Romans 4 – Counted as Righteousness

Paul shows that with Abraham long before the Law was given, Abraham’s faith was “reckoned” to him as righteousness.

In secular Greek, the verb λογίζομαι (logizomai) was used for determining the amount of a debt (Demosthenes Or. 27, 46).  The LXX uses λογίζομαι to translate חשׁב, a verb that is normally translated in as “think” or “account,” but it is used to count some action as “guilt” or “sin.” Psalm 32:2 is a good example of this: “blessed is the man against who the Lord counts no iniquity.”  In Genesis 15:6 (quoted by Paul here in Romans 4:3), the word is use to say that Abraham’s faith was considered to be as righteousness.  Heidland  (TDNT 4:284-92) makes the point that there was nothing intrinsically good about the belief of Abraham. It is only because it pleased God that his faith was considered to be righteousness.

Counted as RighteousThis is in contrast to the view of the Jews of the first century who saw Abraham’s faith as meritorious. For example, in 1 Macc 2:51-52 says Was not Abraham found faithful in temptation, and it was imputed to him for righteousness?” This is an important parallel text to Paul since it uses the same exact words as Gen 15:6 cited in Rom 4. The first seven chapters of the Apocalypse of Abraham are a narrative of Abraham’s realization the gods his father Terah makes are nothing but wood and stone. After Abram has demonstrated that he is a good monotheist, God rewards him with the Abrahamic Covenant. In Jubilees Abram is a righteous man who was already seeking the God of Heaven when the Lord calls him. In this book, the Lord gave Abram the ability to read Hebrew, a language which had not been spoken since the time of the fall.

But all these legendary developments of Abram as a righteous man or a proto-Jew are not at all the sort of thing we read in the Hebrew Bible. There is no reason given for Abram’s call in Gen 12, nor is there any indication that Abram was a monotheist prior to his call.  He was simply told that God would give him a son, and he believed that promise. God counted that belief as righteousness, even though it might not qualify as righteousness

Paul gives this word an additional theological meaning in the New Testament. Paul uses the word here and in Galatians 3:6 to described God’s declaration on the believer in Christ, making him righteous. This is the crux of salvation, moving the believer from death to life. For Paul in Romans 4, it is the faith of Abraham in Genesis 15 that “counts” as righteousness rather than his works (submitting to circumcision in Gen 17, sacrificing his son in Gen 22).

But how does this work? How is it that Paul can compare Abraham’s belief in the promise of a child to a person in the present age believing in the death of Jesus as payment for sin? Does Romans 4:22-25 say that God “imputes righteousness” to the believer on account of their faith, or does this text say that God declares the believer righteous because of the faithful act of Jesus on the cross?

7 thoughts on “Romans 4 – Counted as Righteousness

  1. It’s interesting to think that even before the cross and Jesus’ sacrificial giving of his life for our sake, that God credited salvation to those such as Abram. I find it a fascinating that we are discussing this passage in Paulin Lit as well as my Biblical Christian Thought class. It is difficult to sum up and decipher this passage because it is something that we ponder over as Christians often. After all we are all curious as to if we are going to be able to meet great Biblical characters such as Abram, Moses, and such in Heaven. Yet Paul strikes our attention here because of his use of Abram’s faith to represent our own. Polhill states, “to establish that for Abraham faith rather than law was the basis of his being accepted by God” (288). This means, that for Abram his faith in the promises of God, of a child to provide a way of salvation, was counted as righteousness, much the same way that our belief in Jesus–that promised son’s–work on the cross is counted as righteousness to us. In my Biblical Christian Thought class, Emily Quinn, offered up a valid point in this discussion by saying, “Abram and the other early Fathers of the Faith looked forward to the cross as a way of salvation while we look back to the cross and Jesus’ sacrifice there.” I find that Paul presents this true in a very clear way that we tend to overcrowd with ideals and different perspectives. I think both that God imputes righteousness to the believer on account of both their faith, but also the work of Jesus on the cross. Abram and the other Faith Fathers look forward to the coming child and believed in the plan that God had set forth even though they were unaware of the plans exact details. It seems that our faith and their faith really doesn’t differ on many grounds except that we have more of God’s plan made aware to us through His Scripture. So, I find that this passage presents both through their faith as well as Jesus’ work on the cross. Paul also stresses that this is why the law is made void to believers because even Abram was accounted as righteous by his faith solely instead of by his works. Polhill sums this up by saying, “Paul argued that to be freely credited with something implies that it is received as a gift and not as something earned” (288). So either before and after the cross, the gift of righteousness or salvation was given as a free gift, the only difference is that it seems that faith would have been harder before the cross because the plan of God had not been revealed yet.

