Calvary Road Baptist Church


Romans 4.1-5 

In a previous message, I dealt with Romans 4.1-5 from the perspective of Abraham’s faiths, observing that father Abraham had seeking faith for the approximately ten years covered by Genesis chapters 12-14, but that he had saving faith that was the means by which he was justified in the sight of God in Genesis 15.1-5.

I want you to link the word “father” to Abraham in your thinking for two reasons: First, for the obvious reason that God has chosen to reveal Himself in the Bible as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and as the heavenly Father of the believer. Second, for the less well-known fact that Abraham is identified in both the Old and New Testaments by the word “father.” God describes him as “a father of many nations” in Genesis 17.4 and 5, and James labels him as “Abraham our father” in James 2.21. Reflect with me on this word “father,” a word that when we celebrate Fathers Day in a few weeks, our country will barely pay lip service to. I say lip service because, in truth, our society has degenerated to the point that fatherhood means little more than the siring of children.

I’m here to tell you, based on the authority of God’s Word, that fatherhood and being a father means far more than siring children. Fatherhood, in addition to begetting, suggests responsibility, suggests maturity, suggests leadership and suggests an example. As I have already mentioned, God refers to Himself as the Father of those who have been born again into His family. Additionally, Paul describes his ministry in Christians’ lives regarding fatherhood in First Thessalonians 2.10-12. And finally, First John indicates to us that those believers who have attained to a certain level of spiritual maturity that is indicated by their ability spiritually to reproduce and influence others for Christ are termed, fathers.[1]

Therefore, being a father means more than procreation. Being a father means more than biology. In its most complete meaning fatherhood refers to that which is far more spiritual than most people realize. I suppose that it is good, then, that God has brought us in our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans to the text before us today. After having spent several messages examining Paul’s explanation of the role of faith in being justified in the sight of God, we now begin our examination of the example of father Abraham.

Remember where we have come from. Paul seeks to show his readers that this event called justification, whereby God gives to unrighteous people the standing of righteousness that is required to have a relationship with Him, is accomplished using faith. Having explained the role of faith to us in Romans chapter 3, Paul now sets out to illustrate the role of faith in this event called justification. And how does he illustrate justification by faith? What example does he use? Who does he set up as a spiritual leader for others to follow in this regard? He uses Abraham, the father, as pertaining to the flesh, of the nation of Israel.

My text is Romans 4.1-5: 

1  What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

2  For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

3  For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

4  Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

5  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 

Understand that, for lack of time, we can only begin our study of Abraham as an example of justification by faith this evening. This is because the entire 4th chapter of Romans is for the most part given over to Abraham as an example to follow in this manner. So I shall make just a few comments and then settle on a few points in the time we have remaining. 

Verse 1:

“What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?” 

Paul asks a question of his readers, especially his readers who were of Jewish descent. Abraham was their father according to the flesh. He was their physical ancestor. He was to provide spiritual leadership. They were to follow his example. What, then, did Abraham find, what did he discover, about this whole question of being justified in the sight of God by faith?

The answer to that simple question is not simple. For you see, Abraham’s experience of being found just in the sight of God led to the realization of several things. Some things, he discovered, were not true. Other things he found to be true. In this message and also in a subsequent message I deal with the first finding of Abraham that Paul lists for our consideration; the discovery that justification excludes all human deeds, the discovery that righteousness comes to a man by faith and is not earned by works.

In Romans 4.2-5 there are three truths that show to us that the man all Jewish people look to as the father of their nation, and the man that all Christians look to as a father in a spiritual sense, was justified by faith apart from works of the Law: 


Verse 2:

“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.” 

Three points of interest in verse 2:

First, please take note that we have a conditional statement of what is called the first class. Paul is affirming a truth here. He is stating that in the case of Abraham being justified by works he can glory.

Second, the question needs to be asked, “Where does the Bible tell us that Abraham was justified by works?” James 2.21 asks the question, 

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” 

And the answer to that question is “Yes.” The rest of James chapter 2 explains just how a man can be, and in fact is, justified by works.

Third, before you get too excited and think that I have become an heretic, take note of the last phrase of verse 2: 

“But not before God.” 

With this closing phrase of verse 2 Paul is accomplishing two objectives: First, he is limiting the scope of his first class conditional statement. He is pointing out that on the basis of being justified by works, Abraham did have ground to glory, but he could not glory before God. Remember First Corinthians 1.29: 

“That no flesh should glory in His sight.” 

We mustn’t lose sight of that truth. Second, Paul is showing us what kind of justification is being referred to in verse 2. There are two ways a man can be justified. He can be justified by works or he can be justified by faith. When Abraham was justified by works, which occurred in Genesis chapter 22, and which is referred to in James 2, it was for offering up his son Isaac in obedience to God. But remember, such justification by works does not justify a man in the sight of God but in the sight of men. Therefore, when you are justified by works you can glory before men. But since such justification by works does not establish righteousness in the sight of God, you have no right to glory before God. Conclusion? Yes, Jewish people, look up to the example of Abraham. Honor his memory. But do not think for one moment that the man whose example of obedience made him admirable before all men would even think of glorying before God. 


