But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.(Romans 3:21-26)
Having shown conclusively that all of us, Jew and Gentile alike, are unable to earn a level of righteousness sufficient to escape God’s wrath, Paul now introduces the notion of a righteousness apart from the Law. This righteousness was spoken of through out the Old Testament. Rather than being earned by obedience, it’s imputed to us by faith in the Lord’s atoning sacrifice. His sacrifice, though performed only once, would apply all along the human time line, from the first sinner to the last. God even set aside the punishment due to those who lived before its time, but died in faith of its eventuality, so His death could atone for them as well.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:27-31)
No one can take credit for this righteousness, or look down on others like the Pharisees of old. Whether from Jewish or Gentile backgrounds, all who believe are justified by their faith alone, undeserving recipients of God’s grace. And contrary to abolishing the Law, this righteousness fulfills it, just like Jesus promised. “Don’t think that I’ve come to abolish the Law and Prophets. I haven’t come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17)
Abraham Justified by Faith
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6)
Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” (Psalm 37:1-2) (Romans 4:1-8)
As soon as we inject something of our own into the equation, we render it ineffective. Grace plus work equals work. Faith is the only participation we’re allowed that isn’t counted as work.
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. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 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. 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.(Romans 4:9-12)
In the context of time, Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness over 400 years before the Law was given, and even before he had been circumcised.
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. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
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. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” (Genesis 15:5) He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. (Romans 4:13-18)
As Paul said earlier, the Law was not given as a path to righteousness but to make us conscious of sin. Certain behavior may not be right, but if there’s no law against it, then it isn’t illegal. And as we’ll see, this righteousness lets God see those who are not as if they are.
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Gen. 15:5) Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:19-25)
This chapter closes with a remarkable example of God’s grace. No mention at all is made of the incident with Hagar and Ishmael, which some would characterize as a lapse of faith. Having only Paul’s account we could surmise that Abraham and Sarah had waited patiently through out the span of time between the Lord’s promise and the birth of Isaac, going well past the age of childbearing without wavering in the slightest.
But that’s not the way Scripture records it. Sarah did grow tired of waiting and gave her handmaiden to Abraham, saying, “Perhaps I can build a family through her.” (Gen. 16:2) Ishmael was born, and Abraham did view him as the fulfillment of God’s promise. (Genesis 17:18)
But God ignored all that. When He told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God called him “Your only son.” (Gen.22:2) And Paul, inspired of the Holy Spirit, failed to even mention it. When speaking of Abraham’s righteousness it’s as if none of that ever happened.
So it is with you. When you became a believer, God did more than forgive your sins. He re-created you and no longer remembers your past. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!(2 Cor. 5:17) And from that time forward, He has chosen to see you not as you are, but as He’s made you, as righteous as He is. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21) All your failings and shortcomings have ceased to exist in His mind. Now, any time you sin, you need only confess to be both forgiven and restored to righteousness, (1 John 1:9) your sin immediately forgotten.
This is what a righteousness by faith is. God cannot abide in the presence of sin, and yet He desires our presence with Him in eternity. We can never become sin-free on our own, so in order to keep us around, He had to find another way to make us righteous. The way He found was to send His Son to pay the penalty for our sins. All of them. The moment we believe that He really did that for us, the righteousness of God is imputed to us by faith. Now we can dwell in His presence, and He in ours.
I’ve spent some time among the Jews on their own turf. I’ve seen the lengths they go to in keeping the Law. The Church’s most ardent legalists can’t hold a candle to them. And yet Jesus told us that unless our righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees we would certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 5:20) Then He said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) Haven’t you always wondered what He meant by that? Well now you know. He was talking about a righteousness by faith. It’s the righteousness of God, the only one good enough to get you into His presence. Our time here’s almost up. Better make sure you have it.