Jews in Paul’s day revered Abraham as Israel’s founder. Some Jewish texts claim that Abraham never sinned. Others emphasize his obedience to the law of Moses as the basis for his relationship with God. However, Paul demonstrates that Abraham’s faith, not his obedience, established his status with God. Abraham’s position as the founder of God’s people demonstrates that justification by faith is central to God’s plan. Remember that justification is being declared righteous, or right with God. No one will be declared righteous by obeying the law. The law does not save. It convicts us of our sin so that we return to the Lord, repent and ask for forgiveness. Then we are forgiven. That all happens because we have faith. Paul quoted Genesis 15:6 to prove that Abraham was not justified by works. God made a promise to Abraham and Abraham trusted God to fulfill it. Because of Abraham’s faith, God credited Abraham with righteousness. Because of his faith, God gave Abraham His righteousness. There was no obedience to the law involved here and no ritual to be performed. Abraham simply believed God. It was faith that established Abraham’s relationship with God; not works, circumcision, the law, or the number of descendants. The logic of verses 4-5 sounds like this. The stated premise is that when people work, their pay is what they have earned. It is not a gift. The unstated premise is that God is never indebted to His creatures (because they owe Him everything), so anything He gives them is a gift. The conclusion is that therefore, people cannot be declared righteous before God because of their works. Others say this: the person who does not work, who comes to God by faith alone without having performed rituals or followed Jewish laws; that person will be counted as righteous. Work here does not refer to a job but to the work one might try to do to gain favor with God.
According to Jewish law, a question was settled by two or three witnesses. Paul called two witnesses from the Old Testament to testify to justification by faith: one from the law and one from the prophets. The quotation is from Psalm 32:1-2. Paul introduces David as the second example of righteousness by faith. Given the understanding that people can become righteous by faith alone, apart from obeying Jewish law, the obvious question from Paul’s readers is: Is this righteousness actually available to the uncircumcised? Many of the Jews of Paul’s day assumed that blessing from God and forgiveness applied only to those who had been circumcised, the Jews. But Abraham received righteousness from God before he was circumcised. This fact opened the door to a new understanding of God’s Grace. It is available to all people; Jews and Gentiles. This point further demonstrates that God’s acceptance and blessing is a free gift and not earned by works. When God instituted circumcision He called it a sign of the covenant between Himself and Abraham. The covenant was already in place even before Abraham was circumcised. This shows that the covenant was based in faith, not circumcision. So, Abraham is the spiritual father of all people, whether circumcised (the Jews) or uncircumcised (the Gentiles) who have the same kind of faith Abraham had, that is faith in God’s promises. Circumcision was both a sign and a seal. As a sign it pointed to the fact that Abraham possessed righteousness, and as a seal it verified that Abraham was righteous. God would not make a covenant with one who is not righteous. The promise to Abraham was not through circumcision or through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. And being the heir of the world means that Abraham and his seed, in particular Christ, will inherit the earth, a promise that will be fulfilled in the kingdom to be established when Christ returns. Abraham would be the father of many nations and the means of blessing to all people.
Paul continues on: if works of obedience can be substituted for faith, then faith is emptied of its importance. It is not needed. But believing in God means acknowledging our unworthiness and depending entirely on God’s mercy. Verse 15 means literally; where there is no law, neither is there transgression. Paul always used transgression to denote disobedience of a clear commandment of God. Transgression only exists where the law exists, which is why the law always brings punishment. The law convicts. The law God gave to the Israelites specified requirements in great detail, which made the people more accountable for sin than before. So when they inevitably disobeyed the law, God brought more severe punishment upon them. The word transgression here literally means stepping over. The law draws the line that should not be crossed. Paul concludes that God’s promises to Abraham were founded on his faith so that it would be acknowledged that salvation was only through grace, that is, God’s favor. The Jews were of the law in that their covenant with God included the law of Moses and they were to live according to it. Paul then speaks to Abraham’s faithfulness. He and Sarah were old, way too old to conceive and bear children. They knew God’s promise but no doubt some days it must have seemed impossible. Because God had made a promise even on days of doubt Abraham soldiered on because God had made a promise. In fact, Abraham’s faith grew stronger and that brought God glory. Abraham experienced the life giving power of God in the birth of his son Isaac. Christians recognize this in the birth of Jesus. Throughout history, salvation had been available only through faith in God, who makes and keeps His promises.
