Which comes first, Faith or works?…Romans 4

Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.(Romans 4:9-12)

Was Abraham blessed by God because he was circumcised,and kept God’s statutes and commands? Was that how Abraham was so blessed? Or was it the other way around?  That is, that Abraham believed in the gospel, was justified, and as an outcome of that justification, he was circumcised and conformed to God’s will.

Our text tells us that it is the second option.  As a sinner , Abraham believed God,  and was justified before God. All of Abraham’s good works came as a result of his justification, and outflow of being made  the friend of God.

It was while Abraham was uncircumcised, that God reckoned righteousness unto him. All Abraham could say of himself was, that as an idolator , he met the LORD, who told him the good news of the one who would come through his loins, to bless every family on earth.  He simply believed God.

Abraham was justified by God before any of his children were born. But he was not circumcised until his son Ishmael was 13 years old. He was justified well before he rendered any ‘works’ unto God. Saving faith in God’s promise is the cause and not the effect of all good works.

Why does it matter which came first, Abraham’s faith or his works? it matters because it is deeply ingrained in the human heart to want to earn God’s blessings, to put God in debt to ourselves. This is almost the default position of humanity, to try to earn our own way, to obligate God to ourselves by our own works. It is humbling to have to be rescued by a free gift.

It is critical to understand once and for all that God cannot and will not be indebted to any man. The only way to be saved is to humbly accept by faith the gift of God’s righteousness, and that it would be impossible to earn it.

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. (Romans 11:34-36)

The difference between Salvation by God’s grace and a religion that seeks to earn life by works, or obligate God, is the difference between Life and death, pride and humility, true spirituality and humanism, and even ultimately it will be the difference between heaven and hell.

Abraham was not justified by being circumcised , his circumcision came more that thirteen years after his justification. The circumcision was a seal, an evidence of his God given righteousness, it was an effect and not a cause. Abraham the idolator was justified and included in God’s purposes only by the free love and choice of the Holy God.

He is called the Father of all who believe because in Abraham, God  took an idolator,revealed Himself to Him, preached the gospel to him, gave him faith to believe,  justified him, and made him the Father of true faith for all time. That is the story of my life and countless millions of others also.

Though I am not physically a child of Abraham, my encounter with God as a sinner, who simply believed the gospel when it came to me, who was willing as a result of this faith, to “leave my Father’s land and kindred”(morally and spiritually) puts me in spiritual affinity with Abraham.

This is the teaching of Jesus, to the physical seed of Abraham, that it is spiritual affinity with Abraham that counts with God, not physical blood relation alone,

They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham…Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.(John 8:39-40,56)

Therefore Abraham is ever the type , not only of the true Hebrew, (literally means One who crosses over”), but of all believing gentiles. The common thread is faith in the gospel of God. Abraham believed in Jesus, he believed in the gospel, and was justified by God.

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5 Responses to Which comes first, Faith or works?…Romans 4

  1. evie says:

    How wonderfully enlightening is God’s Word. I didn’t know that the word “Hebrew” means ‘one who crosses over.’ The analogy of crossing over from darkness to light, from error to the truth and from Satan’s territory to God’s side. No wonder this old fallen world doesn’t feel like home anymore to those of Abrahams seed.
    Thanks again Ps Bill.

  2. Margaret Webb says:

    Pastor, again we thank you for the clarity with which you present and highlight God’s word, especially instructive for those who might be misled by false teaching.
    This also speaks to the ‘social’ gospel vs the true Gospel, that is being taught and practiced by those pastors, such as John Hagee, who insist-for whatever reason-that the Jews do not need to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ. They need a circumcision of the heart that only faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’s death and ressurection can give. How can one, who should know better, leave them ‘under the law’ when one has the word of God speaking to the situation:

    But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousnmess of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; Romans 3:21-23
    For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified. Romans4:14

  3. Francis says:

    Amen……. Faith, then works, HIS Work, for those of Faith “have been delivered from dead(self) works”…….

    And who is Hebrew in this day and age?

    As you mentioned the root meaning of the word “Hebrew” is “one from beyond” and the first one declared to be a Hebrew was Abraham.

    And Abraham is also the natural father of Faith?

    And “one from beyond” at this time is most definitely one who has been immersed in, of, by and trough The Holy, Set Apart, Spirit…….

    For “THY Kingdom” HAS “Come” and is no longer on the earth, and earthly, but is in Heaven, and Heavenly, no longer of the earth, but WHOLLY of The Spirit, no longer natural, but Spiritual! And so it is that today The True Hebrew(one from beyond) follows The Messiah on The Way to The Truth of The Life…….

    Onward and upward because their “citizenship(Life) is in Heaven”, and so it is they are no longer of those who “love this ..wicked, evil.. world and their own life in it”, for their heart felt desire is to be Home, Home at last…….

    Truly “aliens and pilgrims while on this earth”…….

    “one from beyond”, a Hebrew indeed and Truth!

    Father Help! and HE does…….

    Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this wicked, evil world and it’s systems of religion, for “the WHOLE(not just a portion) world is under the control of the evil one”……. francis

  4. Sue Ackerman says:

    Dear Pastor Bill, I have a question for you. When you say that God gave Abraham faith to believe, does that mean that he gives all men the faith to believe? Is there a scripture that tells us this? The reason I ask is that in my research of the topic “once saved, always saved” I had to investigate this very thing. I thought the scripture would say that God gave a “gift of faith,” but I could not find this anywhere in scripture. Then, I realized that if faith was a gift from God, then everyone would have to be given that gift, or else God would be unjust, favoring some over others (Calvinism). I have heard some preachers say, in defense of OSAS, that “I didn’t do anything to get it (salvation), so I can’t do anything to lose it.” My response to that is that you MUST do something to get it. You must believe, but where does that belief originate, and is that belief the same thing we know of as faith? I know that the Holy Spirit must draw us or we could not come to God at all, but does God give us the faith to believe, and if it originates with him, then why doesn’t everyone have that faith? As far as the Holy Spirit drawing us, Jesus told us if He were lifted up He would draw ALL men unto Himself, so I assume the Holy Spirit draws everyone. Some respond and some do not. That is our choice, but I can’t find anywhere in the scriptures that says that God gives us the faith to believe. I hope I am making myself clear, but this is a difficult topic to articulate. What do the scriptures tell us about this?

  5. Sue Ackerman says:

    I have been studying this some more, and I think I have learned something. In Romans 12:3 it says God gives every man a (or “the” in the KJV) measure of faith, which correlates with Romans 1:18-21. It also explains why people who say they don’t even believe in God cry out to Him in a crisis. I would still like to hear what you have to say on the subject.

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