This chapter builds on the previous one: “man is justified by faith apart from observing the Law”. Justification is God’s act of declaring us “not guilty” for our sins.
In this section, Paul offers proof that faith—not works—was God’s plan in the Old Testament. Abraham, the founder of the Jewish nation, was a prime Old Testament model of justification by faith. When Abraham was 75, God revealed that He would bless and multiply Abraham’s offspring through a son. Even though Abraham was childless and didn’t know how God would bring about His plan, he placed his confidence in God. Paul cites Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
In verse 4 Paul reasons that if a person could earn right standing with God by being good then the giving of that gift would be an obligation instead of a free act. Paul also reminds us of King David’s joyous discovery of forgiveness of sins in Romans 4:7-8.
Like Abraham, we can also have a right relationship with God by trusting Him. God desires dependence, faith, and trust—not faith in our ability—to please Him. Jesus Christ is stronger than our feelings and/or actions. He is able to completely save those who reach out to accept His generous gift of salvation, even when our faith is small. Justification marks the entry point of our relationship with God in salvation when we place our faith/trust in His Son, Jesus Christ.
How do we get rid of guilt from our sin? The NIV Study Bible suggests: 1) quit denying our guilt and recognize our sin, 2) admit our guilt to God and ask for His forgiveness, and 3) let go of our guilt and believe that God has forgiven us.
In view of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, is any sin too big for Him to cover?
Is the one God blesses by crediting him righteous through faith only for the circumcised or uncircumcised? Paul addresses this question by, once again, pointing to Scriptural teaching about Abraham’s account of righteousness. Genesis 15:6 records Abraham being justified—God declaring him not guilty for sins—by faith several years before his circumcision ceremony (Gen. 17:22-27).
Then what was the point of Abraham’s circumcision? Paul explains that it was a sign of the justifying faith he already possessed. Circumcision was a personal certification given to Jewish males from God to signify His chosen people. Also, this covenant sign separated them from other nations who worshiped false gods. God’s blessing and command for circumcision is recorded in Gen. 17:9-14.
The Jerusalem Council
When a group of first-century A.D. Jews looked down on the uncircumcised Gentile believers, Paul played a key role at the Jerusalem Council in settling the dispute on whether Gentiles must be circumcised (Acts 15). After seeking God’s direction, they concluded: God’s circumcision (purification) of the heart results from repentance and faith. These were the only requirements for salvation; the Law served as a guide to highlight their sins so they might repent and return to God (Gal. 3:24-25).
Abraham found favor from God before he was circumcised—by faith alone. Likewise, our faith should be focused on Christ and His atoning work on the cross, which brings us into a right relationship with God (Gal. 2:16; Titus 3:4-7). The Law was—and still is—impossible to obey completely.
Ceremonies and rituals shouldn’t be confused as a substitute for faith, but rather as outward signs to remind us of our faith and tangible instruction for new and younger believers.