Calvary Road Baptist Church


Romans 4.16 

“So, what are you trying to say, Paul? What, exactly, are you trying to tell us?”

Imagine yourself a Roman Christian thinking such things as the famous Apostle Paul’s letter is read to you aloud for the first time. Paul wants to go to Spain. Paul wants the Christians in Rome to do two things for him to make his trip and mission to Spain possible.

First, he wants them to give a substantial offering to the believers in Jerusalem. A great many commentators have interpreted Romans 1.13, where Paul writes “that I might have some fruit among you also” as referring to lost souls won to Christ. And while soul winning was one of Paul’s central goals in life, and is an admirable privilege, such is not exactly what Paul had in mind in that verse. Fruit refers to money in Romans 1.13. He wants the Roman Christians to give money to help feed their brothers in Jerusalem.

Second, he wants the Romans to support his ministry in Spain, which explains the thoroughness of this Roman epistle as a declaration of his doctrinal position to establish the basis for this willingness to collaborate with him. That is why once the offering is completed and his ministry’s work concludes in the East, Paul spends most of the rest of his Roman epistle addressing the subject of being righteous in the sight of God. The Romans, you see, are a little confused about the subject of how a sinful person gets right with God, becomes righteous in God’s eyes. Well, the term Paul uses to describe the means whereby an unrighteous person becomes righteous in the sight of God is justification. Roughly speaking, in the first two and one-half chapters of Romans, Paul shows the Roman believers the need for justification. He convincingly proves that every single man and women, no matter how moral or religious, has the great and surpassing need of being justified in the sight of God.

In the second major section of Paul’s letter, he sets out to explain what justification is. Since justification is something that God does for you, not something you do for yourself, it is quite easy to understand how someone who has been justified can completely fail to understand what God did for him when He justified him. So, in this second major section, which we have been in for some weeks now, in which Paul explains justification, he uses for purposes of illustration and example the patriarch Abraham, the first Jew.

The reason he used Abraham is quite easy to see. Abraham was the man to whom God made the initial promise upon which is based what we now refer to as the Gospel. Abraham was also a man who was justified in the sight of God. Abraham was also the progenitor of the nation of Israel, God’s covenant nation. So, no better example than Abraham could have been found anywhere in the Bible. And what have we found from the experiences and example of Abraham? We have discovered some negative things first. We discovered that doing good works does not justify anyone in the sight of God. We discovered that ceremonial religion does not justify anyone in the sight of God. And we discovered that observance of the Law of Moses does not justify anyone in the sight of God.

“So, what are you trying to say, Paul?”

Paul is informing us that justification, that feat whereby God accomplishes the seemingly impossible task of giving to an unrighteous person the righteousness needed to stand before Him, occurs by faith alone. Faith is the only prerequisite for justification. Romans 4.16. When you find our text, please stand for the reading of God’s Word: 

“Therefore 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.” 

Notice the two sides of this thing called justification: 


“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.” 

The italics in our Bibles shows us that the translators have supplied words that are implied in the Greek text. But what is the “it is” and the “it might be” that is referred to? Justification. This whole chapter is dealing with the issue of Abraham’s justification. Justification is so obviously the subject of this verse that Paul doesn’t bother to name it directly. With that said, let’s learn some things about God’s plan for justifying people.

First, the means whereby justification is accomplished. Understand that Paul is dealing with the human side of this issue now. He is not addressing God’s means of accomplishing and fulfilling His plan, but the role that man is directly involved in. Since we know justification cannot be accomplished by works, and cannot be accomplished by ceremonial religion, and cannot be accomplished by observance of the Law, it seems that there is no role a man must play or can play in his salvation. What’s left, then? Faith. Faith is left. Paul writes, 

“Therefore it is of faith.” 

Since you cannot do anything to save yourself, you cannot do anything to make yourself righteous in God’s eyes; you are placed into the position of having to trust someone else to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. You have to place your confidence in God, both His ability and His inclination, to take care of business for you.

Second, the merit whereby justification is deserved: 

“that it might be by grace.” 

