In chapter four of Romans Paul talks about Abraham, the father of the Jewish race. Paul made the statement in chapter 3 that folks are justified by faith and not by the deeds of the Law. In other words, Paul is saying we are accepted by God, not through our service to him, but through our trust in him. If it could be shown that faith is not all that important, Paul could be justifiably branded as a heretical Jew, going about preaching his own brand of religion. However, if Paul is able to show the Scriptures say that men are found righteous through trusting God (faith), then he has made his case. This is why Abraham is so important.
In Romans 4:1-5 Paul claims that God cancelled Abraham’s sins (declared him righteous), because he believed God! Moreover, this can be verified by reading Genesis 15:6, because all Paul was doing was quoting Scripture and commenting on its content. Paul’s argument is founded upon the fact that Abraham was declared righteous because he believed God, and circumcision, which was an act of Abraham’s obedience, came afterward. That is, circumcision became the sign or the seal of righteousness, but what caused God to declare Abraham righteous was the fact that Abraham believed him. Circumcision became the outward sign of the inner commitment. The fact is, lots of people become circumcised today without any implication of righteousness involved. The descendents of Ishmael practiced circumcision, although it was not compulsory, but the act had no reference to righteousness in their culture. They did it merely because Abraham, their father did it, so Paul’s point seems clear, namely, that Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith in God.
If we consider the Law, as Paul was doing in chapter three, we find the same thing. Trying to say that we are justified by the works of the Law is like putting the cart before the horse. You see, folks, the Law, which came hundreds of years afterward, points out iniquity. This is its purpose. The purpose of the Law, and any law for that matter, is to point out or identify what a transgression is. Its purpose is not to point to the one who is righteous.
The Scriptures conclude that God declares those righteous who trust him. Even those who live under the law are not declared righteous, unless they trust God. It is our faith in God—that is, in what God does—that imputes righteousness to us. No matter how hard we try, our own works will not reap the desired result, if we have righteousness in view. Certainly God will reward good deeds, but it is our faith, and not our good deeds that make us righteous.
Now, it is manifest that we are not speaking merely of mental agreement when we speak of faith in God. Faith requires action or risk. I once heard the story of a man who walked on a cable stretching across Niagara Falls from the United States to Canada. When he had done it successfully once, he asked if anyone believed he could do it again. One of his witnesses agreed that he could do it a second time. The man asked if the witness’s trust was strong enough for him to climb up on the man’s shoulders and cross with him on his return journey.
Faith that God accepts is not merely mental agreement. It is the kind of trust that is willing to take the necessary risks that prove one’s faith. So in the end, the faith I have is the faith I show.