General Articles | The Righteousness of Faith

Introduction


by Robert M. Zins

In the following article it is my hope to set forth an exhortation to Christians to live more by faith. It is also my hope to showcase the absolute necessity of faith as the preeminent posture one can have before God. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. Faith trumps any so-called righteousness of man by grasping the righteousness of Christ and entering into union with Christ. Faith eliminates all boasting before God. The ungodly are justified by faith alone and every Christian is called to imitate the faith of those who have gone on before us.

It is no wonder then that the apostle Paul sets faith in contrast to law keeping as the way in which God justifies the ungodly. Paul extols faith to the heights of virtue by calling the faith of Abraham the righteousness of faith. While it may be argued that "the righteousness of faith" may refer to the righteousness which comes from faith; it is equally imperative that we see the grandeur of faith and the subsequent call to walk with such faith before our living God.

In preparing this article I have been overwhelmingly conscious of the pressure to find the imputation of the righteousness of Christ in the context of Romans chapter 4. I am aware that there is in our day a general assault on the positive imputation of the righteousness of Christ as the sole and entire ground of justification. I am also aware that the Roman Catholic community denies, as a tenant of their religion, the imputation of Christ's righteousness as the ground of justification.

The question of Christ's righteousness being the only ground of our justification comes to the front in Romans 4 because Paul uses imputation language [Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness]. Notice how Paul positions faith in relationship to righteousness in Romans 4:9: "Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, "FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." Rom 4:9-10 NASU

This kind of language seems to put faith in the place of the righteousness of Christ as the sole ground of justification. This is not my conclusion from Romans 4 or the rest of the Bible. However, I believe it is not Paul's purpose in Romans 4 to decide the question of the positive imputation of Christ's righteousness for our justification.

I have a suspicion that the apostle Paul is focused solely upon the contrast between any would be law keeping righteousness [including the Romanist religion] and the faith of Abraham which brought to him the justification of God. Because of this contrast and Paul's absolute commitment to show that faith trumps law keeping for justification, faith ends up raised to heights that may make us a little uncomfortable. We tend to guard against the idea that faith itself is the righteousness that supplants the righteousness of Christ. Hopefully, this article succeeds in raising faith on high but raising the end of faith even higher, namely the righteousness of Jesus Christ and His atoning death.

The faith of Abraham, as illustrated in Romans 4, is ours to imitate. Salvation is dependent upon our confidence in the promises of God in Christ. It is this kind of faith that Paul is most burdened to set forth.

19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. Rom 4:19-25 NASU

Faith brings to us Jesus Christ and His righteousness becomes ours as we are put in Christ and He in us by faith alone. May we read rightly the words of the apostle, "Now not for his sake only ..but for our sake also as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead." RMZ

The righteousness of faith
by Robert M. Zins

In the fourth chapter of the book of Romans, the apostle Paul toils to set forth once for all that the justification of the ungodly cannot be a reward of work if it is to be reckoned according to grace.

"Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt."

Rom 4:4

Paul reasons with passion that if Abraham was justified by works he has a boast; but never with God. The Scripture is clear that Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.

That no man on earth could, or ever will, be justified by works seems perfectly clear. Works put God in debt. A work is rewarded and cannot be reconciled with grace freely given. One either works for a reward deserved; or one does not work but rather receives a grace gift. To work for a reward, no matter how just, is the opposite of a grace gift.

"But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Rom 4:5

Paul carries this contrast between doing works and receiving a grace gift forward in the epistle to the Romans and states emphatically that the two cannot be conceived of as the same thing.

"And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." Rom 11:6

To make his case even more strongly, if this could be possible, the apostle appeals to Psalm 32 where the great King David writes of the blessedness on the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works.

"Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works," Rom 4:6

It seems to me that the question of the role of works, in the verdict of justification of the ungodly, is settled. Works are simply not taken into account when God justifies the ungodly. This point is perfectly punctuated by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Eph 2:8-9

Yet, Romans four remains a pivotal battle ground in the ongoing struggle to preserve the Gospel of the grace of God. There are many voices objecting to what is thought to be a too simplistic approach to the text. There are at least two critical questions that have been raised in objection to the view that Paul is preaching a workless justification "not of works". By workless I mean that works do not cause or create or merit or increase justification. By workless justification I do not mean that the justified man will not produce good works as the fruit of justification. I mean rather that works play no role in the declaration of justification.

