In explaining this doctrine of Justification by Faith Paul, in ch 4, focuses upon two Old Testament examples. While the bulk of the chapter is taken up with Abraham v6-8 are taken up with an example from the life of David; “What he (Paul) does is choose two of the most illustrious – if not the two most illustrious – persons who have ever appeared in the long history of the Jews…Why? Abraham was the father of the nation…to David the special promise was given that out of his loins the Messiah should come.” (Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones); “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1). In so doing Paul is further developing what has been already stated in 3:21. His major reasons for teaching the gospel through Old Testament illustrations are twofold:
(a) To show that justification is not a new doctrine. This was most relevant for Jews who revered Abraham and David.
(b) To teach that the Old Testament saints were converted as we are converted. They were neither saved by law or works.
This passage emphasises the grace of God (v4) in the case of Abraham.
1: Grace is not of the Flesh v1
The word “flesh” in v1 refers to that which is of man as opposed to what is of God. Man’s way is legalistic whereas God’s way is grace. In Philippians 3:3-7 Paul defines what the flesh meant for him in relation to salvation. Justification is outside the parameter of what man does, it is all of of grace. Abraham received nothing as a result of his own endeavours.
2: Grace is not a Boast v2
If Abraham had deserved justification he would have been able to boast of the value of his flesh; his ability; his holiness. This boasting in self would have detracted from God’s glory because the work would be human, not divine. As all have sinned no-one has room to glory in God’s presence, grace alone magnifies the Lord.
3: Grace is Through Faith v3
Paul now opens up the Bible with the phrase, “What saith the scripture…”. There we discover conclusive proof that Justification by Faith is indeed found in the Old Testament (Genesis 15:6). We must take care, however, in the way in which we understand faith in the matter of salvation. Some who teach that Abraham was justified because he was a pious man who believed God and did what Jehovah asked of him. Others claim it was Abraham’s faith that merited his salvation. Both these interpretations are wrong. Faith did not justify Abraham nor will it justify us. This would turn ‘faith’ into a work, a product of the flesh which gives man something to boast of. Dr James Montgomery Boice wrote on this issue;
“When the Greek word for faith occurs with dia, it is always in the genitive case, and this is the case the object should be in when dia means ‘by’ or ‘through’ indicating that faith is a channel but not the grounds of salvation.”
The question remains, however, who or what did Abraham trust in which brought grace into his life? Genesis 15:1-5 clearly teach us that God told Abraham that he would have a son and his seed would be a plenteous as the stars. This was a reaffirmation of the covenant made in Genesis 12:1-3 that the world would be blessed through his seed. This was what Abraham believed, he took God at his word. In particular his faith was in Christ through whom the world would be blessed. This was indicated again in Genesis 22 where he believed that God would provide a lamb for the offering even though he was willing to offer Isaac himself (v8). Therefore Christ taught that Abraham rejoiced to see His day (John 8:56). Abraham’s faith clearly was in the Saviour who would come, offer himself and rise again; this is the same object of faith through which God justifies today.
4: Grace is Undeserved v4
If Justification were of works it would become a debt which God owes man. A works based religion is based upon the premise that God owes man and is obliged to give. Grace is radically different – it is not God who is in debt to man but it is man who is God’s debtor. Yet God kindly gives to those who have failed him and rebelled against him. There are no human merits, there is no-one deserving. God gives to those who least deserve his mercy.
5: Grace Grants us God’s Righteousness v3,5
Those who have faith in the God grace will receive the righteousness, this in essence is what justification is; the legal receipt of God’s holiness; therefore the ungodly are made righteous.