From chapter 5-8 Paul turns from the Good News about how people enter a relationship with God to the security of that relationship. Christians have a strong and unassailable promise because of God’s work in Christ, God’s love for them, and the power of the Holy Spirit. This theme frames the teaching of these chapters (5:1-55, 8:18-39) as Paul grounds that promise in the transfer of believers from the realm of Adam to the realm of Jesus Christ. No power; whether sin, the law, or death will ever be able to separate us from the love of God. Peace with God does not refer to a mere feeling of peacefulness but to a real situation of peace. It is the end of hostilities between God and sinful human beings when they believe in Jesus Christ and the state of blessing and salvation that God promised His people in the end. Now the believer has been reconciled to God and there is true peace. Undeserved privilege can be called Grace. So basic is God’s Grace that Paul can use the word to sum up our present situation as believers. Where we now stand indicates that God’s Grace is needed and necessary throughout our lives and not just at the beginning. We have access as believers. We have been granted admission to stand before God. And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Rejoicing here means boasting. We get to boast in the glory of God. And hope means expectation. Believers boast in the sure expectation of the glory of God. Believers are confident for God Himself had placed the Holy Spirit in their hearts. Behind Paul’s use of the word glory is the Hebrew word kabod. This depicts God’s majesty and overwhelming presence. The prophets depict a day when God’s glory will return to dwell in the midst of His people. Paul assures his readers that faith triumphs trouble. Believers can rejoice, glory, and boast in their future hope, but they can also do the same in their present troubles. Some translations use the word tribulations which refers to physical hardship, suffering and distress. Perseverance means endurance. Trials and tribulations produce endurance when we exercise faith during those difficult times. This sort of faith produces its own reward. Perseverance produces character, the quality of being approved. As believers endure tribulation, God works in them to develop certain qualities and virtues that will strengthen them and draw them closer to Him. The result is fortified hope in God and His promises. The hope that believers have of their future glory with God will not disappoint them by being unfilled. They will not be put to shame or humiliated because of their hope. The reason the believer can be so confident is that the love of God has been poured out. The moment a person trusts in Jesus Christ, that person receives the Holy Spirit who constantly encourages them in their hope in God.
Now, in verse 6, Paul explains the nature of God’s love. God loved us when we were still without strength and ungodly. God loved us so much He sent His Son to die for us. That happened at just the right time, in other words, God’s time. Our condition as utterly helpless was the right time for God to demonstrate His love by sending His Son in our behalf. God loves just the way we are but He loves us too much to leave us where we are. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God didn’t wait until we got our act together, not even a little bit. We were mired in sin and disobedience. That’s when God chose to act, to save us. We sing “What wondrous love is this?” It is love that is willing to be a sacrifice for our sins, to stand in our place and endure God’s wrath. Believers already share in the new life that Christ provided through His resurrection. Through this vital connection with Christ, believers will also be spared from God’s wrath in the last days.
The one man is Adam and through him sin entered the world. Sin brought death and the result is that death is now a universal experience. One sin brought death to us all. From Adam we all have inherited a sinful nature. One sin has colored everything…all of creation has been affected. The result of that one sin is a physical and spiritual death for everyone. And because of that one sin we all gave a common judgement…death. The fact that Paul ascribes to the significance of that one sin, and the parallel he draws between Adam and Jesus makes it clear that Paul views Adam and his sin in the garden of Eden as historical fact. Sin is universal and so is death. Paul continued his explanation of everyone sinned by stating that people who died between Adam and Moses were not subject to specific commandments from God. Therefore, their condemnation was not only because of their own sin. It was because of their Union with Adam, who sinned by violating an explicit commandment of God.
Through one man, Adam, death came. But through one man, Jesus Christ, grace and the gift of God, eternal life was given. Christ’s work is greater because it brings God’s Grace to those stuck in the sinfulness which originated with Adam. In the face of condemnation Christ came with the free gift that resulted in our being justified with God. Both Adam and Jesus Christ committed a single act that changed everything, Adam for the worse and Jesus for the best. Jesus’ one act of righteousness refers to His death on the cross, a righteous act because Christ chose to die in obedience to the Father’s will. Because of that we all have the opportunity for new life. But to receive it, we must believe in Jesus Christ. This is counter to what the Jews believed. Many of them believed that the giving of the law to Israel reversed or mitigated the negative effects of Adam’s sin, but Paul says that God’s law magnified and illuminated their sins. Paul reminds that not only can sin never exceed the grace provided by God but sin loses its threat when compared to the super abounding grace of God.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W