Setting

To demonstrate that God’s righteousness is given through faith, there is no better example than Abraham, whom the Jews regard as their forefather and who was the first to receive circumcision. Paul has argued in the previous chapter that no one can be justified by the works of the law and that the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law. This righteousness is to be received by faith. Consequently, there is no basis for boasting. In the present chapter, Paul brings in Abraham as the prime example and begins with the point that Abraham could not boast about his justification.

Key Verse

(4:23-25)

Did You Know...?

  1. The Scriptural quotation, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” is from Genesis 15, which records God’s reaffirmation of His promise to Abraham that he would have numerous descendants. It was not until Genesis 17, however, that God established circumcision as a sign of His covenant with Abraham.
  2. Gift (4:4): This Greek word is often translated as “grace” (as in verse 16).

Outline

  • Abraham Justified by Faith, Not by Works
    (4:1–8)
  • Abraham Justified When Uncircumcised
    (4:9–12)
  • Abraham Believed in God’s Promise
    (4:13–25)

General Analysis

  • 1.

    What antithesis does Paul discuss in each segment? a. 4:1–8; b. 4:9–12; c. 4:13–25:

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    a. 4:1–8: works vs. belief; wages vs. gift

    b. 4:9–12: circumcision vs. uncircumcision

    c. 4:13–25: law vs. promise

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  • 2.

    Summarize the main point of each segment: a. 4:1–8; b. 4:9–12; c. 4:13–25:

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    a. 4:1–8: Abraham could not boast before God because his justification did not come about by works but was God’s gift received with faith.

    b. 4:9–12: Abraham was justified by faith while he was still uncircumcised. Therefore he could be the father of all who believe, including both the circumcised and the uncircumcised.

    c. 4:13–25: God’s promise to Abraham did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

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  • 3.

    Which Old Testament quotation is cited or alluded to in all three segments?

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    “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (vv. 3, 9, 22–23).

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Segment Analysis

  • 4:1–8

    1.

    Why is it important for Paul to bring up Abraham for a case study?

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    Abraham was the forefather of the Jews, and the Jews took pride in the fact that they were the children of Abraham. Abraham was also the first to receive and practice circumcision. Demonstrating that Abraham was justified freely through faith would argue powerfully against the false notion that a person is justified by the works of the law.

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  • 2.

    God counted to Abraham as righteousness because Abraham believed God. Why does God value so highly our faith in Him?

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    Trust is the foundation of all lasting relationships, especially our relationship with God. Without faith, we cannot even begin a relationship with God (Heb 11:6). God’s word and promises often go far beyond what we can see and experience in the present. It is only through trust in God that we can obey Him and do what pleases Him even in the absence of immediate results or reward.

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  • 3.

    What descriptive term does the Bible use for God in verse 5? Why is this significant?

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    Paul calls God “him who justifies the ungodly.” Following the thought of verse 4, which speaks of justification as a gift rather than a wage, such a descriptive term of God underscores God’s grace toward the undeserving.

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  • 4.

    What is Paul’s point in citing the words of David?

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    Once again, Paul’s point is that justification is unmerited. Lawless deeds are forgiven; sins are covered; and the Lord does not count his sins—these divine acts of forgiveness and atonement for the sinner highlight God’s great grace. Furthermore, David’s words also bring out an essential part of our justification, God’s forgiveness of our sins.

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  • 5a.

    How is the attitude of a beneficiary of a gift different from that of a wage earner?

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    A wage earner may boast of his wage because he deserves what he has worked for. A beneficiary of a gift is humble and grateful, knowing that he is unworthy of the grace.

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  • 5b.

    Why is it important for us to always have the attitude of the former before God?

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    Our attitude before God makes a big difference in how we live our lives and how we serve others. If we believe that we are entitled to being in the kingdom of God because we are good Christians, then we would complain to God every time things do not go as we wish. If we think we are making a noble sacrifice to serve our brothers and sisters, we would become bitter when we do not receive the respect or appreciation we feel we deserve. On the contrary, if we remember that we have been saved freely through the immense love of God despite our sins and how unworthy we are to serve, we would live for the Lord and serve others with humility and gratitude (cf. Lk 17:10; 2 Cor 5:14–15; 1 Tim 1:12–15).

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  • 4:9–12

    6.

    Why does Paul keep emphasizing that Abraham was uncircumcised when it was counted to him as righteousness?

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    Since Abraham was justified by God even before he was circumcised, his justification was not based on circumcision. As stated in 4:11–12, this fact makes Abraham the father of those who believe, regardless of whether they have been circumcised.

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  • 7.

    According to this passage, what is the function of circumcision?

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    Circumcision was a sign and a seal of the righteousness that Abraham had by faith (4:11). In other words, rather than opposed to faith, circumcision was established to confirm that righteousness comes about by faith.

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  • 4:13–25

    8.

    What two keywords are introduced in this segment?

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    “Law” and “promise.”

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  • 9.

    Why must not God’s promise to Abraham come through the law?

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    If only those who adhere to the law can be Abraham’s offspring, then it makes God’s promise void (4:14). Like His grace, God’s promise to Abraham did not depend on observance of the law. Instead, the promise came through the righteousness of faith. That is, Abraham believed in God’s promise, and it was counted to him as righteousness.

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  • 10.

    What is the function of the law?

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    The law brings the knowledge of sin and holds everyone accountable to God (Rom 3:19–20; 4:15; 5:13; Heb 10:1–3). The law was put in place to make people aware that they are sinners until the coming of Jesus Christ, through whom we may receive the gift of righteousness by faith (Rom 5:20; Gal 3:19–22).

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  • 11.

    What descriptive term is used for God In verse 17? Why is it significant?

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    “The God whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” This elaborate descriptive term for God reveals the nature of God’s promise and Abraham’s faith. Even though God’s promise of descendants given to Abraham in his old age seemed impossible, the God whom Abraham believed in was fully capable of doing the impossible. God’s promise was not empty and Abraham’s faith was not vain.

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  • 12.

    What challenge did Abraham face and how did he overcome?

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    In verse 19 Paul writes that Abraham considered his own body, which was as good as dead, and the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. The word for “consider” denotes noticing, observing, and contemplating with one’s mind. That is to say, rationally speaking Abraham had no reason to believe that he and Sarah could have a child at such an old age. God’s promise to him defied his rationale and seemed totally impossible.

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  • 13.

    What did Abraham believe about God?

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    Abraham was convinced that God was able to do what he had promised (4:21). Verses 17 and 18 further imply that Abraham believed that God could give life to the dead and call into existence the things that do not exist.

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  • 14.

    How is faith counted to us for righteousness? What are we to believe?

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    Just as Abraham’s faith in God was counted to him for his righteousness, our faith in God will likewise be counted to us for righteousness. Today, we must believe that God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead and acknowledge Jesus as our Lord (Rom 3:24, 26; 4:24; 10:9–13).

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  • 15.

    What can we learn from Abraham about faith?

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    Abraham took God at His word even in the face of the impossible. His faith was not only something momentary. Even through long years of waiting he did not waver concerning the promise of God through unbelief but grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God (4:20).

    The harsh realities of the present life and the influence of the unbelieving world constantly run against our faith in the Lord Jesus and our hope in the glorious promise of God. Our faith rests on things unseen and things that lie in the future, which often seem to defy our reason. But like Abraham, our forefather of faith, we can trust in the God who makes the impossible possible and not waver through unbelief. Our faith in God must stand the test of time and our immovable faith will bring glory to God.

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