March 22, 2018

Justified by Faith, Not by Who We Are or What We’ve Done

Romans 4

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Abraham Justified by Faith

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 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 counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in1 him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

  “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
  blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

The Promise Realized Through Faith

13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness2 of Sarah's womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.


[1] 4:5 Or but trusts; compare verse 24
[2] 4:19 Greek deadness

Justified by Faith, Not by Who We Are or What We’ve Done

Central Truth

We are counted as righteous not because of what we have done or because of who we are, but because of Christ’s finished work for us on the cross.

Devotional | Romans 4

In Romans 4, Paul uses the example of Abraham to reinforce his point in Romans 3 that we are justified through faith and not from our works, but rather because of Christ’s work on the cross. Why Abraham? Because...

In Romans 4, Paul uses the example of Abraham to reinforce his point in Romans 3 that we are justified through faith and not from our works, but rather because of Christ’s work on the cross. Why Abraham? Because he was a patriarch to the Jewish people, and the Gentiles could also relate to him since he was “the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5, NIV). Plus, Abraham was well known and respected for his deeds, hospitality, and courageous acts.

However, it wasn’t about what Abraham did, who he was, or where he came from that caused God to count him as righteous. It was because of Abraham’s faith (Romans 4:3). The word counted in this verse means to “put into one’s account” and is used several times throughout the chapter. We are justified because God has credited the righteousness of Christ into our accounts to cover over the penalty of our sins. Paul uses the same word in verses 4 and 5 when he explains that if we were counted as righteous because of our works, grace would instead be considered an obligation rather than as a gift.

I’m encouraged by these truths because they remind me that I am justified by believing God’s promise rather than by obeying God’s laws. That’s a truth that I didn’t fully grasp until I got into my 20s, despite growing up in a faith-filled home.

Instead, for years I believed that my works also contributed toward my salvation. I tried to work for my salvation by being a rule follower, which earned me a reputation as a good kid and praise from man. However, this led to an attitude of prideful self-righteousness, and resulted in struggles with people-pleasing, anxiety, and stress as I sought approval from those around me. Therefore, the actual result of my deeds wasn’t salvation but condemnation (Romans 6:23).

But there is hope. The words “it was counted to him” were not written only for Abraham, but for us also. I pray that we will remember, appreciate, and celebrate the gift of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross for us!

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Bio | Jonathan Looney

Howdy! I’m Jonathan Looney. I’m blessed to be the husband of seven years to Lauren and the father to Bryson (4) and Beckett (1). I’m an avid Dallas sports fan and Aggie. Whoop! On Sundays you can usually find me at Watermark’s Plano campus teaching kids in K-1 Race, Watermark’s ministry for kindergartners and first graders. For my profession, I am an accountant (a.k.a “bean counter” or nerd if you ask my wife). But most importantly, I am thankful to be counted as righteous because of Christ’s justifying work on the cross.

Discussion Questions

1. Do you ever find yourself trying to work for your salvation rather than solely relying on the gift of Christ’s justifying work on the cross? How can you start surrendering that part of your life to Christ today?

2. What sins did Christ’s work on the cross redeem you from? Take the time to pray and praise God that because of Christ we are declared righteous.

3. Have you memorized any Scriptures to keep you anchored in this truth? Pick one out of Romans 4 or consider Ephesians 2:8-9, John 5:24, or Galatians 2:16.

1 Comments available

Ray Bohlin about 4 hours ago

Greetings from Belarus JTJ friends. I am in the home stretch. Two more days with leadership academy friends. Saturday we travel by van to Brest again for an afternoon conference. We return the same day so it’s a long day, 4 hours one way. Sunday I will preach in two churches and give a short report one a third. Then we catch a 6:30 am flight to start the journey home. Mental and physical fatigue is a constant reality. But God is so good and I revel in salvation by grace! Salvation by works would be so much more exhausting than these last two weeks.

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