The first critical question asked of Romans four is, "What works are excluded by the apostle Paul in the justification of the ungodly?"

It is the opinion of many, including most in the Roman Catholic community, that Paul is only excluding two kinds of works. The first kind is Mosaic Law works. The second kind is any work that is conceived of in the mind of the worker to put God at debt.

The answer to the first supposition (Paul excludes only Mosaic Law) is that Abraham was justified before the Mosaic Law was introduced. It is hardly possible for Paul to be concerned only with the Law of Moses in excluding works that justify. It is clear that Abraham was justified apart from works while uncircumcised and long before the Law of Moses. The answer to the second supposition (Paul excludes works that obligate God) is that there is no such subtlety in the text. Paul does not directly state or infer that he is concerned only with works that put God in our debt. In reality every kind of work that could justify the ungodly would automatically put God at debt to the sinner. The Scriptures state simply, "but to the one not working" without remotely holding out for an acceptable imaginary work that could some how merit justification without putting God at debt. The creation of a secondary set of works, which are not excluded in the verdict of justification, and could possibly merit justification, is completely foreign to the text.

The second critical question is much more difficult because there is much tension in Christian theology surrounding the issues. How is faith viewed by God in the verdict of justification? Paul says this:

4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. 9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. Rom 4:1-10

The crux of the issue comes down to a combination of words. They are reckon [Greek: Logizetai], faith [Greek: Pistis] and for/as/unto [Greek: Eis] and righteousness [Greek: Dikaiosunen]. There are a number of texts that cause us to pause and evaluate the relation of faith to justification and righteousness. Let us begin with Romans four.

The text of Romans four convinces us that Abraham was justified by believing and not by working. But this begs the question. How was Abraham justified by believing?

There are two schools of thought. The first says that Abraham's faith is not the thing reckoned as righteous. Rather, Abraham's faith triggers the counting or reckoning of an outside righteousness to the account of Abraham. For instance, God views faith as the conduit through which the righteousness of Jesus Christ is given to the ungodly. However, faith itself is not reckoned as righteousness. Faith brings on board a foreign or alien righteousness which is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Even though Abraham's faith pre-dates the atonement of Jesus Christ, it will be on account of Abraham's faith that he is given the righteousness of Christ for justification.

Let us take this view and apply it to Romans 4:3.

"For what does Scripture say? Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness." Rom. 4:3

This interpretation understands that Abraham's faith is viewed by God as the reason to reckon an alien righteousness to Abraham. Righteousness is reckoned to Abraham through faith. But faith itself is not reckoned as righteousness. Citing Romans 4:6, ("Even David speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God reckons righteousness without works"), proponents see Abraham's act of believing as the occasion for God to put righteousness to Abraham's account. By reckoning Paul means that God puts to Abraham's account something not inherent to Abraham. God reckons Abraham as righteous because He puts righteousness to Abraham's account.

The second school of thought understands Paul to teach that Abraham's faith is reckoned as righteousness and the nature of this faith is that it trusts God completely and takes God at His Word. In the case of Abraham, he believed that God would keep His promise that he would be heir of the world. Even though Abraham's faith was not sufficient to atone for sins, nor was it efficacious to appease the wrath of God; it was viewed by God, or reckoned by God, as righteousness. God reckons this kind of faith as righteousness and justifies the ungodly by reckoning their faith as righteousness.

It should be noted that Abraham was justified by faith alone. However, Scripture does not tell us that Abraham's faith grasped the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He simply believed God's promise to him. The content of the promise does not change or lessen the faith required to believe the promise.

For instance, the content of faith is now the completed satisfaction of the Son of God at Calvary

to propitiate sin. As Abraham trusted the promise of God to him, so now must ungodly sinners, who wish to be saved from the wrath of God, trust His one and only provision for sin. Abraham did not trust the finished work of Christ on the cross but had faith that God would keep His promises. Some of God's promises included the sending of a messiah who would fulfill God's promise to Abraham. It is unclear how much Abraham understood things to come. But here Paul is only concerned to show that Abraham believed God. He trusted that God would do what God said He would do.

Let us take this view and apply it to Romans 4:3:

"For what does Scripture say? Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness." Rom. 4:3

This interpretation understands the act of believing [Abraham's faith itself] was reckoned to him as righteousness. Citing Romans 4:5, ("But to the one not working, but believing on the one justifying the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness"), proponents of this view see God reckoning faith as righteousness.

