
Without the New, the Old would be unfulfilled. Without the Old, the New would be harder to comprehend (for instance, try to understand Hebrews without Leviticus). Since the two form one unit, the same plan of salvation should be found in both parts. The New obviously teaches justification by faith. Paul staunchly advocated it, but where is it found in the Old Testament At Genesis 156.
Romans 43b Abraham believed God, and it was counted
unto him for righteousness.
God promised Abraham he would beget a son through whom his ancestors would become as numerous as the stars (GN 154-5). It was a promise Abraham did not deserve, and was also a human impossibility. Sarah was too old to bear children. The only hope for its fulfillment was God, which is where Abraham put his trust.
This was not merely intellectual assent, but also trust in God to accomplish it. The key to success in Abrahams life was not deeds, but rather faith. The moment he placed simple, completely yielded trust in God, righteousness was reckoned to him.
What does God want from us above all else To be believed, trusted in, and received. He yearns to be accepted. Earning Gods favor is impossible. Hence, His only hope is for us to take God at His Word and stake everything on Gods promises.
God let all His claims against sinners be satisfied in the substitutionary death of Jesus. Therefore, what we could never earn can be received.
This is not to say works are unimportant. They matter, but only as a result of salvation, not as a cause. Once the gift of salvation is received, a person is under a lifelong obligation to try to walk worthy of that love. They are no longer guilty outcasts seeking to achieve justification, but saved lovers already assured of Heaven, offering their all to the God who bestowed the pardon.
Only God could have conceived such a plan. Only He could find a way for sinners to dwell in Heaven, to cleanse us without contaminating Himself, and to justify ungodly sinners and yet remain just.
All man-made schemes are of no avail. Some say we do not need salvation–to them everything will be all right in the end. Not true. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (RM 323). When we first sinned, an angel entered the recording room of Heaven and wrote on our account, Guilty. This is a grave matter. The angel cannot reverse it, for his stylus has no eraser on it.
Guilty is written there. Now what are you going to do about it Someone says, I will do good and that will settle the account. Do you really think so Ask Moses to use his tablets to erase the account. He can rub the tablets repeatedly over the word, but everything stays the same, reminding us, By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in my sight (RM 320).
What else will you try Some claim they will achieve prestige. Call David to the recording room. David, please use your kingly crown to settle this account. David puts down his crown and rubs the letters, but nothing is changed, reminding us, Not many mighty, not many noble, are called (I Cor. 1126).
Some may want to use money to buy their way out of Gods debt Solomon, come to the recording room. Bring your gold to pay our debt. Stacks of money are credited to your account, but GUILT is still charged. A dying rich man asked for the gold he had loved. It was placed at his side, but soon the wealthy man was crying out, Take it away Take it away That wont do He was right. Riches wont do.
Some want to base their hope on rituals Baptism, Lords Supper, Church membership, penance, the Sacraments–you think these will suffice Aaron, come to the recording room. You served as the great High Priest. Perform rituals in behalf of this one. However, Guilt remains. God finally interrupts, The customs of the people are vain, as are the traditions of men (JR 103 Col. 28).
If these things fail us, then what is our hope Who can rub out our guilt Our only hope is to cease trying to save ourselves. We must run out of self, and into the Master. He took our guilt, and bore our all. If we will place on Him our total trust for salvation, we shall be forgiven and cleansed.
Only Jesus can walk into the recording room of Heaven and cancel the debt of our sin. When someone trusts in Him, He takes His garment dipped in blood and wipes away the stain of guilt from our record. But theres more. With His own nail-scarred hand, He is crediting His own righteousness to the sinners account.
That is what the word counted means in verse 3. It is a bookkeeping term that indicates a business transaction. It is an important word to Paul. He used it 35 of the 41 times it occurs in the New Testament (11 times in this one chapter).
God does not declare us to be something we are not. The Lord does not play make-believe. Instead, He declares the demands of justice have been satisfied in the substitutionary death of Jesus. Based on this fact, you can be forgiven now.