Sinful man's three problems
When you study the first three chapters of the Book of Romans, you discover that humanity has three problems: a relational problem, a moral problem and a debt problem. These three problems explain the relational crisis that exists between fallen man and Holy God. Relationally I'm termed an enemy of God (Romans 1:18-31); Morally I'm guilty before God (Romans 2:1-16) and I am in debt to the Law of God (Romans 2:17-3:20). In short when you and I are born into this world, we are in the spiritual, moral and relational equivalent of a credit crisis. Unless our spiritual bank account is radically credited with righteousness, no amount of right living will balance out what is owed to God.
The Bible's solution to man's problems: justification by faith in Jesus Christ
What is the solution? The Bible uses a term that explains God's solution: the term justification by faith. The nature of justification by faith involves God crediting and declaring the sinner to be right with Him - i.e righteousness. Mind you this is not just any righteousness, but the righteousness of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 states: "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
This Divine declaration of the sinner's rightness before God occurs at saving faith, and includes the righteousness of Jesus Christ being counted in the sinner's favor. Such a righteousness is what Bible teachers call "imputed righteousness", meaning that the accomplished work of righteousness credited to us was done by another. An old gospel song I heard years ago explains this point: "He paid a debt He did not owe and I owed a debt I could not pay, thats why God sent Him, to wash my sins away."
Not only is the truth of justification by faith taught in the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament. Abraham is used to illustrate the kind of righteousness that was credited to Him at the moment of saving faith, which the Bible describes as Abraham being justified by faith.
How God uses Abraham to illustrate justification by faith alone
For every New Testament teaching or doctrine we can find at least one concrete, flesh and blood example of that truth. When it comes to the central Gospel truth of Justification by Faith Alone, we find such an example in the life of Abraham. Abraham was a man called by God out of the region of ancient Babylonia (modern day Iraq, near Persian Gulf) called "Ur of the Chaldees" in Genesis 12.
After 13 years God would speak to him in a dream in Genesis 15, reaffirming His promises to Him. By receiving those promises by faith alone, Abraham was demonstrating the concept of God "crediting" or "counting" Abraham as being right with Him. We pick up this illustration of Abraham in Romans 4. Some key questions from Romans 4 will guide us in seeing how Abraham illustrates Justification by Faith.
1. Is Justification based upon human goodness?
According to Romans 4:1-8 the answer is "no". Abraham had been called by God while He was worshipping other gods in Ur in Genesis 11:27-32. Later on we would find out that his wife Sarah was barren, unable to conceive a child, a crucial key to God's promise to Abraham of numerous offspring. Even after trying to bring the promise himself with his handmaiden Hagar, Abraham demonstrated that he was unable to bring about anything contributing to his own salvation. It was God's loving choice and calling of Abraham (i.e grace) that convinced Abraham to believe.(Joshua 24:1-3; Isaiah 51:1-2; Acts 7:1-4) As Abraham demonstrates, his salvation was by grace through faith alone.
2. Is Justification based upon the religious rite of circumcision?
When Paul wrote Romans, many Jews in his day thought salvation was a result of circumcision plus faith. Yet when God spoke these words to Abraham in Genesis 15, it was before He had revealed the rite of circumcision in Genesis 17. Thus it is not based upon how religious one is that makes one right with God. This is the argument of Romans 4:9-12.
3. Surely Abraham was justified by keeping the ten commandments?
According to Genesis 15, it would be another 400 or so years before God would reveal the Law to Israel and Moses on Mount Sinai. Abraham was not declared righteous due to keeping the law. Rather it was by grace alone through faith alone - identical to how justification occurs today. (John 1:12-13; Ephesians 2:8-9) Salvation by grace alone through faith alone occurs apart from adherence to the law of God, however we must hasten to add that justifying faith does not advocate that which would be lawless. What flows from justification, sanctification, is not in conflict with the law of God (compare Galatians 5:22-23).
Justification by faith alone does not grant one a license to sin, but grants the believer the license and power to do what is pleasing to God. Though a distinct grace, sanctification consequently follows one's justification, much like a stalk and flower proceeds from a root. Sanctification begins at the moment one is justified by faith and is characterized by desiring to do the will of God for the glory of Jesus Christ. This is the argument of Romans 4, 5 & 6.
4. Abraham was justified by faith alone
In Romans 4:21-22 we read: "and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able to perform. (22) Therefore it was also credited to Him as righteousness." The essence of saving faith entails the idea of "firm persuasion". The Hebrew word the word "amen". When you here the word "amen", it means you affirm, agree, are fully persuaded of what is being said to you. Abraham "amened" what God promised to Him. He could not do anything to earn it, nor could he accomplish it. God alone could bring about the miraculous result of a son born to He and Sarah in their old age. (Genesis 21) By faith alone he received the promise. Abraham was justified by faith.
Today we saw why justification by faith alone is so crucial. It first of all solves man's three problems with God. Second, it is what ties together the entire Old and New Testament teaching of salvation. Then finally, it explains why Jesus Christ's life, death and resurrection can be counted as righteousness at saving faith, and why apart from saving faith, no man can make himself morally, relationally and spiritually right with God.