Righteousness by Faith

When I started writing blog posts based on my study of Romans, I had intended each post to stand on its own. But this time, to avoid recapping half of last week’s post, I’m going to refer back to “Purpose of the Law.” As background for what I am about to write, the most important concept in that post is that keeping the letter of the law is not enough to earn eternal life. Obedience must be accompanied by faith.

But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Gal. 3:23-24)

Abraham’s Righteousness

In both Romans and Galatians, the life of Abraham serves as a case study to illustrate justification by faith instead of by works.

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness (Romans 4:1-5)

It is worth mentioning that true faith cannot exist without works. In Romans and Galatians, the point is that we are made righteous as a result of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and our faith in Him. We cannot earn salvation by works, but works are a necessary part of faith. In the book of James, it is clarified that good works are an outward result of true faith, and that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).

Spiritual Children of Abraham

The importance of this concept is made clear in the following verses. The promises God made to Abraham and to his descendants had to be “through the righteousness of faith,” because “if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect” (Rom. 4:13-14). This expands the promises to include those who follow in Abraham’s righteous footsteps, not just his physical descendants. It also shows that being a physical descendant of Abraham is not enough to give you a place in God’s family, a fact Jesus Christ pointed out to the Pharisees (John 8:31-40). Each individual must demonstrate a righteous heart and be faithful to God if they expect to inherit eternal life.

Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. (Gal. 3:7-9)

An Attitude of Faith

The people who stood out as examples of godly conduct in the Old Testament are not commended because they kept the letter of the law perfectly, but because they were faithful. Just look at David. He is described as a man after God’s own heart, yet his sins included adultery and conspiracy to commit murder. The point is that he did not continue in those sins, he repented and was forgiven, and moved forward in righteousness.

David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” (Rom. 4:6-8)

For us, as with David, righteousness “shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom. 4:24). Jesus Christ’s sacrifice makes it possible for us to “have peace with God” and gives us “access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1, 2). We are given a chance at eternal life, not because of anything we did, but because Jesus Christ’s sacrifice gives us the opportunity to be made righteous and live a life of faith and obedience.

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