What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
The righteousness of God does not come from obedience to the law. For it’s clear that all have sinned and fall short of the standard God requires. In fact, no one except Jesus has been able to follow the law perfectly. Therefore, because the human race is guilty, there is no room for boasting.
All our righteousness pales in comparison to the righteousness of Christ. That’s why our hope and faith in the risen Savior is all that matters. When Abraham believed God, it was counted to him as righteousness.
Does this mean the law is nullified by faith? Of course not. As Paul reiterated in the last chapter, faith upholds the law. Jesus told us that if we love him, we will obey His commands—faith without obedience is no faith at all.
4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Once again, Paul focuses on the importance of faith. Our faith is what counts as righteousness, not our obedience to the law. At the same time, this doesn’t mean lawlessness is okay. On the day of judgment, God says to those who called him Lord: “I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of iniquity—lawless people (Matt. 7:23). Lawless people do not inherit the kingdom of God.
When Paul quotes from King David, it’s important to emphasize the word forgiven. Forgiveness implies the person was reaching out to God for mercy. In 1 John 1:9, Scripture teaches this conditional statement: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Does this mean we must repent and acknowledge our sin in order to be saved by faith? Absolutely. Once again, faith is not absent from conviction or obedience—it’s just that obedience doesn’t save us; only faith in Jesus can do that. The book of James makes this truth clear: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but not works. Can that faith save him? This rhetorical question assumes you know the answer.
9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
There are biblical scholars who would argue this verse petitions for regeneration preceding faith. In other words, one is born-again or saved before they come to saving faith; additionally, faith precedes one’s actions as well. But is this what Paul is articulating here in his letter written to Roman believers? I think this is partially true.
I do believe that faith precedes our action. For example, in Romans 10:17, the apostle Paul states: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ (Rom. 10:17).” Next, one’s faith propels them towards good works because the fruit of the spirit now lives within them (Gal. 5:28). Thus, a believer proves their faith by their works, but it is faith alone in Christ that saves.
On the other hand, this passage is not saying regeneration precedes faith. The argument goes like this: Because Abraham was circumcised in the heart before he was circumcised in the flesh as an external sign, then he was regenerated before faith. But the problem with this argument is that faith must be heard and understood before one can be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
This doesn’t mean the individual contributes to their salvation by having faith; it is just the natural order by which God saves us—faith leads to regeneration, regeneration leads to action, and action leads to sanctification and spiritual growth. It is impossible to be born again without first having faith to believe.
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
Before the Law of Moses was given to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, the Lord had already cut a covenant with Abraham. He told Abraham that through his offspring many would be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). This promise of righteousness therefore did not come on stone tablets but occurred before the law was instituted. Abraham believed God’s promises and it was credited to him as righteousness.
Galatians 3:18 confirms this truth: “For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise, but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” While the law brings wrath and condemnation, faith points us to the promise and fulfillment of what Jesus did for us on the cross. 1 Corinthians 15:56 says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Obviously, the law is not sin. Rather, the law points us to our inability to satisfy it’s demands and therefore condemnation is the consequence apart from the promise of God in the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”
The promise depends on faith because of grace. The entire world has been offered this gift of hope because Abraham is the father of us all—the father of many nations. Therefore, every person has the opportunity to partake in the gospel of grace by trusting in the one who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be brought from death to life (Rom. 10:13).
19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22
Abraham was a good role model. Even when his own body grew weary and old, his faith did not waver. When Sarah could not initially bear children, Abraham continued to trust in the promises of God. He knew that all the nations would be blessed through his seed and this would someday become a reality.
He did not entertain unbelief. In fact, Abraham grew stronger in his faith as he gave glory to God—fully convinced that God would do exactly what he had promised. No matter how difficult circumstances are or how unlikely a promise might be made, never lose hope: With God, all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).
That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Faith is defined as complete trust or confidence in someone or something. When we demonstrate to God that we have faith in Him, He counts this as righteousness—morally right or justifiable. How can merely trusting in the Lord acquit us from the sins we have committed?
Because it matters who we place our faith in. If it’s in our own obedience to the law, we will fail. If it’s in our own righteousness, we stand condemned. However, when we believe in him who was raised from the dead, Jesus of Nazareth, our faith is counted as righteousness. For Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. For Jesus knew no sin and became sin for us so that we would receive the righteousness by faith.
Commentary written by Chad A. Damitz (M.Div)