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Romans chapter 4

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

Christian Standard Bible

New Living Translation

King James Version

13For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: 15Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. 16Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, 17(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. 18Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. 19And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: 20He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. 23Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.
New King James Version

What does Romans chapter 4 mean?

Romans 4 focuses on the faith of Abraham. Genesis 15:6 says clearly that Abraham believed God and that faith—his trusting belief in God—was counted to Abraham as righteousness. Abraham was not justified by works. God wasn't paying him back for something. Abraham's was justified as God's gift to him. In the same way, David speaks of those whose sins the Lord does not count against them as being blessed by God. They do not earn forgiveness. God gives it (Romans 4:1–8).

This brings up a possible objection: wasn't Abraham righteous because he obeyed God by being circumcised? That's what many Jewish people believed. Paul says no, God declared Abraham righteous for his faith long before Abraham was circumcised. Obedience comes after faith; in Abraham's case, many years passed between the two events! Circumcision became a sign of Israel's faith in God and seal of the righteousness God had already declared for Abraham. In this way, Abraham became a spiritual father to all who come to God by faith, even those who are not circumcised for religious reasons; in this passage, referred to as the Gentiles. Abraham also became a spiritual father, as well as a physical one, to all the believing Jews who would follow the example of his faith in God (Romans 4:9–12).

God essentially promised Abraham and his offspring "the world," in a sense. Can that promise be claimed by keeping the law? Paul says no. For one thing, the promise was given centuries before the law existed. If law-keeping was required for the promise, then Abraham's most immediate descendants would have been left out! Second, nobody can keep the law. This is a point Paul was careful to make very clearly in chapter 3. If receiving the promise depends on keeping the law, the promise is useless and so is faith. No, God's promises to Abraham's offspring will be received by faith (Romans 4:13–19).

Abraham's faith in one specific promise is then held up as a model for us. God told Abraham he would have a natural-born son with his wife, Sarah and become the father of many nations. Abraham believed that and continued to believe it even as the years passed without a child. He remained faithful, even as he approached 100 years old, and Sarah approached 90. In fact, Paul insists, Abraham's faith grew stronger, not weaker, over time. That is why God counted his faith as righteousness. The same can happen for all of us now. Those who believe in the God who handed over Jesus to pay the price of our sin with His death and then raised Him back to life for our justification will be declared righteous, as well (Romans 4:20–25).
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