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Romans 4:3 How You Cannot be Justified

Posted by Matt Postiff November 21, 2009 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Bible Texts 
For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."

This quotation comes from Genesis 15:6 which describes Abraham's reaction when God again confirmed the promises to Abraham which we call the Abrahamic covenant. The apostle Paul appeals to Abraham's "discovery" of this truth (Rom. 4:1) to bolster his conclusion from 3:28 that men are "Justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law." To be justified means "to be accounted righteous" just like Abraham was. In chapter 4, we learn that people are justified apart from three things: works, religious ordinances, and the Mosaic Law.

First, the Bible says that justification cannot be obtained by works (4:1-8). If it were based on works, then Abraham could brag because justification then would be a remuneration for services that he performed (look at me!). But God does not work ths way--salvation is not a reward for works, but is a gift of grace. Grace and works are mutually exclusive (4:4).

Second, the Bible says that justification cannot be obtained by religious rites (4:9-12). Abraham was justified according to Gen. 15:6; but circumcision came in Gen. 17:9. Therefore, Abraham was justified before being circumcised. Salvation does not come by doing religious activities--not circumcision or baptism or confirmation or any other such thing.

Third, the Bible says that justification cannot be obtained by keeping the Mosaic Law, or any other law (4:13-22). Abraham exercised strong faith in the promise of God, as an illustration that all who exercise faith in God receive His grace. It is not those who were given the Law, nor those who strive to keep a law, who obtain righteousness. Rather, it is those who fully believe in God who are justified.

This was not written for historical interest, but to help us understand that we need to believe in God and in His Son Jesus Christ to be saved. Faith is the only way to be justified. Works, rites, and law cannot do it--not now, not ever. MAP

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