Paul has shown us that man is utterly helpless and incapable of making himself right with God. Man's effort to keep the law cannot produce God's righteousness. Man can only be made right with God through God's wonderful provision in Christ! God's righteousness can only become ours by faith! Since the Jews were so proud of the law, this was difficult for them to accept.
Any deviation from the accepted norm and religious practices is difficult to subscribe to, especially for those who are religious! The things we have been taught as children, we accept as truth without further investigation and proof. But we need a lot of proof to believe otherwise. The beliefs of our parents become our traditions, especially those mixed with religious laws. For example, from childhood we have heard that Jesus died as our substitute. This belief has been ingrained in us. Therefore it is very difficult for us to see that He died for us and as us. Recognizing how difficult it is for us to dismiss our former beliefs, helps us to understand how difficult it was for the Jews to have their ingrained belief in the law for righteousness removed!
Paul proves his point by reviewing the history of Israel. He takes them back to Abraham. If he can prove that Abraham, the prime example of an upright man and the father of the Jewish nation, was justified by faith, surely the Jewish objectors will be convinced! So Paul begins with their forefather Abraham to see how this principle of faith worked in his life. He reminds them that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised. Works had nothing to do with his righteousness! The covenant agreement, of which circumcision was the outward sign, came later. Paul zeroes in on "the just shall live by faith," and shows us that this was already evidenced in the Old Testament.
This principle is difficult to comprehend for everyone - even for those who firmly adhere to salvation by faith in Christ Jesus! The desire to boast about accomplishment is present in all of humanity. Works prove what has been accomplished. So those who zealously go to church and participate in all the activities are regarded as more righteous than those who don't. However, our righteousness does not depend upon works but upon faith! This floors us, doesn't it? You mean, we don't have to go to church? Not to receive righteousness! We go to church for fellowship and encouragement, but not to obtain righteousness!
Let's keep the issues straight! Our righteousness depends upon our faith in Christ - not upon our going to church! Our desire to fellowship with other believers is the outgrowth of faith! It has nothing to do with the degree of righteousness that Christ has bestowed upon us! As we have previously mentioned, we can do nothing to add to that righteousness! So let's forget about boasting!
"For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? `And Abraham believed God, and it was credited (reckoned) to Him as righteousness.'" (vv.2-3) We may be impressed by our works, and other people may be impressed by them, but God is not impressed by works for righteousness! Jesus was impressed by the Centurion's faith, but he was not impressed with the works of the scribes and Pharisees. God boasted about Job's blamelessness and righteousness, but not about his good works. "The LORD said to Satan, `Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.'" (Job 1:8)
Works done in order to receive righteousness or to enhance our righteousness, do not impress God! The works that flow out of faith are the ones that count with God. But these are not works for righteousness! They are works that flow out of righteousness. God has foreordained the works we are to do.
We need to be convinced of our inability to perform works that bring us righteousness! Chapters 1 and 3 of Romans should convince us. We may even believe it with our mind, but not with our heart! We may apply this truth to others, but not to ourselves!
In Genesis 15 we read that the Lord appeared to Abram in a vision, and told him that his heir would come from his inward parts! Furthermore, his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens! Then Abram "believed in the LORD; and He (the LORD) reckoned it to him as righteousness." (v.6) He believed God before he saw the evidence!
Abram was convinced of Sarah's inability to produce children, but it took him many years before he came to recognize his own inability! God would have to do a great miracle to fulfill His promise. Since both Abram and Sarah were dead in their ability to procreate, it had to be God's work entirely! Abram had to learn that God did not need his help in bringing about His promise - a lesson we too have to learn.
The amazing thing is that throughout Abram's learning process he believed God; he never lost his faith in God's promise - he knew it would come about! However, he first had to be convinced of his own helplessness! So when Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to him again and changed his name to Abraham - a father of a multitude of nations. (Gen. 17:5)
Isn't it significant that he received a name prophetically proclaiming that he would not only have offspring, but that there would be a multitude of nations arising from him! The fulfillment of God's promise was in God's department - and He would not fail!
"Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due." (v.4) Why would we want wages instead of favor? The laborers in Matthew 20 who received their wages were envious of those who received favor! Why? Because favor brought a greater reward than wages! The righteousness of the law cannot be compared with the righteousness we receive by faith!