Boy is this thing called grace misunderstood. People throughout the world of Christianity think that “grace” refers to the unmerited favor of God. It does not. I repeat, it does not. The word “grace” refers to favor but does not have as a part of its meaning whether the favor is earned or unearned. And as a matter of fact, throughout the Old Testament, we see that “grace” is both purchased outright or earned in some way or another in the great majority of those verses in which the word is found. The bottom line is this: Grace, which is favor, must be earned. Whether it is with God or with man, grace must be procured. Therefore, here is the interesting aspect of Biblical truth as it relates to grace. Neither you nor I have what it takes to procure God’s favor, so someone must need procure it for us. Jesus Christ is the One Who did that for us. So, when Paul writes “that it might be by grace” he is reminding his readers of two facts: First, your justification is the result of someone procuring God’s favor for you. Second, it wasn’t you who procured God’s favor. We are reminded at the end of chapter 4, once again, that someone is Jesus Christ.

Third, the message which justification completes: 

“to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed” 

God made a promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 and then again in Genesis 15. That promise entailed blessing all the families of the earth. And being a promise that God made to Abraham, we previously learned, God could not impose obligations upon those He made the promise to. If God said, “I am going to do this,” then God is obligated to do what He has freely promised. He has obligated Himself. And how does God fulfill His promise made to Abraham to bless all the nations? By justifying individual sinners, one at a time, by faith in Jesus Christ. That’s the Gospel. That’s the good news. When Paul wrote that the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, First Corinthians 15, he did not mean that was the whole Gospel. He meant that that was the pinnacle, the ultimate act of God, the basis upon which God could keep His promise to Abraham. And that is good news. 


“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.” 

There are three phrases here used by Paul to describe who the readers are who are justified by faith, who have no personal merit of any kind, who do not deserve it.

First, Paul refers to them as “to all the seed.” Understand that the Jewish people had collectively and conveniently forgotten that God’s promise was to bless all the families of the earth. It was not God Who limited the blessing to families who were circumcised. It was not God Who limited the blessing to families who observed the Law of Moses. The Jewish people imposed those restrictions over a period as a result of misunderstanding both the promise and the purpose of the Law. Therefore, when Paul uses the phrase that justification in fulfillment of the promise “might be sure to all the seed” he was reminding his readers that God’s right arm of salvation was extended to everyone, not just the physical descendants of Abraham.

Second, “not to that only which is of the Law.” In this second portion, Paul becomes somewhat more specific in his description of the recipients of the blessing of the promise. Notice that the phrase “not to that only which is of the Law” lets the reader know that there are two groups of people who are justified. And the key word is the word “only.” “Only” lets us know that that man who is of the Law can be justified, but not only him. The man who is not of the Law can be justified, as well.

Finally, Paul writes “to that also which is of the faith of Abraham.” Pay careful attention to what Paul has done with these three phrases: With the first phrase, he has greatly expanded that group of people who can be justified. By using the word “all”, he is reminding his readers that it’s all the seed, not just the Jews who can be justified. When he uses the word “only” in the second portion, he further clarifies the groups who can receive the blessing. It can be those who are of the Law, but not only them. Then, in this final phrase, he narrows the field once more. But he doesn’t narrow the field along racial, cultural, religious, or ethnic boundaries. Of those who are Jews and Gentiles, not all will be justified. Only those individuals who have “the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.” 

“What are you trying to say, Paul?”

What Paul is trying to say is that justification is by faith. God’s plan of salvation, His plan for making unrighteous people righteous before Him, absolutely has to be a plan that turns on the issue of faith. If it’s not faith, then God will never be able to keep His promise. And how is that? Well, if it’s not faith then it has to be works, or ceremonial religion, or observance of the Law. But if it’s one of those things then it’s no longer a promise that God is keeping. The whole point is that being a promise; the requirements fall upon God, not on either you or me. Then, if it’s a plan that turns on the issue of faith, then it rightly follows that anyone who has faith can receive the blessing. Right? Right.

That means Jews who have faith.

That means Gentiles who have faith.

Anyone who places his faith in Christ has Abraham as a father, becomes an heir of Abraham, and inherits what God promised him.

Is that you? Have you trusted Christ by faith and become an heir of the promise God made to Abraham?

If not, do so now.



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