NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R Seyda
BOOK OF ROMANS
Chapter 4 (Lesson XVI)
Verses 21-22: Abraham felt sure that God was able to do what He promised. So that’s why “he was accepted as one who is right with God.”1
Again, Paul wants his readers to see that Abraham’s acceptance by God as being a righteous man was not based on what he did, but on what he believed. Consequently, because of his strong belief, he was then accepted because of what he did. Paul saw this played out in his own life. He told young Timothy: “I was chosen to tell people that message as an apostle and teacher. And I suffer now because of that work. But I am not ashamed because I know the one I have put my trust in. And I am sure that He is able to protect what I have put into His care until that Day.”2
Here Augustine has this to say: “God brings about the faith of the Gentiles because He is able to perform what He has promised. If it is God who produces our faith, acting in a wondrous manner in our hearts so that we believe, surely we should not fear that He cannot do the entire work.3”4 And, Pelagius states that Abraham thanked God as if he had already received the gift.5
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster points out: “Paul claims that Abraham is worthy of this praise because although he knew that he could not do it himself, he strengthened his weakness by faith so that he believed that with God’s help he could do what he knew was impossible by the laws of the universe. He was of great merit before God because he believed God over against his own knowledge, not doubting that because he was God, he could do things which were impossible according to the world’s wisdom.”6
Then, Ambrosiaster goes on to write: “Paul, therefore, urges the Gentiles to believe as firmly as Abraham did so that they might receive the promise of God and His grace without any hesitation, secure in the example of Abraham that the praise given to a believer increases if he believes what is incredible and seems to be foolish to the world. For the more foolish what he believes is thought to be, the more honor he will have, and indeed it would be foolish to believe it if it were said to occur without God.”7
John Calvin makes this point: “It becomes now more clear, how and in what manner faith brought righteousness to Abraham; and that was because he, leaning on God’s word, rejected not the promised favor. And this connection of faith with the word ought to be well understood and carefully remembered; for faith can bring us nothing more than what it receives from the word. Hence he does not become immediately just, who is imbued only with a general and confused idea that God is true, except he leans on the promise of His favor.”8
Adam Clarke gives his exposition: “Abraham‘s strong faith in the promise of the coming Savior… was reckoned to him for justification: for it is not said that any righteousness, either his own, or that of another, was imputed or reckoned to him for justification; but it, i.e. his faith in God. His faith was fully persuaded of the most merciful intentions of God‘s goodness; and this, which, in effect, laid hold on Jesus Christ, the future Savior, was the means of his justification; being reckoned unto him in the place of personal righteousness, because it laid hold on the merit of Him who died to make an atonement for our offences, and rose again for our justification.”9
Charles Hodge has this commentary: “The faith of Abraham was imputed to him for righteousness. He was accepted as righteous on account of his faith; not that faith itself was the ground, but the condition of his justification. He believed, and God accepted him as righteous; just as now we believe, and are accepted as righteous, not on account of any merit in our faith, but simply on the ground of the righteousness of Christ, which is imputed to us when we believe; that is, it is given to us, whenever we are willing to receive and rest upon it.”10 Let’s illustrate this, with a life-saving ring that is thrown to a drowning man. It is not the man’s grasp of the ring that saves him, but the ring itself. However, his trust and faith in those holding the ring to pull him out of the water are then rewarded.
Charles Spurgeon preached it this way: “O soul, if thou art like one who is dead, if thou art devoid of all strength, and grace, and savor, if thou canst but believe in God who can quicken the dead, if thou wilt but trust thy soul in the hands of him who is able even to raise dry bones out of their graves, and make them live, thy faith shall be imputed unto thee for righteousness! Thy faith is that which shall justify thee in the sight of God, and thou shalt be ‘accepted in the Beloved.’ Oh, what marvels faith works! This is the root-grace, all manner of good things spring from faith, but there must be faith as the root if there are to be other graces as the fruit. Do thy God the honor to believe Him— to believe that He cannot lie— to believe that He has never promised what He is not able to perform. If thou wilt do that, it is clear that thou art one of Abraham’s seed, and the covenant made with Abraham was made with thee also.”11
Verses 23-24 These words (“he was accepted”) were written not only for Abraham. They were also written for us. God will also accept us because we believe. We believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from death.
Now, Paul makes this same Abrahamic formula of faith followed by obedience effective for believers today. The apostle makes this same point in his letter to the Corinthians by using an interesting illustration taken from the Old Testament. He wrote: “These aren’t just my own thoughts. God’s law says the same thing. Yes, it is written in the Law of Moses: ‘When a work animal is being used to separate grain, don’t muzzle it to keep it from eating the grain.’12 When God said this, was He thinking only about work animals? No. He was really talking about us. Yes, that was written for us. The one who plows and the one who separates the grain should both expect to get some of the grain for their work.”13
In other words, the ox is allowed to eat of the grain that it is crushing by turning the millstone. So it is that by believing God’s promises and doing the work God intends for us to do He allows us to partake of the fruit produced by that work. Another way to put this would be if God instructed us to go and plant apple seeds so that He could sustain us with such fruit and we believe His promise and obey His instructions, then when the trees do bear fruit, we are allowed to pluck some of the apples for our own nourishment.
This concept of Christians and their descendants being the heirs of blessings promised to Old Testament believers was not just Paul’s idea. The Apostle Peter also pointed this out in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost: “Change your hearts and lives and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ. Then God will forgive your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you. It is also for your children and for the people who are far away. It is for everyone the Lord our God calls to Himself.”14 Yet again, such a promise is based on faith first and obedience second. Believers are not to obey in hopes of getting what God has promised, but in faith that God does what He says He will do because faith is the substance of things hoped for.15
The Apostle felt led to share this same truth with the Ephesians. He wrote: “I pray that God will open your minds to see this truth. Then you will know the hope that He has chosen us to have. You will know that the blessings God has promised his holy people are rich and glorious. And you will know that God’s power is very great for us who believe. It is the same as the mighty power He used to raise Christ from death and put Him at His right side in the heavenly places.” In other words, believers are not left with any example of God following through on His promises and offers the resurrection of Jesus as a prime example.
Early church scholar Origen touches here on what was already accepted in Jewish theology concerning Abraham’s belief in the resurrection. He writes: “Note that Paul does not speak of those who believe that God is supreme, or of those who believe that he made heaven and earth, or of those who believe that he made the angels and the other hosts of the heavenly glory. Rather, he speaks of those who believe in the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Did Abraham believe in this God even before he had raised Jesus?… Abraham’s faith contained within it the form and image of this great mystery. For when he was ordered to sacrifice his only son, he believed that God could raise him up from the dead. Moreover, he did not believe this of Isaac only but also of Isaac’s seed, which is Christ.”16
Then Pelagius adds this: “We are meant to imitate Abraham’s example as if he were our father, just as we imitate the examples of the saints, by which they pleased the Lord. They were tempted so that they might know themselves and so that we might follow them. We shall benefit if we believe as completely that God has raised Christ from the dead as Abraham believed that his body, which was as good as dead, could be made alive in order to produce children.”17
1 Genesis 15:6
2 2 Timothy 1:11-12
3 2 Corinthians 1:20
4 Augustine: Predestination of the Saints 2.6
5 Pelagius: On Romans, loc. cit.
6 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.
8 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Deuteronomy 25:4
13 1 Corinthians 9:8-10
14 Acts of the Apostles 2:38-39
15 Hebrews 11:1
16 Origen: On Romans, loc. cit.
17 Pelagius: On Romans, loc. cit.