Receiving righteousness by faith requires humility. Trying to obtain righteousness by works draws attention to self and gives rise to boasting, comparisons and guilt. Human nature revels in boasting and comparisons! It says, "Let's work and take a gamble on whether it meets with God's approval or not! We'll compare ourselves with others, and prove that we really deserve recognition!" "Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" (Matt. 7:22) Notice that all these works draw attention and honor to self. They had worked for their righteousness, and therefore thought they deserved it! They thought their works merited God's favor and righteousness!
Interesting, isn't it, that in the next verse Jesus called that practicing lawlessness! Why? The idea that man can produce works that can match the righteousness of God is pure arrogance and rebelliousness against the very nature of God. These works had nothing to do with faith. They were works for righteousness. Since they were not works of faith, they were against the Law of God!
Righteousness by works requires perfection! Nothing less than 100% will do! "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." (James 2:10) What a bondage! Once we have failed in one point, we are plagued with condemnation, for the law does not know anything about grace and forgiveness! It's an automatic failure! The flip side of works for righteousness, is penance - trying to atone for our sins by works which involve suffering. People try to atone for their sins by going up stairs on their knees, beating themselves, and/or praying for hours in their zealousness to absolve themselves of guilt. This may give them momentary satisfaction and relief, but soon guilt and condemnation gnaw at their conscience again. No wonder many land in psychiatric wards!
The blessings of righteousness apart from works are many! "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!" (Ps. 32:1-2) This quote from the Old Testament says our sins are covered - and that is all that the blood of animals can do. In Christ, our sins are more than covered; not only are they forgiven, but they are gone! Christ is our new identity! We have been taken out of the Adam man and have been put into Jesus Christ, the second man! In Him there is no condemnation!
Paul presents the reason why circumcision for righteousness is useless in verses 9-12! "Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, `Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.' How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised."
What could be any plainer than these words? Abraham believed God and his faith was counted to him for righteousness! He then received the sign of circumcision, which was a seal of the righteousness which he had by faith when he was not yet circumcised, that he might be the father of all those who now believe, even though they are uncircumcised!
Abraham's faith was followed by circumcision - the cutting off of the flesh. Our faith in Christ is followed by the circumcision of the heart - the cutting off of the deeds of the flesh and the thinking of the flesh! This includes all our carnal ideas of spiritual realities! All our carnal ideas of God and Christ Jesus have to go, as well as our carnal ideas of who we are in Christ, and any thoughts of adding our works to the righteousness we receive by faith.
Our righteousness has nothing to do with the law! "For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation." (vv.13-15)
Do we truly comprehend that when there is no law, there can be no violation of the law? Don't we need some rules to keep us on the straight and narrow? In chapter 14 Paul declares that whatever is not of faith is sin! Living in the faith of Christ keeps us from sinning and brings us into a sinless life! Laws and rules are unnecessary! Christ lived a sinless life because He had faith that obedience to the Spirit would keep Him! It takes faith to believe that the Spirit's leading is always right. Our natural thinking always rebels against truth; it thinks laws are necessary to keep us on the straight and narrow! It thinks we need them to govern our behavior. It does not believe that we can be led by the Spirit. That is why our natural thinking has to be cut off!
In the next verses, Abraham is declared to be the father of all who believe! There is no distinction as to race and color; it includes Jew and Gentile. Every believer can now declare that Abraham is his father! This makes him a true Israelite, an heir of the promise!
"For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law (natural seed), but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham (uncircumcised Gentiles), who is the father of us all." (v.16)
Faith is in accordance with grace! God's grace comes to us in the generosity of the Giver! It has nothing to do with our worthiness or unworthiness. Therefore it does away with every reason we think we could have for boasting - it excludes descendancy, works, talents, learning, attainments, wealth, etc. God's grace tells us that He is concerned about us! Our helplessness to achieve His righteousness by our works is very evident. God saw our need, and provided a way because of His love and grace! We did not merit this favor, but God's grace provided it!
This grace is for everyone! Abraham is not only the father of his natural posterity, but also of all those who believe. They become his posterity through faith in Christ Jesus! It includes everyone throughout the ages who has truly believed in Christ! There is no racial discrimination, no color discrimination - there is no difference! All are one! In other words, when the Romans believed in Christ, they became children of Abraham; when the Greeks believed, they became children of Abraham; when the Africans believe, they become children of Abraham; when we believe, we become children of Abraham! In this way, Abraham becomes the father of many nations!
