Paul's Letter to the Saints at Rome

by Bryan Vinson, Sr.

Rewritten In Simple English With Notes

by Paul K. Williams

Chapter Four

Verses 1-5: 1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 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 credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,

It is clear that the question in verse 1 was to the Jews because they were the people who came from Abraham. Remember that Paul’s main purpose in this letter is to correct the wrong ideas of Jewish Christians about the Law of Moses and especially how that Law affects Gentile Christians. The book of Romans teaches about the great plan of redemption which God designed before the foundation of the earth. But its main purpose is to do what the book of Galatians does, except that in Romans Paul says a lot more about the matter than he does in Galatians. In both letters Paul teaches that the Law of Moses was never given to save anyone, that it was given to bring people to faith in Christ, that it has been done away and that both Jew and Gentile are now saved by faith in Christ.

Since the Jews came from Abraham it is a good thing for Paul to use him as an example. He was their father according to the flesh ; and they were very proud of this. But what did he find according to the flesh? Was he justified by being circumcised or by other fleshly commands?

If Abraham was justified by trusting in the fleshly works which he did, he could boast, but not before God. Paul is saying that Abraham stood before God just the way the Jews did. If he had trusted in his works the same way the Jews did he would have boasted, but such boasting would not be before God because God would not accept it.

It is good at this time to emphasize the principle which lies under the point Paul makes here. There is a great difference between the way God looks at things and the way men do. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, God’s ways and thoughts are higher than man’s (Isaiah 55:9).

God is the One who justifies or condemns. If we trust in man’s ideas we will be lost. It is fatal to think that because man likes something that God likes it.

Also, in the case of Abraham if he had boasted he would have boasted about himself, not about God. If Abraham had saved himself by his fleshly works, there would have been no need to glorify God; he would have earned his justification without God.

Then Paul turns from the false idea to the true one, the one which comes from the Scriptures. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”. Was this the justification of a sinner who had never been saved? No. This is a quotation from Genesis 15:6, and when this was said Abraham was already the servant of God. I think it worth the space to print here what R. L. Whiteside says on this point:

  1. God had appeared to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees and commanded him to go into a land which would be shown him, and promised to bless him, and to make a great nation of him, and to bless all families through his seed (Gen. 12:1-3; Acts 7:2-3).

  2. “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Heb. 11:18). By faith he obeyed, and trustingly did as commanded not knowing where he was going. Strange conduct for an unforgiven, condemned sinner!

  3. When he reached the place of Shechem, in the land of Canaan, “Jehovah appeared unto Abraham, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land; and there builded he an altar unto Jehovah, who appeared unto him” (Gen. 12:6-7). Why this promise, and why this worship, if Abraham was then an unforgiven sinner?

  4. Abraham moved on to a mountain between Bethel and Ai, “and there he builded an altar unto Jehovah, and called upon the name of Jehovah” (Gen. 12:8)

  5. After his unfortunate visit to Egypt, he returned to the altar between Bethel and Ai “and there Abram called on the name of Jehovah” (Gen. 13:3-4). Can anyone believe that an unforgiven sinner was thus worshiping Jehovah and calling on his name?

  6. When he returned from the slaughter of the kings who had taken Lot captive, Melchizedek, priest of God Most High, “blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of God Most High”. As Abram was blessed, or happy, and as he was described as “Abram of God Most High”, it is certain that he was not a condemned alien sinner.

  7. After these things and before the promise of a son, the Lord said to him: “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (Gen. 15:1). That settles it. God would not tell an unforgiven sinner not to fear; neither is he the shield and exceeding great reward of such a sinner.

Why have not all these things been taken into consideration by our super-exegetes [those who pretend to know all about what the Bible means]? It is certain therefore that the language in Gen. 15:6 and Romans 4:3 does not refer to the justification of an alien sinner, and they greatly err who so apply it. It is true that Paul was trying to convince the Jews that this justification happened before the giving of the law, but he was using this well known fact to offset their claim that a person had to be circumcised after the manner of Moses, or he could not be saved. Their own father Abraham, of whom they boasted, would be cut off by their arguments for the law.

The favor (reward) Paul writes about is righteousness. But now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. If one obeyed every command of law—any law given by God—he would earn righteousness by his sinless behavior. In that case he would not be given righteousness as a favour, but he would have it as what was due as a debt. When God reckoned righteousness to the man who obeyed Him perfectly, He would be giving the man only what was due to him. However, the smallest disobedience of any law given by God brings about guilt, and since no law can justify those who disobey it, righteousness for any person who has ever sinned is given by God as a favour or grace.

But to the one who does not work” does not mean “the one who does not obey”, but it means “the one who tries to do right but is not perfect”. That one is a sinner, he is ungodly. The godly do not need forgiveness for their godliness, but the ungodly need forgiveness for their ungodliness. But notice that even though he is ungodly, if he believes in Him who justifies the ungodly God justifies him and his faith is credited as righteousness. Abraham did things which were sinful, but God credited him with righteousness because of his faith.

