Romans Chapter four

VERSES 1-5  What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

Martin Luther initiated a very significant reformation to the church – a large part of which had become thoroughly corrupt, especially by the Pope who claimed to be the head of the whole church throughout the world. The church was of course also corrupted by those who sought the approval of men, (including the Pope), rather than the approval of God – and many of the church leaders guarded their positions of authority and control as bishops and cardinals etc.

However, to preserve the authority of the Pope and their own positions of authority, very few leaders were willing to risk their careers in the institutionalized church structure by remaining faithful firstly to the Word of God that had been entrusted to the church by Jesus Christ and the Prophets and apostles.

Luther emphasized that that good works are the fruit and not the root of salvation and he taught that the doctrine of righteousness by faith consists of three essential parts: The first being justification by faith, when a sinner turns to Christ for salvation. The second being sanctification by faith, the work of a lifetime through which the believer cooperates with the Holy Spirit by continued submission and obedience. The third being glorification, when we finally put aside this mortal body, either by dying in the faith or, if we are still living, at the time of Christ’s appearing from heaven when we shall received immortality. Ruth Gordon Short added: “Inasmuch as Luther’s teaching was concentrated primarily on the first step of righteousness by faith, he may correctly be thought of as having commenced the Reformation which in God’s plan others were to continue and perfect”,  (From “Martin Luther – the man” by Ruth Gordon Short – page 23).

I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:15-16).

…those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:30).

To be in the faith i.e. the faith through which we are justified, is to continue to be faithful to the truth which, of course, includes the sound teaching as imparted through Jesus and the new covenant and confirmed in the written Scriptures.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).

The Roman Catholic Church insisted that a Christians needed to remain faithful to the church and its hierarchy which, they taught, included tradition and extra-biblical teachings brought through the Pope.

We should be reminded again of our calling through which we belong to Jesus Christ through faith – as was stated by Paul in Romans 1:5 – We are called to the obedience that comes from faith.

We cannot profess to be in the faith – or to be justified by faith, if we disobey the teaching of Jesus Christ and the apostles, but we are to always test everything and to be discerning to ensure that what is being taught does not depart from that which is entrusted to us in the Scriptures.

Faith comes by hearing the word of God spoken in and through Jesus Christ – and it should go without saying that the subsequent obedience that comes from faith – is to act in line with what the word of God says.

Faithfulness is through obedience to the Word of God and is not to the many contrary additional rules and regulations or to the religious traditions taught by mere men which do not find their authority according to the Scriptures.

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for not holding faithfully to the Word of God:

…the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?” 6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

9 And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honour your father and your mother,’ and, `Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: `Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that” (Mark 7:5-13).

The Roman Catholic Church had, similarly to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, introduced traditions and rules through which they effectively nullified the Word of God – and by which they tried to exploit the guilty conscience and the lack of genuine faith of many naïve people – as well as their effort to compel people to give money as a payment to atone for their sins and to free those who had died from “purgatory” (which was not according to anything taught in the Scriptures).

Jesus has paid the price for our sins and has made the once-and-for-all atoning sacrifice through the shedding of his precious blood and his by his death on the cross – so that no other price or sin offering could ever – or need ever – be paid for, or offered to purchase our redemption from sin and death.

However, we are called to repent of going our own way, to believe the gospel, to deny ourselves by taking up our cross to follow Jesus as a demonstration of our faithfulness to his call and the word of God which works within those who believe – and this we must do in order to make the atonement effective in our lives.

Some people teach a doctrine known as “limited atonement”, but I believe, according to 1 John 2:2, where it is written:

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world –

That the sin for which people will be finally condemned, is the sin of rebelling against the Word of God and for treating the blood of the covenant that sanctified him as an unholy thing and for their insulting the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29).

Paul reminded the believers at Galatia – that they had not earned God’s favour and nor had they received the Holy Spirit by obeying the Law, they received the promised Holy Spirit by believing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Galatians 3:2-3).

The “work” which God requires of us, as a direct result of believing his word – is not that we try to observe the old covenant Law which no person controlled by the sinful nature was ever able to do, nor that we try by our own strength or will power to observe external rules and regulations taught by men.

On the contrary, the work of genuine faith, which is the work that God requires of us, is that we believe in the One whom he sent into this world to save sinners from their sin and from the wrath of God.

Then they asked Jesus, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (John 6:28).

If there was absolutely nothing that we must do in order to be saved, then we would be required to do absolutely nothing at all – and every person would be saved entirely by what God does – and Jesus would have answered their question by saying, “You need do nothing at all, God requires no work at all, everything, including the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, is a free gift which does not even require for one to have faith, nor the obedience which comes from faith.”

However: Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29).

In other words, it is not doing many things which we may regard as “good works”, but doing the work which God has called us to and prepared in advance for us to do – which comes from hearing his word – and the subsequent obedience to the word of God.

Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ 24 Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:21-27).

Again, let us be reminded of our calling – which is to the obedience that comes from faith – faith comes by hearing Jesus’ words and the faithful obedience comes when we put Christ’s word into practice.

Martin Luther was right in initiating reformation by his challenging the false teachings and corrupted authority of the Pope and the other corrupt leaders and false teachers who were adding all kinds of man-made teachings and rules and regulations to the word of God – which threatened to bring people under religious bondage and sin.

However, confusion arises when it is suggested that a person will be justified simply by passively believing that Jesus is Lord and King but completely without repentance and obedience.

Many people may indeed believe that the gospel message is the truth – that Jesus died for the sins of the world, that his blood was shed to make atonement for our sins – and that Jesus was raised from the dead and that he is exalted and seated upon his throne in heaven with all authority in heaven and earth given to him, yet they may not repent of their sin and rebellion as they completely neglect to live in obedience to his word.

Some people even teach that if such people have “faith” by believing the above, that they are saved from eternal condemnation, even if they continue in their sin.

But the devil also knows and believes that Jesus is the Messiah, he also knows and believes that God raised Jesus from the dead and that all authority has been given to Jesus, yet he continues opposing the truth and promoting his lies and rebellion.

As the apostles James and Paul both taught, we are not justified by faith alone – as perhaps meaning by our mental assent to the truth alone (i.e. believing that the Christian faith is the only way, the only truth and the only life), on the contrary, we are justified by faithful obedience to the truth which always includes acknowledgment and confession or our sins, repentance and walking in step with the Holy Spirit who raises us to a new life of obedience.

For through the revelation which is given by the LORD, (to the humble), that Jesus is the Messiah, Lord and King, we are also called to the obedience that comes from faith (Romans 1:6).

Martin Luther suspected that the apostle James contradicted Paul’s teaching in Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome in which Paul wrote: For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law (Romans 3:28) and: Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5).

A “faith” which may perhaps simply believe that the truth of the gospel is indeed the truth – is a “dead faith” which does not justify anyone – especially of course, if such people continue to sin by blatantly disobeying the teaching of Jesus Christ which they have heard.

The apostle Peter taught that such people, having become accountable through knowing the truth:

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them (2 Peter 2:20-21).

Many people claim to be Christians and to even have “faith” because they believe the gospel to be the truth, but if they do not confess their sins and show forth the fruit of repentance, is their “faith” genuine faith – and are they saved by such “faith” alone?

James wrote: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. 20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (James 2:14-26).

Martin Luther emphasized that Christians are saved and justified by “faith alone” – and not by works.

Unfortunately, however, Luther downplayed the epistle of James calling it an “epistle of straw” and Luther also implied, contrary to Paul’s warning, that people could go on sinning just so long as long as they confessed their sins and that they believed that Jesus is Lord and that he died for our sins.

We should, therefore, be careful when considering what is implied by the words “faith alone”.

If it is suggested that “faith”, is simply a synonym of the word “believe” or “belief”, and that “faith” is simply believing something to be true, even if we do not act according to the truth, then it could be suggested that as long as we believe that Jesus’ blood was shed to make atonement for our sins – and that God raised him from the dead, then we could very well go on sinning, because, after all, it is suggested that we are saved and justified by “faith alone”.

However, both Paul and James are in perfect agreement when they both teach that “faith” without repentance – and “faith” without holy living – is not genuine faith in what Jesus has fully accomplished by also sending the Holy Spirit in order to raise us up to new life.

Paul taught in Romans 8 that those who receive the Holy Spirit are the only ones who truly belong to Christ – and they are also no longer controlled by the old sinful nature because they have become slaves to righteousness and humbly submit their minds to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.

Paul also taught in his letter to the believers in Galatia that:

…live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law (Galatians 5:16-18).

Faith comes by hearing and believing the gospel – the Holy Spirit is given to those who believe the gospel – the Holy Spirit raises us to new life and enables us to put to death the old sinful nature which once held us in slavery to sin.

If a person does not keep in step with the Holy Spirit, then neither can they be described as having genuine faith.

We are called by the gospel into the obedience which comes from faith, if there is no obedience to the word of Christ, which includes being raised to new life by the Holy Spirit then neither can there be genuine faith.

Paul affirmed that no one will be saved by works of the Law. However, we cannot distort Paul’s teaching and make it appear to be at odds with the apostle James, by suggesting that Paul meant that there would not be – and need not be – any works whatsoever as proof of genuine faith in the life of a Christian.

Let’s consider Paul’s teaching in Ephesians where he wrote the following:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

We know from Paul’s teaching elsewhere that he is referring to works of the Law – and other works motivated by man’s own effort, such as good deeds, charity, etc.

