Bible Passage: Romans 3:27-4:25

28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,

 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.

 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

 4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter?

 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about - but not before God.

 3 What does Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.' a

 4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.

 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

 7 'Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

 8 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.' b

 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.

 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!

 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, 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.

 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

 13 It was not through the 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.

 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless,

 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

 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 have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

 17 As it is written: 'I have made you a father of many nations.' c He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed - the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

 18 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.' d

 19 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.

 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,

 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

 22 This is why 'it was credited to him as righteousness.'

 23 The words 'it was credited to him' were written not for him alone,

 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness - for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

 (Rom. 3:28-4:25 NIB) 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

Following the disaster of the fall in Genesis 3, God promises Abraham that he will begin to reverse the effects of the fall, beginning with him (Genesis 12-15). In that regard, Abraham is the beginning of God’s salvation promises, not just to the Jews, but to the whole world. Significantly, Abraham’s faith is counted (or ‘reckoned’) as righteousness (Gen 15:6), although it is far from clear how such escape from judgement will be brought about. Subsequent covenants add the law, and God’s promises to David, but throughout there is an element of grace by which faithful people will be shown undeserved mercy. Ultimately, it is at the cross that God demonstrates that he has power over death, and justifies through the risen Jesus. On this basis, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer, and the saints in heaven are counted righteous through his blood (Rev 7:13-14).


Brief note on context/key themes of book

The book of Romans was probably written in Corinth in about AD 57, while Paul was in Corinth (see Acts 20:2-3). Two significant things are going on. First, Paul is looking for a church that will support him on his missionary journey to Spain (see 15:25). Secondly, he knew that the church in Rome was facing tension between Jew and Gentile – it seems that Claudius has expelled Jews from Rome from AD 49 to his death in AD 54, so it’s possible they have recently returned. His two intentions in writing the letter are to prepare the church to be mission partners, and teach them to live in harmony with one another. The way that he will do that is to teach and apply the gospel, which will build humility, and so prayerfully produce unity and mission-mindedness.


Structure of the passage

3:27-31 has already begun to apply the news of God’s righteous provision of righteousness in 3:21-26. In particular, it’s raised the issue of faith (3:27, 28, 30, 31)…


Faith means… no to performance (1-8)

Paul begins to show in this section that righteousness by faith alone was always the way that God related to people. The example of Abraham makes the point perfectly. Not only was he the key figure in Old Testament history, but the promises of God came to him by belief and not works (v.3, quoting Gen. 15:6). Paul then adds in the example of King David, as he refers to Ps. 32 (vv.7,8). There is a deliberate contrast between verses 5 and 8. In v.8, sin is not counted against a person. In v.5, righteousness is credited (same word in the original) to a person. In both instances, works are excluded from the picture.


Faith means… no to privilege (9-17a)

It may be that Abraham was justified by faith, but is justification only for those Jews who have circumcised as he was? In fact, Abraham was declared righteous as least thirteen years before he was circumcised (Gen 15:6, 17:4). This circumcision could not have been a condition for his justification; it was only a sign of what had already happened (v.10). In reality Abraham is therefore the father of believing, not circumcised, people.

It’s the same with the law. Abraham and his offspring didn’t receive the promise because they observed the law, but by faith. If the promise had been given only to those who could keep the law, it would have been worthless because no-one could keep the law. Instead, the promise of Genesis 17 is fulfilled entirely by God’s grace (v.16).


Faith means… yes to the God of promises (17b-25)

Paul summarises the argument so far by talking about the nature of faith. Faith has an object; God and his resurrection power (vv.17). Faith accepts human weakness (vv.18,19). And faith means trusting that God keep his promises (v.20-22). Indeed, we have much greater reason for having faith that Abraham did, now that we have witnessed the saving death and powerful resurrection of Jesus Christ himself (23-25).


Suggestions for any tricky bits?

Is the end of verse 15 implying that if you don’t have the law, you can’t sin?

Verse 15 is showing that the law makes the situation worse. For a Jew, the law shows definitively that they can’t fulfil their obligations to God because of sin. Chapters 1 and 2 have shown that all of us are at heart law-breakers and so under condemnation (2:12-15).


Summary of author’s main point

Abraham’s faith saves in the same way as a New Testament believer: by the crediting of righteousness in fulfilment of God’s promises.


Aim/purpose for original audience

To believe firmly God’s promise of righteousness through Christ, because righteousness has always been given to anyone who has faith in God.


Aim/purpose for us today

To believe firmly God’s promise of righteousness through Christ, because righteousness has always been given to anyone who has faith in God.


Key area of application

When we begin to rely on our works to earn our righteousness, we either end up proud (when we feel we’re doing well) or insecure (when we feel we’re doing badly). But when we understand that God credits righteousness to us, we begin to understand the freedom from boasting that comes with grace.


That means that our church should never be a place where people say “I can’t join because I’m not good enough”. Instead, it should be a magnet for people who are painfully aware of their moral failures.