Verses 6-8: 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. 8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”

Paul was using the strongest possible arguments to persuade his Jewish readers. He first used Abraham as an example of one who was made righteous by God, but not by works. Here he uses King David. In this case David wrote that the man to whom God credits righteousness is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account. Certainly God does not credit (impute) sin where there is no sin, nor does he forgive sin where none has been committed. To credit (impute) sin is to charge one with the guilt of having sinned. When sins are forgiven the credit (imputation) is taken away and the person stands as though the sin had never been credited to him. “Blessed indeed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”

However, the sinner is guilty before God until God forgives his sin. We must not understand Paul’s words to mean that a man can sin without becoming guilty before God. That is the same as saying that one cannot sin. The teaching here is that the sinner’s faith counts for his forgiveness, and in such a case God justifies the ungodly. God does this by forgiving his iniquities and sins.

Verses 9-10: 9 ¶ Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised;

Paul has proved that the blessing of justification is by faith. Now he tells us which persons receive this blessing—was it the Jew only, or also the Gentile? There were Jewish Christians who argued that the Gentile Christians could not be saved unless they were circumcised and agreed to keep the Law. Paul now addresses this point.

He has already proved that Abraham was blessed with forgiveness when he believed. Now he uses Abraham to prove that God’s forgiveness is not for circumcised men only. He does this by telling us that when God credited Abraham with righteousness (Genesis 15:6) Abraham was not yet circumcised. This proves that circumcision is not necessary in order for a person to be forgiven. The blessing of righteousness is not only for the circumcised, but also for the uncircumcised—the Gentiles.

The blessing of forgiveness for Jew and Gentile is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham— “In thee and thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). This is the promise Peter talked about on Pentecost when he said, “the promise is to you and to your children, and to all them that are afar off, even as many as the Lord God shall call.” (Acts 2:39) The promise is salvation from sin.

(Note: Another understanding of the promise in Acts 2:39 is that it is the giving of the Holy Spirit. If that is its meaning the verse is parallel to Mark 16:17 and the verses following. PKW)

Verses 11-12: 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.

Paul says here that circumcision was a sign. To the Jews this sign meant that they were God’s people—that they were in covenant relation with Him. Circumcision did not make the Jews God’s people; they became His people when they were born. They had to be circumcised because they were God’s people.

Circumcision was a sign or a seal to Abraham. A sign tells something, and a seal makes something sure. By using these words Paul causes us to look beyond circumcision to the thing which circumcision signified and sealed. It was a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised. It showed he was already righteous because of his faith. It showed that he might be the father of all who believe. He had to have righteousness by faith in order for him to become the father of all who believe, and he had this righteousness before he was circumcised. So his circumcision was a seal which pointed to his being a father of those who believed, and it was given because of his righteousness which made it possible for him to become their father.

Verses 13-16: 13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

16 ¶ For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,

When God called Abraham out of Ur of Chaldees, He promised that He would make him to be a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3). The promise was fulfilled when Israel became a fleshly nation. But the promise that he would be heir of the world was not fulfilled in the nation of Israel. The promise was for the world. It could not be fulfilled in the one nation of Israel.

The Law under which the Jews lived belonged to the nation of Israel, and the promise of making Abraham a great nation was fulfilled through the Law. The fleshly descendants of Abraham were the citizens of this earthly kingdom.

But the spiritual descendants of Abraham are the ones who are citizens of the world-wide kingdom. The promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 22:18 was: “And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed”. This meant he was to be heir of the world.

Moses E. Lard says that the fulfillment of this promise will take place in the future when the earth will be made new. I do not believe this is true. Psalm 2:8 speaks of the time when Christ will be King. It says, “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.” This is when the promise to Abraham was fulfilled. Christ is NOW King (Acts 2:33-36). He is “heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2).

But Paul is not here trying to prove that Christ is the heir of the world or is he trying to explain the nature of His kingdom. Paul is talking about how the heirship (the right to inherit) is accomplished. He says that it did not come about through the Law. He says that it came through the righteousness of faith.

This is a continuation of Paul’s argument that we are justified by faith rather than by law. Because the kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of righteousness, the inheritance must be based on righteousness. But since righteousness cannot be earned by law, the inheritance must be obtained by the righteousness of faith.