It is interesting to note that we can view one or the other interpretation of this text from the English translations. Let us take a look at Romans 4:9. The literal Greek reads as follows:

Was this blessedness then on the circumcision or also on the uncircumcision? For we say it was reckoned to Abraham his faith eis [for or as or to] righteousness.

Here are the translations:

  1. "Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness." NIV
  1. "Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness." KJV
  1. "Is this blessing then pronounced upon the circumcision, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say, To Abraham his faith was reckoned for righteousness." ASV
  1. "Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, "FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." NASU

If we can back up a moment we can begin to appreciate what might be at stake if we misinterpret the text. Christian theology has long affirmed two negative reckonings of God. This word "reckon" [Greek: Logizetai] is also translated impute or count or to put to one's account or to take a view of things. It is used to describe the non-imputation of sin to the sinner in Romans 4:8.

"Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him."

Romans 4:8 NIV

We see how David speaks of the blessedness upon the one to whom the Lord will not (double negative) put to his account, reckon, view or impute his sin! Impute carries with it the idea of placing something to one's account. In a calculated sense, sin is not placed to the sinner's account. It is not imputed. It is important for us to see that something actual [a man's sinning] is not put to his account. This can only mean that it is not held against him. The net result however is that someone who is a sinner is treated as though he is not a sinner. Thus, non imputation involves a consideration to not impute the action of a man against his own account. The real sinner is not held accountable for his real sinning because his real sins are not counted against him. If the sinner was named John, we might say, "John's sinning was not reckoned to him for unrighteousness."

Scripture not only affirms the concept of not placing to an account something done by someone but also the placing to an account something not done by someone. The something placed to one's account can be something of one's own or something alien that is imputed or placed or reckoned to be him. The sin of Adam is imputed or placed to the account of his posterity. In this case those not actually sinning are said to bear the sin of Adam because his sin is counted or considered to be on their account. Hence something that is not one's own by action is put to his account or imputed.

"14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come." Rom 5:14

"22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive." 1 Cor 15:22

The second placing of something alien to one's account and imputing it as though it were his own is the imputation or the placement of the sins of sinners onto the Lord Jesus Christ at the cross. In this case something that is outside of Jesus Christ i.e. sin, is reckoned or accounted to the savior. Jesus Christ is reckoned by God as though He were a sinner as the sins of His people are imputed to His Son.

"21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." 2 Cor 5:21

We can readily see that the word imputation is an important word to Christian theology. However, the nuance of the word is sometimes hard to grasp. We can translate Logizetai with the English word "count" or "put to account" or "credit". Or, we can translate it as "to view" or "to take into account" or to "consider"

It appears that the word Logizetai can be used in at least two ways in relation to faith. Either faith takes another's righteousness. Or, faith is considered as righteousness.

The theological theatre of war is concerned with this question, "what is Paul getting at in Romans 4?" Does God reckon someone's faith as righteousness? Or, does God put to an account the righteousness of another through faith? When Paul says, "Abraham's faith is reckoned unto righteousness", does he mean that God reckons faith as righteousness or that God puts an alien righteousness to a man's account through faith?

What does God set to an account of a sinner for righteousness? Does God set the sinner's faith to his account for righteousness or does God set the righteousness of Jesus Christ to his account for righteousness?

John Piper in his excellent book entitled "Counted Righteous in Christ" argues that Paul has in mind an alien righteousness when he says, "Abraham's faith is reckoned as righteousness." Dr. Piper translates the eis "unto" and calls our attention to Romans 10:10 where Paul uses a similar construction and the eis is better translated as "unto" rather than "as".

"For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Rom 10:10

We notice the NIV and the NASB face the same eis and offer up a different translation.

"for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." Rom 10:9-11 NASB

"For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." Rom 10:10-11 NIV

We should note that there is no time frame given to us in Romans 10. It is not clear whether "unto righteousness" settles the question. Dr. Piper is correct that Romans 10 does not make much sense translating the eis by the English "as". But Romans 10:10 could be translated by the English "for" and not be contradictory to Abraham's faith credited to his account "for" righteousness in Romans 4.

Romans 10 could be translated as follows: "For with the heart the person believes for righteousness and with the mouth a person confesses for salvation."

