The Illustration of Justification
(NET) Romans 4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh,1 has discovered regarding this matter?2 2 For if Abraham was declared righteous3 by the works of the law, he has something to boast about – but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited4 to him as righteousness.”5 4 Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation.6 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous,7 his faith is credited as righteousness. 6 So even David himself speaks regarding the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed8 are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the one9 against whom the Lord will never count10 sin.”11
Notes:My Comments: Matt Bowen points out that the conventional wisdom in our society is that really very little comes for free - that everything comes at a cost. This passage begins the argument - using Abraham as an example - that this is not how God's economy functions. It is not our works that credit our account with God - that give us bragging rights before God. It is our belief that credits us with righteousness before God.
1 tn Or “according to natural descent” (BDAG 916 s.v. σάρξ 4).
2 tn Grk “has found?”
3 tn Or “was justified.”
4 tn The term λογίζομαι (logizomai) occurs 11 times in this chapter (vv. 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24). In secular usage it could (a) refer to deliberations of some sort, or (b) in commercial dealings (as virtually a technical term) to “reckoning” or “charging up a debt.” See H. W. Heidland, TDNT 4:284, 290–92.
5 sn A quotation from Gen 15:6.
6 tn Grk “not according to grace but according to obligation.”
7 tn Or “who justifies the ungodly.”
8 tn Or “Happy.”
9 tn The word for “man” or “individual” here is ἀνήρ (anēr), which often means “male” or “man (as opposed to woman).” However, as BDAG 79 s.v. 2 says, here it is “equivalent to τὶς someone, a person.”
10 tn The verb translated “count” here is λογίζομαι (logizomai). It occurs eight times in Rom 4:1–12, including here, each time with the sense of “place on someone’s account.” By itself the word is neutral, but in particular contexts it can take on a positive or negative connotation. The other occurrences of the verb have been translated using a form of the English verb “credit” because they refer to a positive event: the application of righteousness to the individual believer. The use here in v. 8 is negative: the application of sin. A form of the verb “credit” was not used here because of the positive connotations associated with that English word, but it is important to recognize that the same concept is used here as in the other occurrences.
11 sn A quotation from Ps 32:1–2.
Biblical Studies Press. (2006; 2006). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press.
We work -- or -- We believe/trust
God owes -- or -- God gives
We get glory -- or -- God gets glory
This is a direct refutation of legalism - the idea that a follower of Christ has to follow some set of rules in order to be be credited with righteousness by God.
Going deeper: What do you believe God was trying to express to you through this passage? Do you notice any patterns in yourself where you begin to take credit for things that come from Grace? Where do you place your confidence and security before God: Your effort or God’s gracious acts? How does Abraham’s story encourage you? Challenge you? Discuss with someone close to you what a risky, dependent faith might mean in your life.
Next: 4:9-15 -- "Only By Faith"