READ: Romans 5:12-19 (1750 ~ NIV)
Paul’s letter to the Romans is best understood by recognizing that there was a significant Jewish population in Rome. Paul was keenly aware that they were residents of a modern, cosmopolitan society. He understood that Roman-secular reason was the dominant ethos. In today’s reading the Apostle anticipates the logical questions that will be asked by his readers: Questions like, “How does this doctrine of justification by faith relate to our history? Paul, you say that this doctrine is witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets. Well, what about Abraham?”
Paul explained how Abraham was saved. Abraham was called “our father,” referring primarily to the Jews’ natural and physical descent from Abraham. But in Romans 4:11, Abraham was also called “the father of all who believe,” meaning, all who have trusted Christ (Gal. 3:1-18). Paul stated Abraham’s salvation experience was like ours.
Abraham was justified by faith, not works (vv. 1-8). Paul observed the experience of Abraham as recorded in Genesis 15. He knew that Abraham had defeated the kings (Gen. 14) and was wondering if they would return to fight again. God appeared to him and assured him that He was his shield and “exceeding great reward.” But the thing that Abraham wanted most was a son and heir. God had promised him a son, but the promise had not been fulfilled. God told him to look at the stars. God promised; and Abraham believed God’s promise. The Hebrew word translated believed means “to say amen.” God gave a promise, and Abraham responded with “Amen!” It was this faith that was counted for righteousness. Abraham believed in God’s character.
He was justified by grace, not Law (vv. 9-17). The Jews put their faith in circumcision and the Law. If a Jew was to become righteous before God, he would have to be circumcised and obey the Law. Paul said in Romans 2:12-29 that there should be a circumcision of the heart, and inward obedience to the Law.
Abraham was right with God even when he was uncircumcised. Basically, Abraham was a Gentile. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised (Gen. 17:23-27). This was more than fourteen years after the events in Genesis 15. The conclusion is obvious: circumcision had nothing to do with his justification.
Abraham was justified before the Law was given. He was justified by believing God’s promise, not by obeying the Law, since God’s Law came much later through Moses. God’s promise to Abraham came through God’s grace. Abraham did not earn it. Justification comes when the sinner believes God’s promise, not because they obey His Law. The Law was not given to save humanity, but to show the need for salvation (Rom. 4:15).
In effect, Abraham was justified by the power of the Resurrection, not human effort (vv. 18-25). These verses are an expansion of one phrase in Romans 4:17 (MSG) We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. Isn’t that what we’ve always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, “I set you up as father of many peoples”? Abraham was first named “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. Paul realized that Abraham’s vitality was a kind of resurrection from the dead; and then he related it to the resurrection of Christ.
Using Paul’s logic, we can guess that God delayed the arrival of a son was meant to illustrate the unnatural, regeneration of vitality so that a son could be born – As far as their abilities to conceive and carry a child was concerned, Abraham and Sarah were as good as dead.
Therefore, God waits until the sinner is “dead” and unable to help themselves before God releases saving power. When Abraham admitted he was “dead” God’s power went to work in his body. It is when the lost sinner confesses she/he is spiritually dead and unable to help her/himself that God can save her/him.
The Gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16) because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Romans 4:24 and Romans 10:9-10 parallel each other. Jesus was “delivered up to die because our offenses, and was raised up because of our justification” (Rom. 4:25, literal translation). This means that the resurrection of Christ is the proof that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice, and that now sinners can be justified without God violating God’s own Law or contradicting God’s own nature.
For eighteen years Dr. Harry Ironside was pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago. Once he told of visiting a Sunday School class while on vacation. The teacher asked, “How were people saved in Old Testament times?”
After a pause, one man replied, “By keeping the Law.”
“That’s right,” said the teacher.
But Dr. Ironside interrupted: “My Bible says that by the deeds of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”
The teacher was a bit embarrassed, so he said, “Well, does somebody else have an idea?”
Another student replied, “They were saved by bringing sacrifices to God.”
“Yes, that’s right!” the teacher said, and tried to go on with the lesson.
But Dr. Ironside interrupted, “My Bible says that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin.”
By this time the unprepared teacher was sure the visitor knew more about the Bible than he did, so he said, “Well, you tell us how people were saved in the Old Testament!”
And Dr. Ironside explained that they were saved by faith—the same way people are saved today! Twenty-one times in Hebrews 11 you find the same words “by faith.”
If you are a Jew, you are a child of Abraham physically; but are you a child of Abraham spiritually? Abraham is the father of all who believe on Jesus Christ and are justified by faith. If you are a Gentile, you can never be a natural descendant of Abraham; but you can be one of his spiritual descendants. Abraham “believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Zondervan).
The Teacher’s Commentary.
Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – New Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 1.