A stronger argument for an alien righteousness [the righteousness of Christ imputed] is made by Dr. Piper within the context of Romans 4. Dr. Piper calls into question why the apostle Paul would construct Romans 4:4-5 as follows:

"Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,"

Rom. 4:4-5 NASU

Dr. Piper notes that Paul introduces an outside wage of work into the equation of imputing. The outside reward [wage] is not put to the account [credited] as a favor. It is put to the account [credited] as what is due. Hence, the word imputation involves the putting to an account something due [a wage for work]. The observation is made by Dr. Piper that the work itself is not reckoned as a reward but receives an outside reward. He wishes to see the same parallel with faith. He argues that one's own faith is not reckoned as a reward [righteousness] but is only worthy of a reward from the outside which is alien righteousness. Dr. Piper points out that if faith were the thing reckoned as righteousness then work, not wage, should have been the thing reckoned as a reward in the clause preceding. He asserts that Paul would then have written the passage as follows:

"Now to the one who works his work is not credited to his account as a reward but what is due. But to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness."

This construction, according to Dr. Piper, would make a much better parallel if the apostle had in mind crediting something we do as righteousness.

Instead of this, Dr. Piper sees the introduction of an outside reward [wage] as a sign post that the next clause assumes that an outside alien righteousness is meant by the phrase, "his faith is credited as righteousness."

This line of reasoning is at first convincing. But the trouble is in the reconstruction of the verse to try to make it parallel. If Paul had said, "now to the one who works his work is not credited to his account as a reward but what is due", we would not be able to comprehend it. How is work ever credited to one's account as what is due? Paul is forced to introduce an outside reward to make sense of what is due. But he does not make the same outside source remark with regard to faith. For him to keep the parallel he would have had to say something like this:

"But to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is not reckoned as righteousness either. Rather, that it may be of grace, his faith receives an award which is the righteousness of another."

We would have expected Paul to say this if he was trying to stay parallel with a reward outside of faith itself.

In other words, it could be argued that since Paul introduces an outside wage as a reward in so far as works are concerned; he should have done the same with regard to faith receiving an outside reward. But he does not.

Where does this leave us?

The problem in trying to arrive at a biblical position of the positive imputation of the righteousness of Christ to sinners for their justification is in the terminology and the fact that such a direct statement is not found in the Bible. It should be noted that direct statements that sum up deep theological truth are not necessary for a position to be in fact biblical. The Trinity is a perfect example. The word Trinity is not found in the text but the Scriptures teach us about a Triune God. Another problem in presenting a biblical argument for the positive imputation of Christ's righteousness is the terminology. The Greek word Logizetai can be translated with a variety of concepts. It does mean an actual crediting to one's account. But what is credited may be something external or something internal. In other words faith itself may be credited to one's account as righteousness. Or the righteousness of another may be credited to one's account. Or the word Logizetai may be translated simply as take into account or view in a certain manner. In this case this word carries the idea of "consider" in the English. God considers those who keep the law, though they are not circumcised, as if they are circumcised. Will not his uncircumcision be considered as [logisthesetai eis] circumcision?

It comes down to this. A thing which is one thing can be considered as another thing if God so considers it to be so. Or, things can be put to the account of people in the place of things they do not have if God so wishes. Or, things that people have can be put to their account as a signification of something greater. Or something a person has can be considered as something or viewed as something different and put to his account.

Let us test this terminology out in Romans 4:6. This passage along with Philippians 3:9 serve those who resist the idea that faith could be the thing considered by God as righteousness in the life of Abraham. They point out that righteousness is imputed. The text does not say faith is imputed. Here are the two texts side by side:

"6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:" Rom 4:6 NKJV

9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; Phil 3:9-10 NKJV

In the case of Romans 4:6, God reckons, imputes, considers, and puts to the account righteousness apart from works. But how does God do it? Does He impute righteousness by considering faith as righteousness? Does He impute righteousness by putting another's righteousness to the account? If by the word imputation is meant something from the outside put to the account of someone then the righteousness imputed must be a Divine righteousness. We may infer this as the meaning in Philippians 3:9 when Paul says, "the righteousness which is from God." But if the righteousness imputed is the consideration of something already present as righteousness [by reason of reckoning or considering or viewing something as something] then the equation is altogether different. In this case the man is blessed to whom God reckons his faith as righteousness.

In the case of Philippians 3:9 the contrast is between any law righteousness that the apostle calls his own and that which comes through faith [dia pisteos] and from God [ek Theo] based on faith [epi pistei].

