Lesson 3: Grace That Justifies

By faith, Sarah and Abraham obeyed when they were called, and went off to the place they were to receive as a heritage; they went forth, moreover, not knowing where they were going.

– Hebrews 11:8 (TIB)

Devotion: Paul’s views on justification by faith make some wonder how he views Judaism and the Law. He spends many chapters answering questions such as “should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (Rom 6:1, 15); “is the Law sinful?” (7:7); and “has God rejected the Jews?” (11:1)

Read Romans 3:31-4:25. God does not establish a covenant with Abraham and Sarah because they perform good works; the patriarch trusts God, and his faith is credited to him as righteousness. His faith came before his circumcision, a work of the Law. Likewise, Gentiles can find righteousness without keeping the Law by following in Abraham’s footsteps and having faith in God. All who trust what God is doing, now made clear in Jesus, are justified. Therefore, Abraham is the ancestor of all who faithfully trust God and, in doing so, Jesus’ death and resurrection becomes effective in their lives. Paul argues that faith in Christ ultimately confirms and upholds the Law. Read Romans 10:9-10. What do you believe? Do you trust Jesus with your life and death? What are the implications of the idea that faithful people, like Abraham, can receive the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice in their lives without knowing or acknowledging the person of Jesus?

Personal Worship Option: Read the following question from the United Methodist profession of faith: Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races? Ponder the implications of each of these sections as you pray.

Dig A Little Deeper:

3:31 Paul states the theological question arising from his earlier statements: has the Law been overthrown by faith? Did the law fail? Is Christian teaching still tied to the Hebrew Covenant? “We uphold the Law” is true in a broad sense; Paul believes God provided the Law as a guardian until Jesus came (Gal 3:24), but since Jesus has come, parts of the Law are null and void (Rom 14:14).

4:3 Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 to establish Abraham’s faith prior to his works. Because he trusts, God “reckoned” (Greek “elogisthe,” a bookkeeping term) him righteous. Abraham did not earn justification. God does not count his sin against him (4:8) but treats him as one without sin.

4:4 We do not earn forgiveness. God does not owe us anything when we do good works. It is presumptuous to expect God to answer our prayer requests because we have been good.  

4:5 Jewish tradition says Abraham is called to faith from paganism (“the ungodly”).

4:6 Paul also draws on Psalm 32:1-2 to make his case.

4:14 Followers of Jesus build their lives on faith. We cannot talk about God’s grace that justifies through faith and then claim some people do not deserve it or have not earned it.  

4:15 The Law is a double-edged sword: it eliminates ignorance but makes us much more aware of our failures to live righteous lives. The Law points out our failures but does not draw us toward God. How is this different from the Spirt? What are you doing to draw closer to God?

4:17 Paul interprets God’s promise that Abraham will be the “father of many nations” (Gen 17:4) to mean all who have faith in God, Jew and Gentile, are “descendants” of Abraham.  

4:24 Paul ends his celebration of Abraham’s faithfulness by returning to his basic assertion: if we believe in the God who raised Jesus from death, that same God will credit us with righteousness.

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