Simplicity Series #32

The Father of Believers and the Focus of Faith

“Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus … Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness … For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” Rom. 3:24; 4:3; 5:6

The Story and the Theme


In Rom. 1:1–3:20, Paul has established several foundational truths that will run through the book. We must bear in mind that a doctrine mentioned later in Romans is built upon these foundations and cannot in any way contradict what Paul has already said regarding them. These fundamental doctrines include:

  1. Election—Always relates to Christ, the “Elect One” (Isa. 42:1; Rom. 1:3–4; see also Rom. 9:6–13)
  2. The Way of Salvation—Always “by grace through faith”. Available to all men, therefore God is vindicated, and men are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:18, 20; 2:1; 3:4, 26; see also Rom. 9:1–5, 30–33; 10:8–13; 11:6–7)
  3. The Three Levels of Divine Revelation—Creation, Conscience, and Scripture (Rom. 1:20; 2:15; 3:1–2)
  4. The Process of Hardening—Always begins with man’s rejection of light and truth, then confirmed by God (Rom. 1:18–32; 2:5; see also Rom. 9:18, 30–33; 10:16–21)
  5. The Goal of Divine Patience—Always designed to lead to repentance (Rom. 2:4; see also Rom. 9:22–23; 10:21). The point here is that the grace of God is available to all.
  6. Physical Circumcision vs. Spiritual Circumcision (Rom. 2:25–29; see also Rom. 9:6–8, 30–33)
  7. The Privilege and Accountability of the Jew (Rom. 3:1–4; see also Rom. 9:1–5)

Note: In Abraham, all Israel was “elect,” but not all were saved. That was dependent on personal faith in the promise of God (Gen. 15:6). But, in Abraham, and through Israel, all the nations were also “elect” (Gen. 12:3; 15:5; 17:4–5; 18:18; 21:17–18). As Paul declares (Rom. 1:5; 26:26), the nations were “chosen” to receive the message, that each person might choose to believe or reject, thus absolving God of all charges of unfairness and injustice (Rom. 2:11; 3:26).


Election is a story that encompasses the whole of human history, while always keeping the focus on history’s central figure—Jesus Christ. We must get it clear in our minds that without the election of Jesus Christ (Isa. 42:1), all other election is meaningless. Every form of election in history—and there are many—in some way serves the purpose of God as it relates to the Person and work of Christ. Election is primarily not about salvation, but about service!

The book of Ruth is a story that parallels the theme of the book of Romans. It begins with disobedience and loss, then turns to faith and obedience. This leads to God’s guidance, provision, and blessing, with the focus on the coming King. Elimelech was a member of the chosen, “elect” nation, but lost his privileges through disobedience. Ruth, a Moabite Gentile, was not a member of the elect nation, but she entered into their promises and blessings through faith. By her faith and obedience, Naomi, a Jewess, was brought back to faith and obedience. This is Romans 9–11 in a nutshell. The coming of the Messiah is the ultimate focus in both passages.

The Justification/Vindication of God before Men, Rom. 3:21–31

Remember that the focus of the book of Romans is much greater than merely the justification of men. It is Paul’s defense, or vindication, of God’s righteousness and justice (Rom. 1:17) in the face of those who would accuse God of being unjust in His ways (Rom. 3:3–5; 9:14, 19). Here, Paul declares that God is justified because of:

  1. His Timing, Rom. 3:21

Whereas Rom. 1:18–3:20 covered the entire Old Testament period, the “But now” of Rom. 3:21 brings us to the finished work of Christ in history. Notice that it is “the righteousness of God … [that] is revealed” (compare to Rom. 1:17). While God’s righteousness in principle was revealed in the Law of Moses, now it is revealed in redemption power, “apart from the law … [yet] being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” In Christ, God has done what the Law could never do (Rom. 8:1–4). Not only this, but God has cleared Himself of any charge of injustice on the part of sinful mankind. Paul reveals the genius of God’s wisdom by His method.

  1. His Method, Rom. 3:22–24

God’s righteousness is both intact and available to be imparted to all who believe. This is a vital point. Paul declares that the righteousness God offers through Jesus Christ is “through faith … to all [universal offer] and on all who believe [specific application].” The phrase, “For there is no difference …” reminds us that “there is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2:11). Just as “all [without exception] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” even so may all (without exception) be “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

This section is the crucial portion of the book in seeing the plan of redemption both from God’s point of view, and from man’s. God must be consistent with His own character in devising the plan of redemption. But in addition, in His own sense of justice, He must leave no member of the human race any grounds for accusing Him of favoritism or partiality. This is why the public spectacle of the cross is so essential to His plan.