Verse 3:

“For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” 

Again, three items of interest:

First, notice Paul’s appeal to Scripture. Should not Scripture be the final word in all matters? Should it not be, “What does the Bible say? What does God say?” Of course, it should. And pay particular attention to the fact that though Paul appeals to the entire Word of God he, in fact, quotes only one verse, Genesis 15.6. On what basis does he do this? This is based on the harmony of Scripture. There is no part of God’s Word that disagrees or teaches any doctrine contrary to any other portion of Scripture when rightly understood. Paul’s appeal to Scripture, then, shows us that God speaks with one voice and that God’s revelation to man will never be in conflict.

Second, notice Abraham believed God. Go back and read Genesis 15.6 again sometime. That’s the verse Paul quotes here. God told an old man something that was preposterous. His physical descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. And this was told to an old man who had no heirs. The old man believed God. Abraham could have believed circumstances. His body was very old. His wife was far past childbearing years, even if she had not been a barren woman. But Abraham, every bit the example of a father each and every one of us should seek to emulate, just took God at His Word.

Third, notice that God counted Abraham’s faith for righteousness. What did I tell you, folks, justification was? Justification is the event whereby God gives to unrighteous people the righteousness they need to have, to maintain, and to enjoy a relationship with God. And justification is by means of faith. Right? Look at what we have right here. We have a man with faith in God and His Word. Then we have God crediting that faith for righteousness. Does anything in this verse, or back in Genesis 15.6 for that matter, indicate that Abraham had his righteousness? Not at all. What we have, here, is a description of justification. An event transpired whereby someone without righteousness was given righteousness or was given credit for a righteousness which he did not possess on his own. And the instrumental means by which God accomplished all of this was faith. 


4  Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

5  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 

In each verse, here, we have the essence of one kind of justification:

The essence of justification by works is described in verse 4: 

“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” 

Pay particularly careful attention to these words. Paul is indicating what we already know to be true. When you work for something that you get back for your work is not something that is graciously given to you, but something owed to you. Is this not correct? Work for a man for a week. When he gives you your paycheck, he has no right to behave as though he is doing you a favor by giving you your paycheck. He owes you that paycheck for the work you have done. Is that not true? The question you need to ask yourself is whether or not your God would ever put Himself in a position to be obligated to anyone for anything. My God would not.

The essence of justification by faith is described in verse 5: 

“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” 

Three things I want you to see here: First, see the contrast being made between the person who works to be justified in the sight of God and the one who does not so work. We all agree that people should do good works. But those who do good works to become right in the sight of God, people who do good works to get to heaven, are striving for a righteousness they will never in a million years attain by good works. You cannot both work and not work your way into God’s favor. Second, Paul refers to believing on Him Who justifies the ungodly. This reinforces the truth that you cannot do good things to merit God’s salvation. Since God justifies only ungodly people, that must mean either no godly people get justified or there are no really godly people. And if everyone really is ungodly, they must not really deserve the justification God gives them. That means it’s grace. Right? Finally, Paul indicates that the faith of this ungodly person who doesn’t work for righteousness it is instead counted for righteousness. This doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t do any works. It just means that his works have no bearing whatsoever on his eternal salvation. It just means that when it comes to establishing, maintaining, and enjoying a relationship with God, everything that must be done must be done by God, and the only involvement the recipient of this great blessing has is faith in God, a faith that is given to him, by the way.[2] 

Let us review our three main points: First, there was the consideration of a truth. It is possible to be justified by works. But you can only be justified in the sight of men by works, and that doesn’t do you any good at all when you stand before God. Before God, you must be justified by faith. Second, there was the declaration of a truth. And that declaration was regarding Abraham. Speaking specifically about the kind of justification that gives you a righteous standing before God, Abraham’s justification was no different than Paul’s. It was by faith. And finally, there was the realization of a truth. If you work for it, then God gives it to you because He owes you. But the person who is honest enough to acknowledge that he is ungodly in God’s sight and that he is not in possession of his own righteousness, realizes that to have what he needs God must give it to him.

That is what our father Abraham found. That is the example he set for us. That is the leadership that he provided, by God’s grace. Now comes the question for you dads, as well as the rest of you. Being a father means being more than just the person who sired those kids. It means taking the lead in doing right. It means taking the lead in being right. It means being an example. As Abraham was an example to all of us by trusting God to the saving of his soul, why don’t you be an example to others by trusting God to the saving of your soul, through faith in Jesus Christ? Then, as he was an example more than fifteen years later when he obeyed God and sacrificed Isaac, why don’t you set the pace for obedience to God in your home?

Justified by faith before God. Justified by works before your wife and kids. Let us see to that now. Shall we?


[1] 1 John 2.12-14

[2] Romans 10.17; 2 Corinthians 4.13; Ephesians 2.8-9

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