As Paul preached the gospel of the finished work of Christ and established the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, he would have been accused by many of the Jews of preaching against the people and against the Law. This is exactly what happened to him in Jerusalem when Paul was seized in the temple. “When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands upon him, crying out, ‘Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preached to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place…’” (Acts 21:27-28).
That the gospel would have been viewed by many of the Jews as a message against the people and against the Law is self-evident in the book of Romans. Paul has already dealt with the guilt and condemnation of the Jew by the Law and answered the question that would have naturally arisen in the mind of the Jews – “Then what advantage has the Jew” (Romans 3:1). Then Paul went on to establish the truth that through works of the Law no flesh would be justified in God’s sight ; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20). This most certainly would appear that Paul was preaching against the Law. However, Paul went on to establish the truth that the righteousness of God comes to sinners on the basis of faith in the only One who ever fulfilled the Law, not for His own sake but for ours (Romans 3:21-29). It is on this basis that faith does not nullify the Law but actually establishes the Law so that there is no contradiction between the gospel of the finished work of Christ and the Law that must be fulfilled for justification (Romans 3:31).
The doctrine of justification by faith apart from works of the Law is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18-24). To the Jews the gospel is a stumbling block because they think that their justification is a matter of being Jewish and relying upon their ability to keep the Law (Romans 2:17). To the Greeks the gospel is foolishness because they think that their justification is not a legal matter and therefore the obedience of Christ to the Law has no significance as far as their forgiveness is concerned. However, the apostle Paul taught that justification is a matter of faith in Christ and His works and not a matter of works or lack of works of the individual. This proves both legalism and libertinism to be false doctrines concerning justification.
To prove his point, the apostle Paul appealed to the Old Testament and showed that it taught the exact same thing that he was teaching – “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Romans 3:21).
In Romans 4:1-25, Paul proved four aspects about justification by faith from the life of Abraham in the Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets: (1) how the Old Testament proved that justification is by faith and not works (Romans 4:1-8); (2) how the Old Testament proved that justification is by faith and not circumcision (Romans 4:9-12); (3) how the Old Testament proved that justification is by faith and not the Law (Romans 4:13-16); and (4) how the Old Testament proved that justification is by faith in God (Romans 4:17-25).
Justification by faith apart from works proven in the Law and the Prophets (Romans 4:1-8)
First, the truth that justification is by faith and not by works is proven by the Law (Romans 4:1-5; Genesis 15:6).
Paul stated the truth that Abraham wasn’t justified by works (Romans 4:1-2). Abraham is given in the Bible as the prototype of saving faith (Romans 4:16) and the apostle Paul pointed to the justification of Abraham to show that the gospel he was preaching was not in violation of the teachings of the Law and the Prophets. Abraham, before he was justified, was an idolater (Joshua 24:1-3) and therefore wasn’t justified on the basis of works. Since this was true of Abraham then even Abraham had nothing to boast about in his justification (Romans 4:2) because his justification wasn’t based on what he did but on what Someone else did (John 8:56).
Abraham was justified by faith and not works (Romans 4:3). The word “credited” or “counted” or “reckoned” or “imputed”, however it is translated, comes from a Greek word that means, “to put to ones account.” It is a banking term and it is used eleven times in this chapter. Since Abraham did not earn his justification through works but instead it was credited to him, Abraham’s justification was a gift and was not earned (Romans 4:4-5). Wages are earned. Wages are what are due for work done (Romans 4:4). The last thing Abraham would have wanted was for God to give him what was due him for the work of his idolatry and sin. Credit is unearned; it is a gift of grace (Romans 4:5). Abraham received what he didn’t deserve and didn’t receive what he did deserve because of faith in God concerning His testimony about His Son (1 John 5:10).
Second, the truth that justification is by faith and not works is proven by the Prophets (Romans 4:6-8; Psalm 32:1-2).
God credits righteousness to man apart from any of his own works and based solely on the work of Another – if anyone works God pays the wages that is due (Romans 4:6). One can either trust the finished work of Christ or his own work. He can receive justification as a gift or he can receive condemnation as a wage because of failing to live perfectly in the light of God’s Law.
It is not on the basis of works that any man will be justified because God justifies lawless, ungodly sinners (Romans 4:7). What work can a lawless, ungodly sinner do to be justified? Justification by the Law is out of reach for any born in Adam. Justification is only brought near and in reach through faith in Jesus Christ the second Adam (Romans 10:8-13). For the one who has faith in the finished work of Christ – His upholding the precepts of the Law through His sinless life; His upholding the penalty of the Law through His sacrificial death; and His uphold the Person of the Law through His supernatural resurrection – God removes the sinners record and replaces it with Christ’s record (Romans 4:8). In this there is a double imputation. Our sin was imputed to Christ and His righteousness was imputed to us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
How great is our God!