"(as it is written, `A father of many nations have I made you') in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist." Our God gives life to the dead! When we were dead in our transgressions and sin, He resurrected us into the life of Christ! He calls into being that which does not exist! When things look impossible, God calls something new into being and brings us out of our dilemma!
Why was Abraham's faith so extraordinary? His faith had to encompass a God "who gives life to the dead, and calls into being that which does not exist." Both he and Sarah were dead to procreation, yet he believed that God would keep His promise and give him a son! God gave life to the dead, called something new into being, and Isaac was born!
Faith makes all the difference! "And without faith it is impossible to please Him." (Heb. 11:6) Only those who have received faith in Christ are the spiritual children of Abraham. All others are foreigners - aliens! People always want to take pride in descendancy, but the Holy Spirit says "There is no difference - all have sinned!" Natural posterity does not make any difference - it does not add or subtract from our need of a Savior! "For there is no distinction between the Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him." (Rom. 10:12)
This is such an important truth that it is repeated over and over again in the Epistles! In Galatians 3:6-9 we read, "Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, `All the nations will be blessed in you.' So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer." The blessing of Abraham comes to the Gentiles through faith!
We are blessed with Abraham the believer! Abraham knew very little, if anything, about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; he only knew that a seed would come. So why are we blessed with him? Because Abraham was a believer - a believer of everything God said! Do we believe everything God says? He tells us not to be anxious about anything! Do we believe Him? God wants us to believe everything He says! Abraham believed God when he was told to sacrifice his son! Believing God means believing everything He says - believing that He is able to deliver us out of every trial that comes our way! He gives grace for everything He tells us to do!
Furthermore, in Gal. 3:16 it says, "Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, `and to seeds' as referring to many, but rather to one, `and to your seed,' that is, Christ." God's promises were made to Abraham and his seed. A distinction is made between seed and seeds. Abraham's seed did not include all of his posterity, but referred to one particular person among them! And this particular seed is Christ! All the promises made to Abraham were made to Christ!
How do we become partakers of Christ so that the promises can become ours? Through faith in Christ we become sons of God. "For all of you (uncircumcised Galatians) who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus!" (vv.27-28) In Him we lose our natural identity! Belonging to Christ makes us offspring of Abraham and heirs according to the promise!
Circumcision and the law have nothing to do with making us heirs! Let's receive this wonderful truth! The real Jew or the real Israelite is one who has become the true seed of Abraham by faith. This is not by natural blood, but by the blood of Jesus, received by faith. The soul of the flesh is in the blood. (Lev. 17:11) Most translators have wrongly translated the Hebrew NEPHESH as life; the true translation is soul. In other words, we receive the soul of Jesus by faith. His soul gives us a new identity and a new sense of being!
The next big test came when Abraham was called upon to sacrifice Isaac! God was asking Abraham to sacrifice his son who had been promised to him! God gives us a ministry, and then He asks us to lay it down! We don't understand. Job understood that God gives and He also has the authority to take it away. But this is different! He asks us to lay it down, to give it back to Him! He doesn't take it away; He asks us to give it back.
God's promise to Abraham was that the seed would come through Isaac. Not through another son, but through Isaac. When Abraham took Isaac with him to worship and sacrifice, he said, "We will return!" To Isaac he said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." (Gen. 22:8) He was convinced that he and his son Isaac would return, because of God's promise! If he sacrificed him, Isaac would be resurrected! This is faith - faith in the promise of God, faith in the ability of God, and faith in the very essence of who God is! He knew that God does not lie! Whatever He says, He is also able to perform! He doesn't need our help, but He wants our co-operation, our obedience!
God wants us to be convinced of His truthfulness, and to believe in His ability to keep His promises, and know with certainty that it will come to pass! Whatever situation we are in, we can trust our sovereign God to work for our good! What a wonderful God and Father we have!
