Online Bible Commentary
Romans 4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 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 accounted to him for righteousness." 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin." (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul wrote the letter of Romans to the church in Rome while in Corinth, Greece for three months in A.D. 56-57. The letter was written to both Jew and Gentile (non-Jew) believers.
Proper interpretation requires keeping the meaning of the verse in the passage, in the book of the Bible and in the Bible itself. In the previous passage, Paul wrote of justification by faith.
Paul’s message was that all people, both Jew and Gentile, are justified, found innocent of their sin by God, when they put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They are saved by grace through faith.
The verse preceding this passage, Romans 3:31, reads: “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”
So, the New Testament does not void the Old Testament. Instead, the New Testament law of faith is a continuance and a supporter of the Old Testament law.
Having brought in the Old Testament law into his discussion of justification of faith, in this passage Paul gives us examples of two Old Testament giants of the faith in Abraham and David.
Therefore, what has Abraham, of whom we can say is the forefather of the Jews, “found according to the flesh?” (v. 1). What have his works achieved for him?
“If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (v. 2). Abraham certainly did much that he could boast about.
However, Abraham was a sinner, like all of us. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:26}.
Since we all are sinners none of us can boast to God about being saved by good works. We can falsely boast to other men, but not to God.
Instead, Abraham was saved by grace through his faith. “For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." (Genesis 15:6).
Righteousness was accounted to Abraham because of his faith. Nothing about Abraham’s good works were mentioned in this context.
In proving his point, Paul writes “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.” (v. 4). In other words, when we work, we earn our wages.
We don’t have to beg our employer to pay us for our work. He does not pay us out of grace, but because it is a debt that he must pay.
Grace may be defined as unmerited and undeserved favor. Wages for our work are not unmerited, nor are they undeserved.
Instead, the person who does not work is justified. This concept goes against what the world tells us. But God’s ways are not our ways.
In that regard, Paul writes “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (v. 5). Because we come to God in faith and not boasting about our good works. Our “faith is accounted for righteousness”.
Next, Paul includes the example of David into his discussion of justification by faith. He writes “just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:” (v. 6).
God puts righteousness into our account, “apart from works”. “God imputes righteousness” upon Christians, solely because they have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Finally, Paul quotes David from Psalm 32:1-2 when he writes "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." (vv. 7-8).
David never mentions works. He says that our sins are forgiven and covered by the Lord. He also says that the Lord does not input sin upon us, which means that believers must be seen as righteous in the eyes of God.
In conclusion, we ask the question How can unholy men and women go to a holy place, Heaven? The Bible says "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We are never holy this side of Heaven.
So why would God let us enter His holy Heaven? It is not because we are a good person or we do good works, because we still sin. This is a mystery, because only righteous people can enter Heaven but none of us are righteous.
This passage explains how God has made a way for Christians to go to Heaven. Verse 3 says that because of Abraham's belief God "credited to him as righteousness."
This is a theological term called "imputed righteousness", where God puts righteousness upon us even when we are not righteous. God sees us as righteous, even though we are not.
As verses 7 and 8 say God does not see our sin because it is covered by the blood of Christ. Mystery solved.
We are saved by faith through the grace of God who imputes righteousness upon us because of our belief in Him. Glory to God in the highest!