But in the same teaching, Paul goes on to describe works which are prepared for us by God for which he will equip us by the power of the Holy Spirit – to obey the teaching of Jesus Christ.

In other words, not good deeds – or good works – or even works through trying to observe the Law of Moses, works which people may perceive to be “good” simply by the standards and expectations of this world or by humanitarian standards, but the works of obedience to Christ as Lord and King to which we have been called.

And these works prepared by God in advance for us to do – are not done in our own human strength or as a result of our own good intentions, but by his mighty power working within us through the Holy Spirit who we receive by believing the gospel message:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Paul is not contradicting himself in the two sentences quoted above – where he says in the first part, “not by works, so that no one can boast” and then in the second part: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”.

What we do as Christians to demonstrate genuine faithfulness is as a result of the Word of Christ working within us through the Holy Spirit – and it is in this manner that we are expected to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:12-13).

The writer to the Hebrews wrote, concerning the foundational, or elementary teachings of Christ, and he referred to repentance from acts that lead to death (NIV) – or, in the KJV, repentance from dead works, – dead works are man’s own good deeds, even those of observing the external Law or any other kind of regulation or humanitarian social works etc., but which are his own effort to seek approval from God or even salvation, but which continue to resist the Holy Spirit and genuine faith in Christ.

The idea of the words “faith alone” may be misleading if we imagine that faith can be a passive belief system completely separate from an active and obedient response on our part to the Word of God.

If what we do according to faith, in other words, what we do in response to the Word of God, is indeed motivated by simple obedience and not by our trying to earn acceptance by doing many good works which we consider good in our own evaluation, and for such works, prompted by faith, God credits righteousness to us, should we suppose that it is simply Christ’s righteousness which is counted as our own righteousness – quite apart from anything at all which we do?

Some people do teach that imputed righteousness is that God credits Christ’s righteousness to our account quite apart from what we do and quite regardless of whether we obey his word, just so long as we believe that Jesus died for our sins – but I believe that such teaching tries to assures sinners of salvation without urging them to genuinely repent and to walk in step with the Holy Spirit.

Surely the apostle John rebuked such teaching as being quite distorted and misleading:

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother (1 John 3:7-10).

Doing “what is right” –  does not mean doing what is right in the sight of men, i.e. good works in the sight of other men, but that which is right as according to the response of genuine faith according to the teaching of Jesus Christ.

VERSES 6-7 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”

Many people believe that they are righteous according to the good works they may do, but in their self-righteous pride they neither detect nor confess their sins, especially their sin of rejecting the word of God spoken in and through Jesus, – and such people obviously do not demonstrate genuine Christian faith which is in response to the word of Christ.

Some people may think that their sins are not as grievous and offensive as other people’s sins. Many people regard Christians as hypocrites when compared to other religions and their so-called good deeds, but all of the Christians other sins are forgiven because they confess them to God and trust in the atoning blood of Jesus to cleanse them – so that they are no longer counted against them, whereas even the other “lesser” sins of unbelievers who reject Christ – are still held and counted against them.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives (1 John (1 John 1:8-10).

RO 4:9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

RO 4:13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15 because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

RO 4:16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

Paul taught in harmony with the apostle James that Abraham believed the Word of the LORD and because he believed – he acted upon that word as a demonstration of genuine faith.

VERSES 18-25 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

We were sinful by nature, incapable of obeying the external Law even if we were willing to and even if we tried to – but the LORD said through the prophet Ezekiel that he would change us by putting his Spirit within us to move us to obey him.

Do we believe that God will write his Law upon our hearts and change us from within in spite the natural tendency of our old sinful nature?

If we do believe this, then we follow Jesus in response to what God said that he would do in us and through us by the power of his Spirit living within us.

The LORD called Abraham to leave everything in order to follow the LORD to the place where he would lead him which is in fact beyond this temporal world in which we live as sojourners.

We are called to the obedience that comes from faith – the faith which is an active response to the word of God revealed in – and spoken through – Jesus Christ.

Large crowds followed Jesus because of the miracles he performed and out of curiosity, but not all followed him with genuine faith demonstrated by their leaving all other things of this world –like Abraham, the man of faith. Grace is free, but genuine faith is demonstrated at a cost through which following Jesus becomes our first and most important priority.

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:25-33).

No one can claim to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ – and to be saved by their faith, unless they truly believe Jesus and demonstrate their faith by their responding to his calling to follow him, to take up their cross and to love one another as he has loved us.

Jesus said: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Faith is not a “free ticket” to heaven simply by holding to a passive “belief”, on the contrary, it is an active response of faith, an obedient walk of life – as we are led by the Holy Spirit – out of Egypt, i.e. bondage to sin and to this corrupt and fallen world, as we are led to the new heaven and the new earth the home of righteousness.