  1. His Justice, Rom. 3:25–26

The phrase, “whom God set forth,” refers to a public announcement or spectacle. Much as the sign over Jesus’ head read “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Mat. 27:37), left no doubt as to why Jesus was betrayed, so God used the spectacle of the cross to proclaim to all the world that He was just in judging all sin to the uttermost and, by this finished work, He was justified in saving all who believe. As Paul says in Acts 26:26, “this thing [the crucifixion] was not done in a corner.”

The word “propitiation” literally means “mercy seat” (see Heb. 9:5, same word). By the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, God the Father provided satisfaction to His own justice with regard to the judgment of sin and, at the same time, supplied a way of salvation for all for whom Christ died. This is precisely why the doctrine of unlimited atonement is so crucial—both for the salvation of all who believe, but also from Paul’s perspective, and especially to uphold the justice of God as impartial and fair to all. This impartiality even applies to those who lived before the cross.

The fact that God “passed over the sins that were previously committed,” is akin to Paul saying, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). The point is that Jesus Christ died for the sins of all mankind. Therefore, while still under the curse of the sin of Adam (Rom. 5:12), their personal sins are not imputed to them, having been imputed to Christ on the cross (2 Cor. 5:19, 21).

  1. His Wisdom, Rom. 3:27–31

In the matchless wisdom of God, which Paul will later magnify (Rom. 11:33–36), God has removed from all men any basis for either boasting of or blame against God. Every member of the human race is able to be justified before God on the simple basis of faith, which is possible to all men. It is a totally false claim that faith is “the gift of God” in Eph. 2:8. Both grammar and the context forbid this interpretation. The gift is the free offer of being made alive, raised up, and seated with Christ by faith (Eph. 2:6–7).

If the premise were true that God “chooses” to save some but not others, and gives the gift of faith to some but withholds it from others, Paul’s whole argument throughout the book of Romans would fall to the ground. Those who would argue, on a distorted view of divine sovereignty—that God can do whatever He likes—actually dishonor God and undermine the design of the book of Romans to show that God is “just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26), and that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). Such deception is no small matter. Even Abraham understood that God must ultimately be seen as just by all men, when he said, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25b).

In concluding this section, please notice that He is God of both Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 3:29–30). Since He is the One God over all, He is, in Christ, also “the Savior of all men” (1 Tim. 4:10). Any theological system that denies that God loves all mankind (John 3:16) or that Christ died for all men (1 John 2:2), is dishonoring to God and discredits His Word.

Justification of Men Before God, Rom. 4:1–12

It is not difficult to discern Paul’s focus in Romans 4. Eleven times he uses the word for “imputation.” Unfortunately, the translators of the NKJV translate the same word three different ways: “accounted,” “counted,” and “imputed.” The word means “to place to someone’s account” and, in the sense of imputed righteousness, has a double meaning. All our sins were imputed to Jesus Christ and, therefore, were taken off of our account (2 Cor. 5:19). Then, His righteousness is offered on the basis of faith alone, trust in the faithfulness of God, to be imputed, placed to our account, on the basis of faith alone.

  1. The Example of Abraham and David, Rom. 4:1–8

Paul has declared that his gospel was “being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Rom. 3:21). Remember that “the Law” was often used simply to refer to the Torah—the first five books of the Old Testament. So here, Paul calls on Abraham (the major figure of Genesis), and David (one of Israel’s greatest prophets, as well as her undisputed greatest king) to bear testimony to the truth of his gospel message.

Since Abraham was viewed as the root from which the tree of Israel came, God’s dealings with Him are definitive. Abraham concedes that there is a sense in which he was justified by works, before men. This is James’ point in James 2:21. Note how James keeps emphasizing “Do you see … You see then …” (James 2:22, 24). However, Paul is not concerned with justification before men, but rather justification before God.

Paul refers to Gen. 15:6, a passage that held a prominent place in rabbinical writings at the time, to show that Abraham was justified by faith alone—without works. His faith rested in the promise of God (the emphasis from Rom. 4:13–25), because the promise was dependent on the faithfulness of God. Faith always vindicates the faithfulness of God.

Remember that the Abrahamic Covenant was ratified in Genesis 15. God made the covenant with Himself. In other words, it was a sovereign and unconditional act on the part of God. He alone passed through the covenant offering (Gen. 15:9–18). God’s promise in the covenant was a “seed” (Gen. 15:4–5), “great reward” (Gen. 15:1), and “land” (Gen. 15:18). These are the three things promised Abraham in Gen. 12:1–3. This was all wholly dependent upon God. The only part Abraham played was to trust God (Heb. 11:6, 8, 17; Gen. 15:6).

