Romans 4 - Outline of Romans (Book Notes menu page)
'Righteousness from God, received by faith'... is illustrated in the OT.
1. Abraham, father of the Jewish nation, was justified by faith, apart from works (v.1-8)-
4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
The phrase ''as pertaining to the flesh'' may be applied to either-
4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath [whereof] to glory {ie., boast};
but not before God.
{cp. Rom 3:27,28}
If Abraham's works commended him before man, they did not earn him favor with God.
In fact, Abraham's fleshly works were less than perfect, and produced problems. [eg., in the matter of Hagar & Ishmael (Gen 16), and in his oft repeated half truth that 'Sarah is my sister' (eg., Gen 20)].
4:3 For what saith the scripture?
Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
{quoting Gen 15:6}
the Scripture - The Word of God is our final authority.
To understand God's ways we must know His Word. Paul is showing (in ch. 4-13) that 'justification by faith' is the consistent teaching of Scripture.
Abraham believed God...-
it was 'counted' to him {GK=logizomai, put down to his account}...-
This word is used 11x in ch.4, translated as 'count,' 'reckon,' 'impute.'
The concept is perfectly illustrated in Phm 1:17,18, where Paul speaks in behalf of a runaway slave, saying: 'Account to him my merit. Account to me his de-merits.'
...for righteousness.-
There is no merit in 'believing God,' since this is the duty of every man (cp. Rom 3:4; cp. Jam 2:19). But by God's Grace, Abraham's faith was tabulated to his account as righteousness.
4:4 Now to him that worketh
is the reward
{ie., wage} not reckoned of grace {ie., unmerited favor},
but of debt
{ie., that which is owed, that which has been earned}.
4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly,
his faith is counted for righteousness.
Saving faith is placed in "Him that justifieth {ie., declares righteous} the ungodly."-
The word 'ungodly' {GK=asebes, without reverence toward God} is very broad and includes all who ''fall short of God's glory,'' regardless of how far short they fall. Even Abraham was included among the ungodly, until God declared him righteous. cp. Rom 3:23,24
Abraham's justification came about as follows: [adapted from Stifler]
  1. Abraham stood before God in his sins... unforgiven sins.
  2. God made him a promise beyond human reason.
  3. Abraham trusted that promise.
  4. Conditioned on Abraham's trust in God's Word, God pronounced him not guilty of sin.
    - - Years before this declaration, Abraham had showed faith toward God (cp. Gen 12:1-4; Heb 11:8), but that faith was not accounted to him for righteousness. Saving faith goes beyond general belief in God's existence, goodness, power, and providential leading. Saving faith specifically rests on God's promise to do what only He can do.
    - - The promise that Abraham believed (concerning 'an heir... a seed', Gen 15:1-6), when God declared him righteous, would find ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah (cp. Gal 3:16).
4:6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man,
unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
Not only Abraham, but David also was justified apart from works.
David was decidedly unrighteous in his works, which included adultery & murder.
He wrote from the experience of his own case (in Psa 32:1,2)...
4:7 [Saying], Blessed [are] they
whose iniquities
{ie., lawlessnesses} are forgiven {ie., sent away},
and whose sins
{ie., fallings short, offenses} are covered {ie., covered over}.
Our good works cannot erase our wrongs. Forgiveness can only come by God's grace.
David tried, but could not hide his sins from God's eyes. Only God can put away sin.
4:8 Blessed [is] the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
Verse 6 speaks of 'righteousness imputed' to one's account.
Verses 7,8 speak of 'sin not imputed' to one's account.
Both statements share one meaning.
  • Where there is no sin, there is righteousness.
  • Where there is no darkness, there is light. (cp. 1Joh 1:5-7)
David was declared righteous, by God who 'put away' his sin, by His grace, apart from any merit in David (2Sam 12:13; Psa 32:5).
2. Abraham was justified by faith, apart from circumcision (v.9-12)-
4:9 [Cometh] this blessedness then upon the circumcision [only],
or upon the uncircumcision also?
for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
ie., Does this 'justification by faith' apply only to Abraham and his physical seed, the Covenant people (the Jews, among whom David also was numbered)? or, does justification by faith apply also to the gentiles? (Rom 3:29,30)
4:10 How was it then reckoned?
when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?
Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
- - In the chronological order of his life, Abraham was declared righteous (Gen 15:1-6) before the rite of circumcision was instituted (Gen 17:9-14,23-27).
     Abraham & Ishmael were circumcised on the same day. Therefore, this event must have occurred at least 13 years after his justification by faith (since he was childless, at that time).
- - If circumcision does not confer justification, then what is its purpose?
4:11 And he received the sign {GK=semeion, distinguishing mark} of circumcision,
a seal
{GK=sphragis, mark of authenticity} of the righteousness of the faith
which [he had yet] being uncircumcised:
that he might be the father
{ie., in a spiritual sense} of all them that believe,
though they be not circumcised;
that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
4:12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only,
but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham,
which [he had] being [yet] uncircumcised.
Since Abraham was justified by faith, long before his circumcision,
justification by faith must also be available for the uncircumcised gentile.
Note the effect of this point, against those who taught the necessity of circumcision for salvation (cp. Acts 15:1).
''Paul has turned the Jew's boast upside down.
It is not the gentile who must come to the Jew's circumcision for salvation; it is the Jew who must come to a [simple] gentile [like] faith, such a faith as Abraham had long before he was circumcised.'' [Stifler]
Circumcision does have a continuing purpose, relating to God's Covenant with Israel.
Even while Israel is in a state of unbelief, God's Covenant promises still stand. Rom 11:28,29
But this national purpose is distinct from the matter of individual salvation. Examples:
  • Isaac, circumcised at 8 days of age, was a son of the Covenant, but he was not yet saved, since he had no faith. Gen 21:4
  • Ishmael, though circumcised, did not belong to the Covenant people, but was cast out (Gal 4:30). God made of him a separate nation (Gen 21:13).
For more on the significance of circumcision, see the Book Notes on Gen 17:9-14.
[NOTE: The above link will display in this window.]
3. Abraham received God's promises by faith, apart from the Law (v.13-17a)-
4:13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world,
{eg., Gen 15:5-8,13-16,18; 22:17,18}
[was] not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law,
but through the righteousness of faith.
4:14 For if they which are of the law [be] heirs, faith is made void,
and the promise made of none effect:
4:15 Because the law worketh wrath:
for where no law is, [there is] no transgression.
The Covenant promises concerning national Israel were given to Abraham prior to the Law.
They were not based on keeping the Law, but on the faithfulness of God.
They were unconditional, resting entirely upon the One who promised. Heb 6:13,14
     The Law, which was given 400 years later, defined the way of life for a people belonging to the Holy God. Because they failed to keep the conditions of the Law, Israel forfeited God's blessing and came under His judgment. cp. Ex 19:5-8; Deuteronomy ch. 29 and ch. 30.
     However, their failure (regarding the Law) did not nullify the unconditional Covenant promises, which God established with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, prior to the Law (Gal 3:17,18). The patriarchs believed God would fulfill His promises.
     Eventually, national Israel will enter into the things promised, on the basis of faith. cp. Heb 3:16- 4:2
The principles of Law and Faith are incompatible (v.14).
If one must keep the Law, to be heir to the promises made to Abraham, then...
  • the principle of faith in God is inoperative, being replaced by trust in my own abilities.
  • the promises will not be fulfilled, because no one is able to keep the Law (Rom 3:9-20).
    By the Law, I am inelligible to receive the promises, because I am under God's wrath.
    "The Law results in wrath, because only where there is no law is there no lawbreaking" (v.15, paraphrased).
4:16 Therefore [it is] of faith, that [it might be] by grace;
to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed;
not to that only which is of the law,
but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
4:17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,)
{quoting Gen 17:4,5}
before him whom he believed, [even] God, who quickeneth the dead,
and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
Therefore, it is of faith, that it might be by grace...-
Since the Law can realize nothing but wrath, the promised heritage is received by faith,
in order that it might be received by grace (ie., as an unmerited gift from God to believing sinners).
to the end {ie., for the purpose} that the promise might be sure {ie., steadfast, firm} to all...-
The promise is 'steadfast,' only because it rests on God. Heb 6:13-19; cp. Rom 3:3
Abraham... is the father of us all.- ie., the spiritual father of both Jew and gentile,
who share Abraham's faith in the promises of God.