The question remains. How are we to view the righteousness which comes from God? Is it a righteousness that is divine and outside of man or is it a righteousness reckoned by God on the basis of faith being considered or counted as righteousness?

This question comes to the front as we take a close look at each verse in Romans 4 and try to discern if the apostle Paul is teaching here that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to Abraham for righteousness.

Romans 4

4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.

8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.

11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:

12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,

17(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.

19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:

20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;

21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.

22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;

24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;

25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

KJV

It seems to come down to this. Can we understand Romans 4:6 and 4:9 as saying the same thing and then agree on what is said?

6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Romans 4:6

9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. Romans 4:9

God imputes righteousness without works by reckoning the faith of Abraham for righteousness. For the promise was through the righteousness of faith. Therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. But this is not for Abraham only but for us as well.

What have we lost in this interpretation of the text?

It seems very, very clear that God accepts poor lost sinners on the basis of the righteous work of Jesus Christ alone. His substitution as an atonement for the sins of His people is the only reason why God can accept sinners. It is for the sake of Christ that we have eternal life and a never ending hope. Furthermore, His people are justified by His blood. They are redeemed by His perfect sacrifice and it is by God's doing alone that His people are in Christ Jesus. This is grace and love at work on behalf of the elect of God.

All of the benefits of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are gained by or through faith. This is the divine arrangement that without faith it is impossible to please God and all who come to Him must come by faith. All the promises given by God in Christ Jesus are gained by faith and faith alone. This is the divine arrangement of things. God's elect are justified by faith and by faith stand in His grace. For by grace through faith are all of God's elect brought home to glory.

Faith sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ and all the benefits that God has promised in Christ. Faith is confidence in God's promises.

Whenever it appears that another gospel, other than faith in God's promises in Christ, is introduced to the congregation of the hopeful faith is brought to the rescue. For this reason the apostle Paul extols the virtue and magnificence of faith. When the need arises to shut down law righteousness Paul has only one answer. It is what he calls the righteousness of faith. It is a faith that takes on board the promise of God to save a people unto Himself for the sake of Jesus Christ alone.

For those who would be righteous according to the law Paul has no other answer than the righteousness of faith. It is unlikely that Paul has the righteousness of Christ imputed in mind when he contrasts the faith of Abraham with the inept hope of a righteousness based upon law keeping. And, herein is the dilemma. There is a real danger in grounding justification on individual faith as opposed to the righteous sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But also, there is a real danger in reading into the apostle Paul something that is not in the text. It appears to me that Paul's burden in Romans 4 is not the imputation of Christ's righteousness by faith. It is rather the stark and eternal contrast between working for God to achieve a just reward based upon merit which puts God at debt and risks a boast in distinction to the absolute free grace from God through faith alone.

Some are going to be nervous about this exegesis. They are more than concerned with good reason that the gospel can be lost if faith becomes the ground of justification rather than the free gift of Christ to the sinner. But biblical faith finds its origin in God and not in man. Biblical faith is self disclaiming and trusts another and not itself. Biblical faith sees the need for forgiveness and sees an end to self righteousness. Any attempt to ground justification in the self generated faith of the individual denies the very essence of faith. Abraham was justified by God on the basis of faith. If Abraham's faith was reckoned as righteousness then we have lost nothing for the gospel. For, we are to have the same faith. Or as Paul says so eloquently,

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-since he was about a hundred years old-and that Sarah's womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." 23 The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness-for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Rom 4:18-25 NIV

It is my hope that the faith of Abraham will be proclaimed throughout the Body of Christ. It is a faith that ends all talk of "works" righteousness. By its nature, it is a faith that believes the promise of another at the moment when everything possible to man is exhausted. It is a faith born from above.

So, what is a Christian to believe? The answer comes to us forcefully from the New Testament. Christians are to believe that the promises of God in Christ are true and He will not fail. Part of God's promise is complete forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ's atoning perfect sacrifice alone. Ironically, part of the promise of God is that His promises can only be gained by faith alone. Faith empties itself of self righteousness so there is no danger of assuming that faith takes the place of Christ's perfect righteous atonement. All that Christ means to God in the redemption of the lost is given by God through faith. Perhaps this is why Paul constantly calls for faith. In God's inscrutable wisdom the righteousness of faith consists in trusting another's perfect sacrifice for salvation. Any other kind of faith is not imputed for righteousness.

6 Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." 9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Gal 3:6-9 NIV

RMZ



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