"In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, `So shall your descendants be.' Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform." (vv.18-21)
God wants all of us to be people of faith - even as Abraham was! Wavering, not fully trusting, is unbelief! Why don't we believe God? What is our problem? Do we not know that God is not a man that He should lie? Or are we listening to a voice that is not from God, even as Eve did? If we are listening to our natural thinking instead of the Holy Spirit, we are listening to the wrong voice! Our problem is that we believe the natural instead of the spiritual! The natural seems so real to us; it looks more powerful to us than the unseen. Yet the seen realm was produced by the unseen - therefore the unseen is greater and more powerful!
Faith looks beyond the natural! Faith looks to the essence of God and His promises to us! Faith is not a denial of what we are experiencing in the natural, but it is not bound to the natural. Faith is based on what we have heard from the living God! Abraham had heard God! His faith had foundation; he did not dream up a way of becoming a great nation and becoming famous throughout history. He lived a very natural life while he believed God's promise to him! This made him great! This made him a father of many nations!
Faith brings a hope that has substance and foundation. Without faith it is impossible to please God! It pleases God when we believe Him. It does not say that we need a great ministry to please Him; nor does it say that we have to function in the gifts of the Spirit to please Him. To please God we have to believe everything He says - this is having faith in Him! Trust Him, for He is truth! Lies do not have foundation; they are empty. When truth is revealed, the lie is exposed as being empty and void, for there is nothing to back up the lie; it has no foundation!
How much better it is to live by faith than by the lies of the natural mind! Yet we marvel at those who live by faith! Jesus marvelled at people's unbelief! Can you see how we view everything from the wrong perspective? When the early disciples turned the world upside down, they actually turned it right side up!
"Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness." (v.22) Living by faith is righteousness! God will never lead us into unrighteousness. Living by faith is upholding truth; suppression of truth is unrighteousness! Righteousness is not what we do, but who we are, because what we do flows out of who we are. Doing what is right flows out of the faith we have in Christ; it flows out of who we are in Him. Believing that God is able to perform everything He has promised, and then acting upon this belief, is the obedience of faith. This was exemplified in Abraham and it was credited to him as righteousness!
"Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgression, and was raised because of our justification." (vv.23-25)
God wants this message to filter into our understanding! The desire to have good works count for our justification is present in all humanity - Jew and Gentile! We all need to be convinced that it is entirely the work of God in Christ, and that it becomes ours by faith!
Since God has announced that we have been justified through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, why do we still go around saying that we are not just? This is unbelief! Our degree of sin-consciousness is so great that we do not believe what our true nature is. When we see the depravity of the old nature, we identify with that nature, and declare ourselves to be sinners. However, God has declared us righteous because He has given us the righteousness of Christ. So by declaring ourselves sinners, we are inadvertently declaring God to be a liar. We need to believe what God says! He has proclaimed that we are a new creation! Old things have passed away; all things have been made new!
How did God produce this change? Did He overlook our sinful nature, and pronounce us justified because His wrath was poured out on a substitute, innocent person? A thousand times no, for that would not be just! Justification is not a pardon. When a criminal is pardoned, he walks away a pardoned criminal, but he is still a criminal! This is not what God had in mind for us.
Yet how can He justify someone who is completely corrupt? Only an omniscient God could think of a workable plan that is absolutely just. Justification is more than being freed from the penalty of sin; it frees us from sin itself! If we are made free from sin, we are not guilty of sinning!
How can this change take place? God sent His Son into this world to become united with humanity. The old Adamic humanity was crucified together with Him! He arose triumphantly, a victor over death and sin! He did not die as an innocent substitute, but together with us! That is why He is the new man! When we are born again, we are placed into this new man - the man who is righteous and has never sinned. The corruption that is in the old man does not belong to the new man. When we are in the new man, corruption is no longer in us, for we have been born of incorruptible seed! Corruption belongs to the Adamic man - not to the new man! God Himself declares us justified!
Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has poured out His Spirit into us and transformed us. We have been made a new creation, and this new creation is a just person - one who has never done any wrong. God has done this by putting us into Christ Jesus, into the new man! His method of doing this is in complete harmony with His righteous and just nature! When God put us into Christ, we were freed from all the evil we did as the natural Adamic man! That past does not belong to the new man!
This is wonderful news! We are justified by the highest authority - by God Himself! It is ours by faith! We don't even have to work for it! We receive the work of Christ Jesus by faith! What folly to insist on working for a righteousness which we can never achieve! God has a plan and a way that works perfectly, and that is Christ Jesus! To Him be the glory!