If those who are of the Law are heirs then faith is made void (worthless). Why? Because the Law brings about wrath. How? Because when a man broke the Law he became guilty; the Law could not take away the guilt; therefore righteousness by the Law was not possible. When men tried to be justified by the Law, they could never receive forgiveness. Because they did not come to God by faith to be forgiven by His grace, they did not receive the righteousness which is by faith, thus faith is made void and the promise is nullified. Because man is guilty he causes God to have wrath toward him. Unless that guilt is removed, the wrath will always be there. Paul has proved that all men are guilty before God and that faith is the condition of forgiveness. This means that the act of forgiveness is an act of favour (grace) by God. No matter what God tells us to do in order to receive forgiveness, the act of forgiveness must be recognized as an act of grace. Mankind—the whole world—stands guilty before God; and only by His favour can man be saved from his guilt and its punishment. God promises this forgiveness, and the promise is to all men, the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. The grace of God has appeared to all men (Titus 2:11). Therefore the promise is sure in its blessings to all the seed of Abraham; not to his fleshly seed, but to his spiritual seed (Galatians 3:24-29).

This statement shows that the seed of Abraham come from all the nations of the world. These are not his fleshly descendants, but his spiritual descendants. Galatians 3:29 shows his descendants are Jew, Gentile, bond, free, male and female. So when verse 16 says that Abraham is the father of us all it means that he is the father of us in a spiritual sense, not a fleshly sense.

The statement, but where there is no law, there also is no violation, expresses a truth of great importance. If we connect it with the definition that sin is transgression of law (1 John 3:4), it proves that all men are under law, because all have sinned.

Cornelius, the Gentile to whom Peter preached in Acts 10, was a very good man. Some have said that he was not a sinner. They say that because God heard his prayer, he was not a sinner. (The man Jesus healed of blindness said, “We know that God does not hear sinners.” [John 9:31]) Those who say Cornelius was not a sinner use Romans 4:16, saying that Cornelius was not under the Law, therefore he could not transgress it, therefore he was not a sinner. But if this were true, the whole Gentile world was not under law and were not sinners! But Paul showed they were sinners in Romans 1:18-3:23.

Notice this. In Galatians 3:19 Paul says the Law was added because of transgressions. That means there were transgressions before the Law was given. But where there is no law there is no transgression. The only conclusion is that man was under law before the Law of Moses was given. Man has always been under law; he is now under law, and will be as long as he is subject to the will of God, and so shall he be both now and forever. Some angels sinned, and from this we must conclude they are under law.

(Concerning Cornelius. The statement of the man healed of blindness is a general statement which we recognize as true. The rebellious sinful man will not be heard by God. The man said this to show that Jesus would not be able to work miracles if He were a sinner. But Cornelius was seeking to know the will of God, and God heard his prayer. However, God did not save him the instant he prayed. The angel told Cornelius to send for Peter who “shall speak words to you by which you will be saved” [Acts 11:14]. PKW)

In these verses Paul seems to be stressing that for the one who is justified by faith there is no law. There is no law in the sense that he is not condemned by the law. Therefore there is no sin for which he will be condemned to punishment by the law. He is forgiven because of his faith.

Verses 17-21: 17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. 18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.

This section deals with the character and strength of Abraham’s faith. His faith could be no stronger than the source from which it came. How sure was the divine promise upon which this faith rested? That promise was so sure that God spoke of it as already done, “A father of many nations have I made you”. God considered him already to be a father of many nations, even though it would be many hundreds of years before the promise would be completely fulfilled.

Abraham, though, had a problem. In hope against hope he believed. The problem was that his age and Sarah’s age and barrenness (never having any children) were entirely against any hope of becoming a father. Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. But since God had promised, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God.

In hope against hope he believed. Abraham believed in hope. Since faith is assurance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1) he had great confidence that God would do this for him because he was fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Nothing Abraham had seen could prove such a hope. He had never seen a man and wife his age have a child. His hope had to rest completely and solely on what God had said, believing that He could and would do what was entirely the opposite of Abraham’s experience.

God’s promise required that He have the power to make the dead live. God did make Sarah’s dead womb live again, and the birth of Isaac was possible because He did so. Years later when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, we are told by the Hebrew writer that by faith Abraham offered him, “he considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type” (Hebrews 11:19). The writer of the Hebrew letter gives the inspired comment that Abraham received, in a figure, Isaac from the dead, or that Abraham believed that God was able to raise Isaac even after he offered him as a sacrifice just as he had received Isaac in the first place when God brought him forth from Sarah’s womb which had been dead. I believe the latter view is correct. Abraham reckoned that God would bring Isaac back from the dead after he killed him because God had already brought him forth from the dead womb.

(Note: I think that both positions are correct. Abraham believed God would raise Isaac, and God did just that. In the mind of Abraham, Isaac was dead because Abraham was completely obedient to his God. When the angel showed Abraham the sheep to be sacrificed, Abraham received his only begotten son back from the dead “as a type” of Christ who was the only begotten son of God. PKW)

But it was in his faith in God’s promise to make him a father of many that his faith was not weak, despite the age of both him and Sarah. He was not able to become a father because of his age; she was not able to be a mother because she had never been able to bear a child. But this did not cause unbelief in the promise of God. His faith was strong. He believed with no doubt or misgiving simply because God had spoken. The strength which this faith gave him led him to glorify God, and to honour Him by obeying everything God commanded him to do being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.

