Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

are few things that match the joy of unexpectedly discovering something good.
Whether it’s discovering money on the ground, or learning a new concept in
a class, joy floods our hearts when we find something good that we didn’t
expect to find.

“unexpected” is not the word most people would use to describe our church
services. Instead, words like “predictable” and “routine”
characterize our churches. Few people seem to discover anything new unexpectedly
in our services.

is why Paul’s comments about the unexpected joy of forgiveness in Romans
4:1-5, 13-17 are so encouraging. Here Paul identifies Abraham as someone who unexpectedly
discovered the joy of forgiveness. The story of Abraham is one well known to church
goers and students of the Bible. We all know how the story ends. But for Abraham,
the one living the story, each twist and turn was unexpected. To Abraham and his
family, life probably seemed more like a roller coaster than a straight line.

Righteousness By Faith (4:1-5)

Paul tells Abraham’s story, he relies heavily on the Genesis narrative, especially
chapters 12 and 15 of Genesis. In his lifetime, Abraham discovered, quite unexpectedly,
that one is made right with God on the basis of faith rather than the basis of
human efforts. For Paul, the proof of this comes from Genesis 15:6, which says,
“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
This act of God occurred prior to Abraham’s circumcision, which formed the
seal of his covenant relationship with God. Prior to the covenant being “sealed”
by circumcision, God sealed Abraham as “righteous.” Abraham’s standing
with God came on the basis of faith.

nothing that could have prepared Abraham for this experience. The reality of what
we now call “justification by faith” is some-thing that can only come
by divine revelation. There’s nothing in the world or in our minds to prepare
us for this truth. Everything in our experience tells us that people earn other
people’s favor. Gifts come by meriting them.

we stereotype Old Testament figures as languishing under the legalistic burden
of the law. However, Paul even describes King David as discovering the joy of
forgiveness in vv. 6-8. The example of David reminds us that righteousness has
always come by faith. This was true prior to God giving the law (as evidenced
in Abraham), after the law (as evidenced by David), and since the coming of Jesus.

long as we strive to earn merit with God, we find ourselves looking for wages
from God rather than a gift from God (v. 4). This struggle colors our entire relationship
with God, as we picture God as a boss and a master, rather than a Father, a lover,
and a friend. The unexpected joy of forgiveness frees us to see God closer to
as He truly is.

by Law (4:13-17)

of the key questions Paul struggled with was this: If righteousness has always
come to people by faith (as it did for Abraham and for David), why then did God
give the law through Moses? If the law is not God’s instrument to make us
righteous (that is what faith is for), then what role does the law perform? There
are many passages in Paul’s writings that seek to answer this question.

we must clarify what is intended by the word law. In Paul’s writings, the
word “law” almost always refers to the Pentateuch, specifically the
laws given to Moses in the Old Testament.1 The point in
these verses is that God added the law of Moses to give definition to sin. As
Thomas Schreiner says, “the law provides a standard by which sin can be technically

rather than giving the law to remedy the problem of sin, God gives the law to
define the extent of sin. God’s strategy seems to be to show just how bad
sin truly is before he sends his Son to deal with sin once and for all.

for those who rely on the law to find forgiveness, the law brings “wrath”
(v. 14). Instead of discovering the unexpected joy of forgiveness that Abraham
and David both found, the person rely-ing on the law discovers wrath.

is why Paul urges us to approach God by faith, not looking to earn a credit or
earn a wage, but looking to receive a promise. The open hands of faith are able
to receive the free gift of forgiveness.

you’ve seen a monkey try to get candy out of a bottle. So long as the monkey’s
fist is clenched around the candy, it can’t get it’s hand out of the
bottle. The only way to be free from the bottle is to let go of the candy.

same is true in our relationship with God. So long as we try to clench to our
actions to merit God’s acceptance, we’re stuck. It is only when we let
loose of our grip and release our attempts to impress God and open our hands in
faith that we receive forgiveness.

is the joy Paul experienced in his conversion. It’s the joy he saw in retrospect
looking back on his heroes Abraham and David. Is it your experience as well?

Thomas Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law
(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), p. 38).
2 Schreiner, p. 75.


brief provided by: Tim Peck, Pastor of Life Bible Fellowship
Church in Upland, CA.

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