We know from Heb. 11:8 that Abraham was already a believer when he left Ur of Chaldea. However, Gen. 15:6 is an all-encompassing statement of God’s dealings with Abraham. God, from the beginning and at all times, considers faith in His faithfulness to be the key to “righteousness”—that is, a right relationship with Himself. Works cannot, in any way, intrude into this formula, or faith is no longer faith (compare Rom. 4:16 with 11:6). Grace and faith are mutually compatible, while faith and works are mutually exclusive in so far as merit is concerned.

In the case of David (Rom. 4:6–8), it is obvious that he was a believer long before this incident (Psalm 32:1–2) of his recovery from the sin with Bathsheba. This is actually an incident of confession and correction of sin (1 John 1:7, 9). However, the principle holds true that David’s initial saving faith was the foundation for his restoration from sin. Any believer who has fallen deeply into sin, and comes to spiritual recovery, knows just what David means when he says, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven” (Rom. 4:7)! Paul’s point is that “the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Rom. 4:8), can only be one who has trusted in the God who “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).

  1. The Sign and Seal of Circumcision, Rom. 4:9–12

Very early in the history of the Church, circumcision became an issue causing division. Many believing Jews demanded that Gentiles become circumcised before they could be admitted to the community of faith (Acts 15:1–5). This issue even tripped up the Apostle Peter (Gal. 2:11–21). So great was the controversy that it had to be decided by the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:9–29). The evidence of Paul’s victory in this critical issue was that Titus, who was a Greek, was accepted at the council and not required to be circumcised (Gal. 2:3). Here, Paul gives the true role and purpose of circumcision.

Abraham’s circumcision came 24 years after he left Haran (Gen. 17:24). It could have had no part in his initial salvation even earlier in Ur. Rather, it became a “sign” of the Abrahamic Covenant—a covenant based on divine promise, and confirmed by Abraham’s faith alone. While the ritual of circumcision became the physical seal of Abraham’s physical descendants, it was faith that became the seal of his true spiritual progeny (Rom. 4:11–12, with Gal. 3:6–9, 16–18, 26–29).

Tragically, the Jews took the ritual of circumcision and rejected the reality of faith. This is the substance of Paul’s whole argument in Romans 9–11. Therefore, Paul goes on to emphasize the crucial aspect of the promise of God in the impartation of righteousness.

The Role of God’s Promise in the Redemption Plan, Rom. 4:13–25

The promise of God to Abraham was totally dependent upon God’s faithfulness and His power. Abraham was totally helpless to aid and abet its fulfillment (though he did try, much to his shame, Genesis 16).

  1. The Promise and God’s Power, Rom. 4:13–17

In Rom. 4:13–25, “promise” is mentioned five times. “Faith” or “believe” is mentioned eight times. A promise necessarily belongs to the future. It gives rise to “hope” (Rom. 4:18) because it is not yet seen (see Rom. 8:24–25). Once the promise is realized, it becomes visible, and we no longer hope for it.

Therefore, a promise is only as good as the one making the promise. When it is God who promises, since He cannot lie (Titus 1:2), we who believe are able to conclude that “What He had promised He [is] also able to perform” (Rom. 4:21). As Paul makes clear in Gal. 3:6–9, 14–18, 26–29, the “children of promise” (Gal. 4:28) are those who receive God’s promise by faith alone.

To Abraham, due to his advanced age and not to mention Sarah’s barren womb, it would take an act of “God who gives life to the dead and calls these things which do not exist as though they did” (Rom. 4:17). This may actually be a reference to Abraham’s obedience in offering Isaac up on Mt. Moriah. As the author of Hebrews says, Abraham, [concluded] that God was able to raise him [Isaac] up, even from the dead …” (Heb. 11:19). Bear in mind that while we of the Western mindset are extremely concerned with keeping everything chronologically in order, the Hebrew mindset is concerned with keeping to the theme of the truth.

  1. The Promise and God’s Faithfulness, Rom. 4:18–25

Certainly, we know that Abraham “wavered” in faith regarding Hagar, but he “was strengthened in faith,” by the time of Moriah, and glorified God by his sacrificial obedience.

The critical point from the example of Abraham (Gen. 15:6), as far as Paul is concerned, is that “it was not written for his sake alone that it [righteousness] was imputed to him but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe on Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom. 4:23–24). Just as Christ bore the sins of the entire world (Rom. 5:18), even so the righteousness of God, and the promise of forgiveness and life, is offered to all on the basis of simple, childlike faith (Mat. 18:3).

Abraham’s faith was that God had the power to [give] life to the dead …” (Rom. 4:17). Our faith rests on the fact that He has done it, in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ, “who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:25).


The promise to Abraham of a “seed” continued the promise of Gen. 3:15 of “the seed of the woman.” Abraham, no doubt, discerned that “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42), would come through his lineage. By trusting in Jesus Christ, we share his faith, and become the children of God, and the true “sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7), who is “the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16).


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