1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, (Romans 4:1–5, NKJV)
Abraham is the great example of justification by faith and not by works of law. Remember, “works” in Paul’s context is sinlessness – never violating God’s law (Rom. 3:20, 23, 27-28). The boast of justification by works is sinlessness (v. 2). Just one sin forever eliminates the ability to claim justification by works of law. Only sinlessness make righteousness a debt owed (v. 4). Like us, Abraham was a sinner in need of grace. And so, his faith was counted to him for righteousness (v. 3, 5; Gen. 15:6). The nature of Abraham’s faith is described in James 2:21-24. There, Abraham’s works of faith (obedience) were essential to his belief (which was accounted to him for righteousness, cf. Heb. 11:17). Even so today, saving faith is obedient faith, not to earn salvation, but so that we have a complete faith – the kind of faith that is accounted to us for righteousness.