Note that Abraham’s complete and unquestioning confidence was that God would do what He promised. His faith did not come from his own desires apart or in addition to what God had promised. It was a faith which believed God was able to do what He had promised; it was not one which believed that God would do something which He had not promised. When our faith is the faith Abraham had, then we will walk in the steps of that faith. Many people have a different faith. Some have a faith that God will save those who do not believe or who are disobedient, but that faith does not come from hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). God has not promised to save the unbelieving or disobedient. If we have the faith of Abraham, we believe what God has said. That faith believes the promise that we will have forgiveness of sins if we believe the gospel, repent and are baptized (Acts 2:38). It is the faith that trusts every promise of God on the terms and conditions which He has given , even when one is not able to understand fully how God is able to do what He has promised.

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). God knows whether we have this faith for He is able to understand the thoughts and intents of every heart. He knows whether we are walking by faith or by sight, whether our faith stands in the power of God or the wisdom of men. And we can know whether we have this faith by looking into the word of God and into our own hearts.

The faith of Abraham was not something which he formed by and within himself. It was formed and determined by what God said, rather than by what Abraham might have felt. So must our faith be. We believe what God says because we believe He is God, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Our faith in what anyone says springs from our faith in the person who speaks; our faith in what is spoken depends upon our faith in the one speaking.

Verses 22-25: 22 Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

Paul says that because of the character and quality of Abram’s faith, his faith was credited to him as righteousness. This statement implies that if his faith had not been the earnest faith which Paul described, it would not have been credited to him as righteousness.

Abraham’s faith grew, and so must ours. Neither his faith nor Sarah’s faith was great when he fathered a son by Hagar in order to help God’s promise come to pass. This event is a lesson to us that God does not need or accept unauthorized actions by us to help in carrying out His purposes. All such efforts by man have been rejected by God. We should learn from those efforts that we must take God at His word, do as He directs, and trust Him fully to complete all the blessings He has promised for mankind. There were times in the lives of the apostles when they showed a weakness of faith, and Jesus rebuked them for that. Christians are admonished to grow in grace and knowledge of the truth (2 Peter 3:18). We are told to desire the sincere milk of the word that we may grow thereby (1 Peter 2:2). The Thessalonians were praised by Paul because their faith “grows exceedingly” (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also. Just as his faith was credited for righteousness, even so shall our faith be credited for our righteousness. It is not a faith which simply believes what he did, but a faith which accepts the truth regarding what God has done concerning Jesus. We must believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. This includes both the fact that He was raised and that God is the One who raised Him up. In chapter 10:8-9 the apostle says, “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”. These verses say that the one who believes shall be “saved”. This means that to be credited with righteousness is the same as being saved.

No single fact in history begins to be as important as the resurrection of Jesus. It is the most unusual event which ever occurred in time. Christianity is founded on this fact; if Christ was not raised from the dead, the Christian religion is just an untrue story. It is amazing that some claim to be followers of Jesus while they do not believe He was raised from the dead! As Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 15:17, if Christ was not raised our faith is vain and we are still in our sins.

Why is that so? If He were not raised, He has not ascended to heaven and He is not our High Priest. In such a case He never entered the Most Holy place and there made an offering for our sins. His death then was in vain, and it did not produce any benefit to man nor was it pleasing to God.

He was delivered; that is, He was delivered up to die on the cross for our sins. His death was an offering made for others. He did not die for His sins—He had none. He shed His blood for the remission of our sins, our transgressions.

In saying He was delivered up for our sins, there are two thoughts suggested. First, He was delivered up, or died, because of our sins. And second, He was delivered as an offering for our sins. Certainly, then, if we had not sinned He would not have died. If there had been no sin there would have been no death; but sin brings death and only by the death of Jesus is it possible for sin to be forgiven and death to be eventually abolished. The person who believes in the being of God, while disbelieving in the fact that He raised Jesus from the dead, is but a “deist”, and as such he can never be saved.

In this concluding statement we find an inseparable relation between the death of Jesus and His resurrection. While His death was necessary to His resurrection, the resurrection was necessary for His death to take away sins. If He had not died, He could not have been raised, and if He had not been raised He need not have died.

When we think about the greatness of God’s power when He raised Christ from the dead, and when we understand that this was done for our justification, we should be able to form a very deep and enlarged appreciation of what it means to pass from a state of condemnation to one of justification. Further, the faith which brings about our justification is in those things God did in order to make it possible for us to be justified. Hence, the saving power of faith is in that which is believed, not just the act of believing.

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