Romans 4

Abraham, Justification by faith and The Promises of God.


Romans 4:1-12

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." 4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

and whose sins are covered; 

8blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."

9Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. 

Since the Jews looked to both Abraham and the Law, and Paul declares that the Law is upheld by this new “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:21-22 and 31), the question of “What about Abraham?” arises (Romans 4:1).  How does one understand Abraham’s relationship with God if he was “justified by works?” (Romans 4:2).  After all, his circumcision was the beginning of a 2000-year-old religious practice of the Jews!  Paul’s response:  Actually Abraham was justified by the faith that he had.  The scriptures say, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3; cf. Genesis 15:6).


           ←---------430 Years--------→ ←---------1500 Years-----→ 

       Abraham                            Moses                                   Christ


Paul’s proof that this was the case is based upon the fact that the promise was made to Abraham in Genesis 15:6, however, Abraham was not circumcised until Genesis 17:22-27, which was over twenty years later (Romans 4:9-10).  Circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.  This made him the father of all who believe (Romans 4:11).  Thus, he became the father of those who walk in the footsteps of the faith that Abraham had before he was circumcised (Romans 4:12).

In the midst of the argument that he makes above, Paul adds that a second major person from the Old Testament, King David, had said this was to be (Romans 4:4-8).

Romans 4:13-17

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 

16That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations"—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 

Paul’s conclusion:  The promise did not come through the law, but through the righteousness of faith (Romans 4:13).  It could not come through the law because the law did not exist until 430 years later (see the diagram above).  It depended on faith so that it may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all (Romans 4:16).  See Galatians 3:16-18.  This promise is from the God “who (1) gives life to the dead and (2) calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17).  Could it get better than this?

Romans 4:18-21

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be." 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 

Since Abraham’s faith was the kind that justified, it behooves us to know what kind of faith it was.  Paul describes it as:


4:18 – “in hope he believed against hope.”

4:19 – “he did not weaken”

4:20 – “no distrust made him waver….”

4:21 – he was fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

Romans 4:22-25

That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." 23But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. 

The result was that “his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:22).  However, these words were written as much for us as for him.  Paul assures us that, “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our righteousness” (Romans 4:24-25).

Review Questions:

1.  It would be easy to get caught up in the thought that working our way to heaven was the proper approach.  However, Paul uses the examples of two Old Testament men to illustrate that righteousness apart from works; righteousness through faith is the true blessing.  Name these two men.


2. What are the two words used to describe the purpose of Abraham’s circumcision?


3. The promise to Abraham and his descendents of the “righteousness of faith” simply “did not come through the law”  (Romans 4:13-14).  Look at the chart above and Galatians 3:17 to find out how long it was after Abraham before the law came into existence.


4. Paul calls as witness to the power of God two of the greatest acts ever done.  What were these acts that show the great power of God?


5. In Romans 4:18-21, four descriptors of the kind of faith that Abraham had are given.  List them.


6. In Romans 4:23-24 Paul claims that the words written in the Old Testament were not written just for those individuals’ sakes but for ours also.  Read Romans 15:4.  How was something written in the Old Testament something for our sakes also?

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