Gordon E. Johnson


Justifying Faith in Abraham and David

Romans 4:1-15 (NKJV)

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute


In Romans 3:21-31 Paul has set forth his masterful presentation of the righteousness of God (that is: salvation - the new position in which "God justifies the ungodly" Rom. 4:5).  He develops the role of grace (3: 24, 27); the role of redemption or propitiation (3: 24, 25) and the role of faith (3:22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31). But Paul has much more to say about the role of faith and so devotes a full chapter --Romans 4 -- to its function and its relevancy for today's believer.

Because works and faith are mutually exclusive and the law placed such a stress on works, Paul must carefully establish the role of faith as opposed to the works of the law.  He does this again in Galatians 3: 10-12: "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.' But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of god is evident, for 'the just shall live by faith.' Yet the law is not of faith, but the man who does them shall live by them." "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:4).

Abraham, the Prime Example of Justifying Faith  Romans 4: 1- 5

The Jewish rabbis had virtually lifted Abraham to automatic sainthood, attributing to him a sanctity beyond all others by virtue of his works. Paul selects their prime example and asks the question: Was Abraham justified by his works? He answers it simply: "Not before God." A straightforward quotation suffices to silence such a thought: "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6: Rom. 4:3). Having disposed of Abraham's being an exception, Paul sets forth a basic invariable principle:  To allow for works, effort, achievement demands a wage, a compensation and a basic right in return. Before a holy God it would imply the right of man to demand of God recognition for effort, no matter how small. But that is unthinkable to do in God's holy presence.

The only other alternative is to not work but to cast oneself on God's grace. The only other avenue open to such a bankrupt sinner is to believe, to trust. So Paul states it clearly: "But to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (4:5). Abraham believed God and God reckoned that faith for righteousness.  The case of Abraham and any other exception is closed for ever.

David, a Saint Who Sinned Who Yet Knew the Blessedness of an Imputed Righteousness  Romans 5:6-8

Abraham was justified solely through faith in God's promises given while yet in Ur of the Chaldeans at the age of seventy five (Gen. 12:1-4).  This act of God's imputation or reckoning was long before the law was ever given. In fact, Abraham was justified when as yet uncircumcised (4:10), the sign later given to establish the existence of his descendents as God's chosen people, later to receive the Law of Moses..

But reflect with me that David, after his heinous sins of adultery and premeditated murder (2 Samuel 11), already an Old Testament Saint, the sweet Psalmist of Israel (2 Samuel 23:1) still wrote: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin" (Psa.32: 1, 2).  Let it be understood that such a verse does not minimized the grievous sins of David, but he repented (Psalm 51). God, however, never did revoke David's righteous standing before Him. When God declares the ungodly righteous on the basis of his faith in Christ's blood, the believer remains forever dressed in that righteousness that pleases God.

God never grants the believer license to sin. Inevitably and implacably the consequences of discipline and judgment will follow.  But we need to draw the lesson that for the one who truly is justified in the sight of God, his standing remains forever secure. Christ's death and its imputed righteousness will stand as long as Christ's righteousness prevails before His Father. God himself has committed Himself: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt.3:17). That standing in His righteousness is our only assurance of heaven.  No amount of service or faithfulness can ever add to that quality righteousness

Let is be understood, however, that not everyone who may claim to be saved may be truly justified. God Himself is the ultimate judge and our subsequent lives should give evidence of the fruit of righteousness.  The perfect balance of these truths is Paul's counsel: "Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are His' and 'Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity"' (2 Tim. 2:19)

"Now Faith is the Substance . . . the Evidence of Things Not Seen"   Heb. 11:1

What is then the essence of faith? The writer to the Hebrews may not give us a definition of faith, but he does describe its basic qualities. It is substance and evidence that will manifest itself in future reality. Such a faith is grounded in the veracity of God's character that is «legal tender» for his promises. I liken faith to a outstretch hand, open and empty to receive from the gracious giver what is offered and what is urgently needed. Dr. F. J. Huegel, my mentor, (1957-68) used to say: "Praise or thanksgiving is faith in full bloom." What God offers, he gives and what we take from his hand becomes our thanksgiving to him. There can be no merit in such receiving. Abraham justified by faith without works becomes the father of the faithful. "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal.3:29). Let faith reign in your heart and mine!

Some Powerful Deductions from the Role of Faith in the Believer's Life

1.  There is no more basic and concise definition of the Christian life than "The Just shall live by faith" (Hab.2:4; Rom.1:17; Gal.3:11; Heb.10:38 – four distinct quotes).

2.  Faith and works --efforts, service rendered, faithfulness attempted, years of  relative success or recognition --are mutually exclusive in terms of merit and worth before God.  God only recognizes his Son's righteousness, never the flesh's feeble attempts.

3.  Our next study, Rom. 4:16-25 will apply this basic faith principle to sanctification and service. This is a truth virtually lost in our «works righteousness mentality» so common in Christian ministry today.

4.  Sanctification or victory in Christ is by faith every bit as much as is justification by faith. We agree easily with the latter but fail to grasp it in the former.  Anything less compromises the work of the Cross. "If righteousness comes through the law-our best efforts-, then Christ died in vain" (Galatians 2:21).

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

March 15, 2008