14 October 2023

How are we justified?

Captain Ian Hammond

Captain Ian Hammond reminds us that faith is the only way to a relationship with God.

Key text

Pause and reflect

  • Does God see us as good because of what we believe or because of what we do?

What words or phrases stand out to you in our study passage? Perhaps, after an initial read through, you discovered some phrases that indicate what Paul believes, as he focuses on the example of Abraham.

The Jews considered Abraham to be ‘the father of many nations’ (Genesis 17:4). In Genesis 15:5 and 6, God promises the childless Abram a son and descendants as numerous as the stars and makes a covenant with him. In Genesis 22:17, God says Abraham’s descendants will be as ‘numerous … as the sand on the seashore’. Paul is referring to this story in verse 3: ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’

Paul uses the words ‘faith’ and ‘trust’ a total of 11 times in this chapter. As if to emphasise his point, Paul mentions ‘righteousness’ 9 times and ‘credited’ 8 times. The significance is in how these ideas work together.

Paul tells us that justification and righteousness – in other words, being seen as good by God – are by faith. He writes: ‘Faith is credited as righteousness’ (v5). The ritual of circumcision and the practising of the Law do not deliver a righteous standing before God (see vv11 and 14). It is our faith and trust in God that counts, not the things we do. He returns to this point in Ephesians 2:8 and 9: ‘It is by grace you have been saved, through faith … not by works.’

Pause and reflect

  • Which three key moments in Abraham’s story does Paul focus on?

First, God regarded Abraham as righteous before he was circumcised (v10). It is later that God declares circumcision to be a sign of the covenant between himself and the Israelites (see Genesis 17:10–13).

Second, Abraham was seen as righteous before the Law was given (see v13). God’s relationship with Abraham predates his giving of the Law to Moses in Exodus 20. Therefore, Paul argues, the Law cannot be the basis by which God counts Abraham as righteous.

A photo shows long grass at the edge of a beach.

Romans 4:18

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations.

Read Romans 4

Third, we discover the strength of Abraham’s faith in God’s promises, even when many other people would have doubted. Abraham and Sarah were old, beyond any human ability to have children, yet Abraham was fully confident in God’s ability to work beyond human understanding to ensure his promises would be fulfilled. Even in the seeming hopelessness of his situation, Abraham’s faith did not waver. In fact, it was strengthened (see vv18–21).

Pause and reflect

  • How does your faith compare to Abraham’s?
  • Can you identify things that you struggle with, but through which God might seek to strengthen your faith?

Abraham didn’t get stuck in the situation. He looked beyond it to God – the One who makes the impossible happen – and trusted him to keep his promises. Against the laws of nature, he perceived that God is more than able to do what is needed.

Paul addresses the keeping of the Law, with its many regulations, and the marking of divine covenant through circumcision because they were perceived obstacles for Gentiles coming into a relationship with God. Righteousness, he argues, comes solely through faith. Non-Jews are not afterthoughts who have sneaked into God’s family but are, in fact, full members, for Abraham is ‘the father of us all’ (v16).

Pause and reflect

  • To what extent do we use regulations to exclude people from knowing God?
  • Whom might we be guilty of excluding?

Paul writes: ‘The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone’ (v23). They apply to everyone who takes God at his word and obeys him. All the promises God gave Abraham – his presence, love, protection and blessing – are ‘also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness’; our part is to ‘believe in [God] who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead’ (v24).

Why is this important? Paul tells us that we need to believe in Jesus because God delivered him ‘over to death for our sins and … raised [him] to life for our justification’ (v25).

It is by Christ’s death that God ‘justifies the ungodly’ and credits their faith ‘as righteousness’ (v5).

God raised Jesus from the dead. When we place our faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God sees us as righteous. Our belief in what Jesus did on the cross for our sins is essential to a relationship with God.

Pause and reflect

  • How strongly do you believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus are true?

To maintain God’s justice, sin – the breaking of divine Law – requires dealing with. By his death, Jesus took the punishment for the sins of the world. If what Jesus paid was not enough, would God have raised him from death? No.

If there were still a price to pay, if his death were insufficient, Jesus would not have been raised. Therefore, because God raised Jesus, we can be certain that God has dealt with our sins and that he sees us as forgiven – as righteous.

The Gospel evidence for the Resurrection is clear (see Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20 and 21).

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul explains the circumstances and significance of the Resurrection.

In raising Jesus, God has taken away everything that can stop us being fully in relationship with him.

Pause and reflect

  • What does the Resurrection mean for you?
  • What difference does it make in your life?
  • What difference should it make?
  • To what extent does being considered righteous by God affect how you live?

Bible study by

A photo of Ian Hammond.

Captain Ian Hammond

Corps Officer, Ivybridge

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