  2. Comparing Abraham and his belief that his wife would have a child is much like us in the present age, because it was not something that he could see. He could only take God’ word and have with at He would do what He promised Abraham He would do. Just like today, we need to have the Faith in the things that we have never seen, and in the things we may never see until Christ returns. Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Also, it is only through Christ that we are seen as righteous. There is nothing that we have done on our own to count us as righteous, but it is only through Christ.

  3. In the faith chapter we find that God credits the people as righteousness by faith in God of what to come. Its not a complete full out Jesus is going to come promise but a promise that God will one day redeem his people through a savior, and this is how you would know. Much like modern day we believe that God paid our price it is the same faith that led Abram through his life and ultimately saves him. As in the old testament with the snake on the cross being a simple thing modern day people find the truth of Jesus as too simple, to easy to receive. Yet Jesus himself its faith like a child though children are not as abstract and are more concrete in how they view the world.

    • It has a lot to do with our stubbornness as human beings too. A lot of the time we don’t want our faith in Jesus to be that easy. It seems like it should be harder, so it must have to be. But you are correct that it is as simple as the snake on the scepter. Our salvation is made easy to obtain because Jesus offers it as a free gift. It seems to me that because Christ has already died on the cross and we have the account of it written in the Bible ready for our understanding that our faith is made a lot easier. It would have been much, much more difficult for Abram and the other “faith fathers” to have a solid faith because they were looking toward the coming savior, unaware of what form salvation would come as. For us, we know how salvation came, by Jesus dying, burial, and rising again to pay the penalty for us. Our faith is different but in a sense is easier than the Old Testament believers. Too bad, for most of us we are too stubborn to see how easy Jesus made it for us and to appreciate the immense sacrifice that has been made for us.

  4. I think that the last question you ask in the post is entirely a question of where a Christian bases there identity. It is a question of what you really believe the type of action salvation is. Is a believers righteous standing “on account of their faith”, or is it “because of the faithful act of Jesus on the cross?” It is a really difficult question, and i’m not sure that i really know the answer to it. When God looks at a person, does He see the sin, and negativity that they’re living in, or does He see the kind of person that we have the potential to be? Does God see the faith we have in Him, or the faith He has in us? It seems to me, that God sending His son is, in actuality, and act of belief in us. I think that In Abraham’s case, God counted his righteousness to show His faith in the fact that humans really can be good, and really can act out God’s will on this earth.

  5. One thing that I find so neat about God is His tendency to do things totally differently from how we would do them. Deep down, human beings cling to the ideology of survival of the fittest. In our minds, those who are the best should succeed and get rewarded, but this isn’t how God operates. Paul explains that “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). Whether it be in the case of Gideon, David, or Joseph, God delights in making it clear to us that we do not succeed by our own strength. The same is true of salvation. God is not about to have us try to meet Him halfway, and He certainly wouldn’t want there to be some work on our part that brings us salvation. Not only would our attempt be utterly useless but we would immediately get it into our heads that somehow we were the ones who brought about our own salvation. Knowing this, God took all the responsibility upon Himself and provided salvation without any help from us. Like Abram, all we have to do is have faith.

  6. Paul can compare Abraham’s faith and our faith. With Abraham, he didn’t know if God will surely give him a child or not. He had to trust, and believe in God that God will give him a child one day. Abraham had so much faith in God that he was willing to sacrifice his own son, which God gave him, for God. Just like our faith in today’s world. We don’t know if God will fulfill his promises, but we need to have faith like Abraham had with God. It says in 1 Corinthians 10:13 God is faithful to us, even when we are in difficult times. We need to believe and trust God will come through with his promises to us.

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