Gospel Credit (Rom 4:1-25)

Rom 4:1-25; 4:5

"But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who declares the ungodly to be righteous, his faith is credited for righteousness" (Rom 4:5, HCSB). "However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness" (Rom 4:5, NIV).

Gospel Credit or Gospel Justification or Salvation is (Romans, by John Stott):
  1. Not by works (1-8).
  2. Not by circumcision (9-12).
  3. Not by law (13-17).
  4. By faith (18-22).
  5. For us (23-25).
I. Justification is Not By Works (1-8)
II. Justification is Not By Circumcision (9-12)
III. Justification is Not By Law (13-17)
IV. Justification is By Faith (18-22)
V. Justification is For Us (23-25)

Salvation or Justification is (Adapted from "The Message of Romans, Leader's Guide" by Tim Keller):
  1. A gift (1-8): Abraham was given, "credited," righteousness, so salvation is a gift, not earned. (How Abraham was saved.)
  2. For all (9-17): Abraham's righteousness came before circumcision and the law, so salvation is for all, not some. (When Abraham was saved.)
  3. For us (18-25): Abraham's faith is a case study for us, so we can truly be his "children." (Why Abraham was saved.)
I. Justification is A Gift (1-8): It is credited (the Greek word is repeated 14 times in 11 verses).

Why did Paul choose Abraham as his main example of justification by faith (Rom 4:1)? John Stott explains: "There seem to have been two reasons for Paul's choosing Abraham as his main example. The first is that he was the founding father of Israel, 'the rock from which [they] were cut', the favoured recipient of God's covenant and promises. The second reason is doubtless that Abraham was held in the highest esteem by the Rabbis as the epitome of righteousness and even the special 'friend' of God. They took it for granted that he had been justified by works of righteousness. For instance, 'Abraham was perfect in all his dealings with the Lord and gained favour by his righteousness throughout his life.' They quoted the Scriptures in which God promised to bless Abraham because he had obeyed him, without observing that these verses referred to Abraham's life of obedience after his justification. They even quoted Genesis 15:6 (Paul's text in this chapter, verse 3), in such a way as to represent Abraham's faith as meaning his fidelity or faithfulness, which was therefore meritorious. For example, 'was not Abraham found faithful in temptation, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness?'" John R. W. Stott,Romans: God's Good News for the World (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1994), 123.

Justification (righteousness, salvation) is credited (λογίζομαι [logizomai] {Rom 4:3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24} is repeated 14 times in 11 verses. "Credit" is an accounting term meaning "to count as." To "credit" something is to confer a status that was not there before. The Jews of the time (including Christians without realizing it) thought that faith = obedience of the law. But Paul argues in several ways in Rom 2:2-4 why saving faith is not that:
  1. To say that faith is credited as righteousness means that faith in itself is not righteousness. Faith could not be an active accomplishment of good deeds. Faith is therefore something that is receptive. Faith is not a "work" that merits anything.
  2. If faith = obedience, then salvation is not a gift. And if it is not a gift, God would be obligated to save us (Rom 2:4). This runs counter to the whole tenor of the Bible.
  3. If faith = obedience, then we who are saved would be able to boast before God and others, for we are the real authors of our salvation. But that is antithetical to the spirit and character of the great patriarch Abraham (Rom 4:1). Paul argues in Rom 4:2. that if Abraham was justified by works, then he had something to boast about. But Paul expresses the impossibility of such a conclusion — but not before God! In other words, the clear falsity of the conclusion shows that the premise (that Abraham was justified by works) is wrong.
  4. If faith = obedience, then the actual object of faith is you yourself and your abilities. It leads to boasting and pride (or to despair and self-hatred). But if faith = trust God's promise to save, then the actual object of faith is God and his ability. That leads to humility and confidence.
Many Jewish commentators find Paul's definition of faith perplexing. One writes: "Faith becomes a zealous obedience in the matter of fulfilling the law… [Paul's position] of absolute opposition between faith, on the one hand, and the law, on the other… has always been unintelligible to the Jewish thinker." (H.J.Shoeps, Paul, London: 1962) This may also be true of Christians who functionally think of faith as obedience to the word of God, when to Paul salvation is by faith apart from obeying the law (Rom 3:28; 4:5).

Abraham wasn't saved by just believing in God. Rom 4:3 says, "Abraham believed God." This is not a general belief in God that saves, but it is believing God when he promises a way of salvation by grace. Saving faith is not faith in God in general. You can have lots and lots of strong faith that God exists, that he is loving, that he is holy. You can believe that the Bible is God's holy word. You can show great reverence for God. Yet all the while you can be seeking to be your own savior and justifier by trusting in our works, our performance in church/religion, performance in moral character, performance as a parent, performance in vocation, etc.

Rom 4:5 scares some Christians because they think that it means Christians don't have to do any work. They are afraid that it will remove all effort and motivation from the Christian life. This is a misunderstanding of what Paul meant. In contrast, to the model of faith = obedience of the law, Paul gives us a model of faith = trust of God's saving provision. In Rom 4:5, Paul says that saving faith consists in (1) the cessation of one kind of trust and (2) the commencement of another kind:
  1. A saved person does not work (Rom 4:5a). This cannot mean that a saved person does not obey the law (Rom 3:31; 6:1-2). It must therefore mean that the saved person no longer trusts in obedience as a way to be saved. A Christian is one who stops working to be saved, not one who stops working!
  2. A saved person trusts God who justifies the wicked (Rom 4:5b). This means a Christian is one who trusts in God as having a way to save apart from our efforts and our obedience to the law.
In Rom 4: 5 "justification" and "credited righteousness" are the same thing. To be "justified" is to receive "credited righteousness." This is what Martin Luther called "passive righteousness" and what theologians call "imputed righteousness."

II. Justification is For All (9-17)

III. Justification is For Us (18-25)

  1. Why Works Won't Work (Rom 3:27-4:12). Keith Krell.
  2. Study Guide for_Romans_4. David Guzik.
  3. Bible Study Questions on Romans. David E. Pratte.
  1. How does Paul's illustration of Abraham in chapter 4 follow chapter 3? Why do you think Paul chose Abraham as the prime illustration of justification by faith and not by works (Rom 4:1-5)?
  2. The word λογίζομαι (logizomai) is repeated 14 times in 11 verses in Romans 4 (Rom 4:3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24). What does this teach about justification, righteousness and salvation? Explain how Abraham's righteousness is due to faith alone and not works (Rom 4:1-5).
  3. Was Abraham saved by believing in God (Rom 4:3)? Is this a general belief in a God that saves us? Why? Why not?
  4. What does Paul mean by saying a Christian is "one who does not work" (Rom 4:5; 3:28)? Does it mean to not obey the law (Rom 3:31; 6:1-2)? How does Paul's definition of faith differ from that of so many churchgoers and religious people?
    • If you were to die tonight and go before God, and he were to say to you, "'Why should I let you into my heaven?' what would you say?"
    • What do you think are the general requirements for admission into heaven? Who gets in and who doesn't?"
  5. Is how God dealing with sin in Rom 4:6-8 different from Rom 4:1-5? How is "God who justifies the wicked" (Rom 4:5) supported by David (Rom 4:6-8; Ps 32:1-2). Explain again "God credits righteousness apart from works." (Rom 4:6).
  6. How does Paul make his case in Rom 4:9-17 that salvation is not just for Jews, but for all?
  7. How Abraham (Rom 4:18-25) illustrate the difference between believing in God, and believing God (Rom 4:3)? How can his example help you strengthen your faith (Rom 4:19-20)?