Abraham was considered by the Jews as having been obedient and so favored of God.
This is what some of their writings say:
“Abraham was perfect in all his
deeds with the Lord, and well-pleasing in
righteousness all the days of his life.” (Jubilee 23:10)
Abraham “did not sin against thee” (Prayer of Manasseh 8)
“No one has been found like him in glory.” (Sir. 44:19)
To the Jewish mind, Abraham was an example of perfect obedience to the torah and thus was the father of the Jews.
Paul is going to use the father of the Jews instead as the Law’s example of the father of all who have faith.
In fact, Paul is going to leave his rabbinical training behind and use very little of the
Jewish traditions to teach about Abraham.
Paul makes four points in 4:1-8 that give a commentary on his teaching of 3:27-28:
a) 4:1-2 – Abraham is no exception to Paul’s teaching of 3:27-28
b) 4:3 – Justification is by faith and so man can not claim any work
c) 4:4-5 – Righteousness is a gracious act by God who “justifies the ungodly.”
d) 4:6-8 – God is able to credit righteousness because he has forgiven the man’s sins
4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?
Concerning the matter of 3:27-31:
a) boasting and claiming to be responsible for your own righteousness
b) the law
4:2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.
“If” is “ei” with the indicative in first-class condition. This means “if and it is true” but as it is used here it is a true statement only because of the false foundation upon which it is based. It is like saying, “Abraham made himself righteous and so ‘if’ and it is true, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about.”
But, of course, he did not and so it is not true.
Paul adds to “boast about” the words “before God”.
Maybe Abraham could boast before other lesser men, but “not before God.”
4:3 What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
Genesis 15:6 is the first time the word “believe” is found in scripture and it is used with the principle of being credited with righteousness.
Abraham’s faith in context is in God’s promise that he would have a son.
This promise details of Genesis 12:1-3
It does not work like this:
Abraham’s faith is not in itself a righteous act that God accepts.
Abraham’s faith is not considered a work.
Abraham’s faith does not replace good works or obedience.
The Jews would read this faith into the faith of obedience in Genesis 22.
To the Jews Abraham was credited as being righteous because he was obedient in Genesis 22
It is like this:
The “crediting” of Abraham with
righteousness means to credit to his account something that is not really his.
”Credit” is the word “logizomai” and means the economic and legal crediting of something to another’s account.
See examples in:
a) 2 Samuel 19:20 when Shimei calls himself sinful but asks David not to credit his sin to his account.
b) In Psalm 106:31 Phinehas is declared righteous for his actions in Numbers 25 but it is not as a reward for actually being righteous
Paul’s interpretation of Genesis 15:6 is completely opposite the Jewish traditions but exactly in line with the scriptures.
4:4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.
4:5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
4:4,5 make two points:
a) Works have no part in justification
b) God’s justifying verdict is not earned but given at no cost.
Work means there is a just reward
Trusting God is not a work
“wicked” or “ungodly” is “asebhV” and refers to a person who refuses to worship.
“wicked” is also used in these verses:
Romans 5:6 – “Christ died for the ungodly”
1 Timothy 1:9- “We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful. . .”
1 Peter 4:18 – “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
2 Peter 2:6 – “if he condemned the cities of
Jude 4 – “They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality. . .”
Jude 15 – “to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way and or all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Faith then if not a Work?
Paul makes it clear that faith is not a work. Or else, we could boast about it!
Faith has no power to save. If it did then Jesus would not have to go to the cross.
Faith is the channel that God brings his grace.
Faith is the reaction of a man when he is confronted with the Word of God.
Abraham believed a promise from God concerning a son.
The opposite is a hardened heart that rejects the Truth of God’s promise.
Faith is accepting God’s plan of salvation, his free gift of grace.
4:6 David says the
same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits
righteousness apart from works:
4:7 "Blessed are
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
4:8 Blessed is the
whose sin the Lord will never count against him."
This is Psalm 32:1-2
Notice the use of the word “count” or “credit” or “reckon”
How the Crediting Works and When it does not:
Forgiveness is the act of NOT COUNTING men’s sins.
Righteousness is NOT the act of COUNTING men’s good deeds
These words are not describing a moral change but instead a change in their relationship to God.
4:9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness.
4:10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!
4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.
4:12 And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
See Galatians 3:5-25
4:13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.
4:14 For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless,
4:15 because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
4:16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
People who reject this are trying to be righteous by one of these methods:
1) Their own self-defined standard of righteousness
2) Their own self-established religious observances or commitments
Paul has defeated both of these hopes of self-righteousness or a religious act like circumcision.