Last week we discussed that the faith that gained Abraham his status of righteousness did not include works (Romans 4:3–8) or circumcision (Romans 4:9–12). Now, we are going to see that it also excludes the law.
Faith versus the Law in Abraham’s Justification (4:13–17)
Gen 17:5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
Abraham and his descendants received salvation not through the law, but in faith in God’s promise. Paul explains if the law could bring the inheritance of blessing, then faith would have no meaning. Human beings are unable to produce works that would bring about their salvation. In v 14, Paul tells us what the law cannot do, and in v 15 what the law does do. Paul uses the word “transgression”, which means the violation of a specific law or commandment. Paul also emphasizes that Abraham was declared righteous prior to being circumcised, which would indicate to Jews and gentiles that Abraham was the father of all believers, not just Israel.
Faith versus Sight in the Experience of Abraham (4:18–25)
Paul speaks generally about Abraham’s faith, never arguing it was perfect or without doubts. However, Abraham held onto his faith, and God credited to him as righteousness. Our faith must also rest in God’s promises.
Paul turns to the subject of hope.
Rom 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Rom 5:2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Paul explains that believers will have three wonderful blessings, “peace with God (v 1), “access….into this grace in which we now stand” (v2a) and the “hope of the glory of God” (2b).
Note: “Peace with God” is not the same as Peace of God (Php 4:7). Paul is speaking here of the end of our hostility with God, that we have been justified, given eternal salvation. Peace of God refers to the assurance we have in our relationship with our heavenly Father, in regard to the cares of this world.
We have been given access to God for a friendship with him, and can anticipate with certain anticipation our future in glory with God.
Before the law was given, man died for breaking laws that would have been generally understood as God’s will. The coming of the law brought death for transgressions of specific commands from God.
With the bringing of the law, people are directly responsible for specific transgressions. We are more accountable when we have more knowledge. The parallel Paul wants us to see and rejoice in is that just as Adam’s sin is imputed to us because we were in him, so Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us because we are in him.
Federalism is essentially one person acting on behalf of another. Since Adam sinned, his sin is the sin of all humans.1https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/our-first-federal-head (1Co 15:45)
Paul is arguing that Adam is the covenantal head of the original creation, Christ is the covenantal head of the new creation. Note that this infers that Adam was a real person and existed as the first human being. According to Paul, not only the sinful nature but also the guilt of sin was transmitted (“imputed”) to Adam’s seed, all of humanity. The culpability of humanity on account of Adam’s transgression cannot be understood apart from federalism. Humanity in general and individuals in particular are held accountable for and are guilty of sin in that they participated in Adam, their federal head, who acted for them.
“We cannot point the finger at [Adam] in self-righteous innocence, for we share in his guilt. And it is because we sinned in Adam that we die today.”– John Stott
What original sin refers to is this fallen sin nature that is part of the punishment for the first sin. When Adam and Eve acted against God, they didn’t act as private individuals.2https://www.ligonier.org/podcasts/ultimately-with-rc-sproul/original-sin-ultimately-podcast
Rom 5:14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
Adam is a type (pattern) of the one to come. A biblical type may be described as how God provides a shadow ahead of real salvation history events in the N T. 3https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/types-and-shadows
Types in redemptive history can be more than simply people. This is important because we can say that the Ark was a type of the Temple and the New Creation in which man and animal are redeemed to dwell together.
An example would be Joseph, who was hated by his brothers, suffered at their hands and eventually was exalted. Joseph was a type of Christ.
David is another example
Eze 34:23-24 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken
Adam is a type of Christ in that he was a representative of humanity. His federal headship of man is contrasted with Christ’s obedience and atoning death for his people.
As Adam’s transgression resulted in condemnation for all those in Adam, so one man’s righteousness resulted in justification for all those in Christ. The translation “made righteous” (Romans 5:19) could be misleading because to be justified is for God to declare one to be righteous, not to make one righteous personally.4https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2019/04/federal-headship/
WSC Q. 33. What is justification? A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.
The imputation of Christ is seen as a shadow in the O T sacrificial system. The sins of the people were transferred to an animal (the scapegoat) by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, just like our sins transferred to our scapegoat, Jesus Christ.
It is helpful to see what the Roman Catholic Church believes about justification. They teach that righteousness is infused, not imputed and that the believer is actually made righteous, not declared righteous.
“In reality, the Roman view of the gospel, as expressed at (the Council of) Trent, was that justification is accomplished through the sacraments. Initially, the recipient must accept and cooperate in baptism, by which he receives justifying grace. He retains that grace until he commits a mortal sin. Mortal sin is called “mortal” because it kills the grace of justification. The sinner then must be justified a second time. That happens through the sacrament of penance, which the Council of Trent defined as “a second plank” of justification for those who have made shipwreck of their souls.
The fundamental difference was this. Trent said that God does not justify anyone until real righteousness inheres within the person. In other words, God does not declare a person righteous unless he or she is righteous. So, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, justification depends on a person’s sanctification.” 5https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/what-does-roman-catholic-church-believe-about-justification
As reformed believers, we can have assurance of salvation since it does not depend on us, on our works, but only on the atoning work of Christ, and like Abraham, our righteousness is credited to us by faith. We believe God’s promises!
Council of Trent (1545–1563) Rome’s response to the Reformation
“If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.”
“CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.”
The footnotes below include the full articles, and offer further clarification to our discussion. I encourage you to read through them to increase your understanding.