Verse of the Day Devotion. Romans 4:2
“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God.” – Romans 4:2
There are many today who believe that if they are good enough they can attain salvation, therefore they do many good works thinking that if they do enough they will earn salvation. However, this is not the case. We see this in the writings of Paul where he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10. Now the Jews in the first century Church struggled with this idea. Therefore, Paul spent a lot of time trying to get this point across. But we see he also had to address the false idea that due to this, they did not need to obey the law if they had faith. And he addressed this in the last verse of the prior chapter. “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” Romans 3:31. Paul then clearly lays out how this all works.
He starts by mentioning Abraham their forefather. “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?” Romans 4:1. This was essentially an objection of the Jews. ‘How does your doctrine of justification by faith agree with what the Scriptures say of Abraham? Was the Law set aside in his case? Did he derive no advantage in justification from the rite of circumcision, and from the covenant which God made with him?’ Paul starts by countering this idea. In our focus verse we read, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God.” Romans 4:2. The Jews of Jesus’ day considered Abraham the primary example of justification by works. The apostle James could ask without fear of rebuttal, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?” James 2:21. So the claim that God accepts people on the basis of personal trust rather than adherence to the law seems to run counter to the principle in force with Abraham. Therefore, it can be seen how the Jews would believe this way.
However, Paul then shows them that this was not the case. “For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Romans 4:3. We find this in the Book of Genesis. “And Abram said, Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir. And he brought him outside and said, Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. Then he said to him, So shall your offspring be. And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:3-6. As we see in this passage, because Abraham believed what God told him regarding his offspring, God counted his faith as righteousness. And Paul uses this to teach the Jews the truth. “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” Romans 4:4-5. Paul proceeds to contrast the way of works with the way of grace. When one works, his wage is his as a right; it belongs to him. It is not a free gift. Whereas grace is a free gift. And then Paul refers to David. “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Romans 4:5-8. As we see here, as Abraham’s faith and not his works, was credited to him as righteousness, so is our faith credited to us as righteousness. A system of works seeks to put God in debt to us, making God owe us His favor because of our good behavior. In works-thinking, God owes us salvation or blessing because of our good works. But this is not the way it works. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:21-23.
We have all sinned, some more than others, but we all have sin that negates our righteousness. No amount of good works will take this unrighteousness away. Only the grace of God can, and this through our faith in God in the substitutionary death on the cross. We must understand that only perfection will save us. And if we are not perfect, we need a perfect one to pay the penalty for us, and this is Jesus. There is nothing we can do to gain salvation and no amount of good works can erase our sins. We must completely place our trust in Him by accepting His work on the cross, where He died for us and thus paid our penalty. We are not worthy of salvation by doing good works, but we should do good works because we believe and thus He deems us worthy through the grace He gives to us. Let us not forget this, and then tell the world of this love and grace. And this is a good work indeed.
William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries, Inc.