For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
–Romans 4:2

To communicate the truth that salvation is not a reward but a gift for those who trust in Christ, Paul used two illustrations in Romans 4. First of all, he said, consider the life of Abraham. “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (4:1-2).

Abraham is the father of the Jews. To the Jews, no one is more righteous or important than Abraham. One reason the Jews revere Abraham is his obedience to God. If anybody could earn salvation, surely it was Abraham. Consider what he did. In Genesis 12, God called him to go to a new land, so Abraham uprooted his family and went to the land God promised him. In Genesis 18, when God announced His plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham prayed for God’s intervention. And the greatest example of Abraham’s obedience was in Genesis 22, when God said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering” (22:2). If any man could be saved by his righteous acts, surely it was Abraham. Many Jews believe that is exactly how Abraham was made right with God. So Paul said, if you doubt that salvation is by grace and not works, then consider Abraham. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about” (Romans 4:2).

What does the Scripture say about how Abraham was justified? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (4:3). Scripture says that when Abraham believed God, his belief was deposited in his spiritual bank account as righteousness.

When did this transaction occur? In Genesis 15, Abraham just had a successful war against the kings of the East, but he feared they would retaliate. So God gave him this reassurance: “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great” (15:1). What reward was that? It was the reward of a great nation God promised Abraham in Genesis 12. Abraham protested, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless?” (15:2). He was an old man; his wife was an old woman. How was he going to be the father of anything? God took Abraham outside, pointed into the heavens, and said, “Count the stars, if you are able to count them. . . . So shall your descendants be” (15:5). How did Abraham respond? Abraham “believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (15:6). Abraham believed that God would fulfill His promise, and God took his faith and exchanged it for righteousness.

When did this event occur? The timing is important. It happened 13 years before Abraham was circumcised. It happened 400 years before God gave the Law to Moses. That means Abraham was declared righteous before his circumcision and before there was even a Law to obey. It was through faith that God declared Abraham not guilty.

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Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Good News That Is Good but Not New” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2014.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.