Although the Covenant promises were made specifically with Israel, their blessings would overflow to people of all nations (Gen 12:3). Those who look to God by faith, trusting in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, are brought under a portion of Israel's Covenant promises. Eph 2:11-13; Gal 3:6-18
4. Abraham's faith was in God, the God of resurrection (v.17b-25)-
[v.16,17 are repeated below for continuity of thought.]
4:16 Therefore [it is] of faith, that [it might be] by grace;
to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed;
not to that only which is of the law,
but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
4:17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,)
{For continuity of thought, read v.16 & 17 omitting the above line, in parenthesis.}
before him whom he believed, [even] God, who quickeneth {ie., gives life to} the dead,
and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
{cp. Isa 44:6,7}
4:18 Who against hope believed in hope,
that he might become the father of many nations,
according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.
{quoting Gen 15:5}
4:19 And being not weak in faith,
he considered not his own body now dead,
when he was about an hundred years old,
neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:
4:20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief;
but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
4:21 And being fully persuaded that,
what he had promised, he was able also to perform
{ie., to do, to accomplish}.
4:22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
Abraham was powerless to fulfill God's promise, that he would father many nations...
As far as nature was concerned, he and Sarah were {reproductively} as good as dead.
Only the God who is able to 'give life to the dead' could make him a father (v.17).
Only the God who can turn impossibilities into realities could fulfill His promises.
who against hope believed in hope {ie., confident expection}...-
According to all natural indications, there was no reasonable expectation of receiving the son of promise. Yet, Abraham fully expected to receive what God had promised.
he considered not his own body now dead...-
In some MSS, the word 'not' is missing. In either case, the sense is the same.
Abraham was well aware of what was naturally impossible (cp. Gen 17:15-22; 18:10-15).
He considered the full weight of difficulties and obstacles to the promise, but he did not fixate upon them. Believing that nothing is too hard for the LORD, Abraham looked to Him.
he staggered not at the promise of God...- stagger {GK=diakrino, to doubt, to waver. cp. Jam 1:6}
but was strong in faith... fully persuaded... (v.21)-
Faith is taking God at His Word.
The strength of faith is the sureness of God's Word. cp. Heb 6:13-19; 11:11,12
giving glory to God...-
Worship expresses the measure of God's worth... the measure of His trustworthiness.
and therefore, it was imputed to him for righteousness.-
Paul's point is that: Abraham's faith, by which he was declared righteous,
is exactly the kind of faith that claims the righteousness proclaimed in the Gospel of Christ.-
4:23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
4:24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed,
if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;
4:25 Who was delivered for
{ie., because of} our offences,
and was raised again for
{ie., because of} our justification.
Righteousness from God was imputed, to Abraham, because he believed God (v.3).
Today, God still saves sinners, on the principle of faith. Rom 3:27,28
Saving faith trusts the God who has provided redemption through the Gospel of Christ. cp. 1Pet 1:18-21
The Gospel rests on both the death and resurrection of Christ. cp. 1Cor 15:1,3,4
  1. Christ died because our sins were placed upon Him. v.25a; 2Cor 5:21
    He bore our penalty. He became the propitiation to take away our perversity.
    The believer is justified (declared righteous), because Christ has purged him of sin. Rom 3:23-26
  2. Christ was raised because of our justification. v.25b -
    His resurrection is not the means of justification, but the evidence that our justification has been fully accomplished.
    As His resurrection declared Him to be the Son of God (a condition that eternally predated the resurrection, Rom 1:4), so, His resurrection declares that the believer is now righteous before God (a condition that dates from His death on the cross, Joh 19:30; Heb 10:14).
    If Christ did not rise, He did not defeat sin and death, and we have no hope. But He is risen from the dead (1Cor 15:17-20). Because He lives, we know that He has secured righteousness for all who believe.
         The question is: Are you trusting fully in Him?
         If so, His righteousness has been placed on your account!

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