Always justification by faith alone – Romans 4:1-12

“In his book, Self-Esteem, the New Reformation, (Word, 1982), Dr. Robert H. Schuller shared thoughts on a hospital call he made on John Wayne. The veteran film star was facing surgery the following morning. As he traveled to the hospital, Schuller prayed for divine guidance. Should he be direct about Wayne’s relationship to Christ, was Wayne prepared to meet God? The “still, small voice” counseled him not to be direct, but to simply “bring Jesus Christ into the mind of John Wayne. He will accept or reject Christ. That is what it’s all about.”Dr. Schuller found the old giant lying on the bed. They talked. Then the famous pastor asked, “Duke, may I pray for you?” “You bet, Bob, I need all the help I can get.” The actor closed his eyes; his face was taut with tension.“Lord, John Wayne knows about You. He has heard about You all his life. He admires You. He respects You. And deep down he knows that You can and want to forgive him of all of his sins. Deep down in his mind he accepts You and believes in You and loves You, now.” Opening his eyes, Pastor Schuller said John Wayne’s face was no longer taut, but as peaceful as an Easter sunrise. The preacher had been given the right words and they had been sincerely accepted.”[1] The morale of this story is that salvation is not about what we do but in whom we believe.

Paul has already described to us what justification is and he has also given a defense for justification by faith alone. In Romans 4:1-12, we learn how that justification by faith alone has always been God’s only plan of salvation and it always will be. In this passage, Paul gives the example of Abraham who was saved the same way that you and I are saved; justification by faith alone.

Abraham justified by faith. In verses 1-3, Paul states the fact that Abraham was justified by faith apart from works. “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”[2] Paul is using the greatest illustration possible to convey the message of justification by faith to his Jewish readers. The Holman New Testament Commentary says, “All persons considered, Abraham’s experience with God would be the perfect illustration for Paul to use with the believers in Rome. The Jewish believers would be obligated to yield to Abraham’s precedent-setting example because he was the father of their previous faith. And the Gentile believers would have no reason not to yield to his authority. Though not physical descendants of Abraham, they clearly would be aware of his role in the development of the Jewish-Christian faith that Paul was writing about.”[3]

Paul pointed out that just as we have no ground for boasting, neither did Abraham. Boasting in his salvation was not possible for Abraham, for he was justified by faith and not of works. Paul goes back to Genesis 15 as he shares that Abraham was declared righteous, simply because he believed God. “Trust in God’s promise is what constitutes faith and results in justification.”[4] The promise given to us is that Jesus Christ died for us and satisfied all of God’s righteous demands. Those who have faith in Jesus are justified. Notice how God credits faith as the means or the vehicle through which Abraham is declared righteous. Faith is the vehicle by which God’s righteousness reaches us. Justification, by the way, is not making one righteous, but rather, declaring one as righteous. We do not automatically become righteous, we are declared righteous. This is the beauty of the Gospel. We are declared as righteous even though we are not righteous. Paul already established the truth that there is no good in us. We are all sinners. Therefore, to be saved from the penalty of sin, we cannot achieve righteousness. We do not become righteous. We are declared righteous. Being declared righteous is made possible by the blood of Jesus. It is His righteousness that is placed upon us. When you come to faith in Christ, His righteousness is imputed upon you. So, through Jesus, you are now in right standing before God. Though in our un-glorified bodies, we are still sinners and totally unrighteous, yet in our standing before God we are declared as righteous because the righteousness of Jesus is imputed upon us. This is all made possible when we believe in God’s promise. This is the way by which Abraham was justified and it is the same way that you and I are justified today.

Justification has never been by works. As Paul continues his illustration of Abraham’s justification, he reiterates that fact that we are justified by faith and not by works. This is the way justification has always been. It is nothing new. Those living before Christ are justified by faith alone as well as those living after the time of Christ. We are all saved the same way. Notice what the scripture says in verses 4-5, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”[5] I love what Dr. Constable says, “Work yields wages that the person working deserves. Faith receives a gift that the person believing does not deserve. Incredibly, God justifies those who not only fail to deserve justification but deserve condemnation because they are ungodly or wicked. This is how far God’s grace goes.”[6] O, the Amazing Grace of Jesus! “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see!” [7]

The blessing of justification. Verses 6-8 speaks concerning the blessing of being justified. “Just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”[8] David says that those who are justified are very blessed. I am not sure we ever fully realize the blessing it is to be declared as righteous. It is something that we do not deserve. It is a gift that is given to us which is greater than anything we can imagine. Words cannot describe what justification really means. It is beyond our comprehension to think that God would love us so much that He would give His Son to be the propitiation for our sins and providing a way through which an unworthy sinner can be pardoned of his sin and declared righteous. The love of God is so amazing. We are so blessed to have received such a great salvation!

Justification by faith came before the law. In verses 9-12, we learn how that justification by faith alone was available even before the law came on the scene. “Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.”[9] The Bible Knowledge Commentary explains, “Paul again raised the question of the Jews’ special position (cf. 2:17–21a; 3:1–2). The way the question is worded in the Greek suggests the answer, that this blessedness is for the uncircumcised (Gentiles) as well as for the circumcised (Jews). But in response Paul turned again to the example of Abraham. He repeated the authoritative scriptural declaration that Abraham was declared righteous on the basis of his faith. Then Paul asked whether Abraham’s justification occurred before or after he was circumcised. Answering his own question, Paul stated, It was not after, but before! (The Gr. has lit., “not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.”) Abraham’s age when he was declared righteous (Gen. 15:6) is not stated. But later when Hagar bore him Ishmael, he was 86 (Gen. 16:16). After that, God instructed Abraham to perform the rite of circumcision on all his male descendants as a sign of God’s covenant with him; this was done when Abraham was 99 (Gen. 17:24). Therefore the circumcision of Abraham followed his justification by faith by more than 13 years.”[10] The lesson here is that justification by faith came before any religious rite or law. Therefore, justification by faith is the only way. Abraham’s justification was a seal or sign that he had been justified by faith. The purpose of circumcision was similar to our baptism. When one places his or faith in Christ, they are then encouraged to follower the Lord in believer’s baptism as a sign that they have been truly saved. Just as the act of circumcision cannot save you, neither can baptism or any other religious act. The point here is that there is only one way for salvation and that is through justification by faith.

Justification by faith alone has always been God’s method by which a lost sinner can be saved from the penalty of sin. It has always been this way and it always will be this way. You cannot be saved by anything that you do in order to earn it. The only way is to come to Jesus by faith. Accept His free gift. Place your faith in His promise. This is the only way by which you can be justified.



[1] Jones, G. C. (1986). 1000 illustrations for preaching and teaching (p. 295). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 4:1–4). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Romans (Vol. 6, pp. 127–128). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Dr. Constable, Notes on Romans. p. 52

[5] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 4:4–5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[6] Dr. Constable, Notes on Romans. p. 52

[7] John Newton. Amazing Grace


[8] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 4:6–8). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[9] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 4:9–12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[10] Witmer, J. A. (1985). Romans. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 453). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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