33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:33–34, NKJV)
Sin deceives, corrupts and destroys. The temptation to fulfill the lusts of the flesh immediately and repeatedly lures the naive to their own destruction, and captures those who are very familiar with the depths of Satan (Rev. 2:24). It is foolish to convince ourselves that evil companions have no impact on us. If light and salt influence the world for righteousness, then darkness and bitterness have their corrupting influence, too (Matt. 5:13-16). Being a Christian means having drastically different values and practices from those who do not follow Jesus. We do not live by the motto, “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” even though many around us do (1 Cor. 15:32). We must not define and measure righteousness by those who do not know God. The Lord does that for us in His word. Jesus commands us not to sin precisely because we know the truth (Jno. 8:31-32). We need to wake up and not sin. If we slumber and let the world influence us to sin, then we will die with the world (1 Thess. 5:5-10).
11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. (Romans 4:11–12, NKJV)
God commanded circumcision of Abraham as a “sign of the covenant” He made with him (Gen. 17:1-14, esp. 10-11). The apostle calls attention to that historic moment. Like a seal marking authenticity, Abraham’s circumcision served as a sign or indicator “of the righteousness of the faith which he had” while still uncircumcised. This distinction is notable and confirms the blessings of Abraham are offered to all (Jews and Gentiles). It also confirms that faith is the means of justification, not the works of the law of Moses (Rom. 4:13). Verse 12 says Abraham is the father of those who “walk in the steps of the faith” he had before circumcision. Walking is active. Thus, faith is active – it involves steps. Faith obeys God, just like father Abraham. He did not earn the blessings of the covenant through keeping law. He was sinner, saved “by grace, through faith” (Rom. 4:1-5). His (obedient) faith expressed his trust in God, and his faith was accounted to him for righteousness. Obedient faith is the only kind of faith that saves us (Jas. 2:17, 20-24).
9 Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:9–10, NKJV)
The blessedness of which Paul speaks is the forgiveness of sins, given by God as He imputes righteousness to sinners by faith (Rom. 4:5-8). This blessed forgiveness is available to all, and is revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19-20; Rom. 1:16-17). Those who tried to define forgiveness through keeping the law of the circumcised (the Law of Moses given to the Jews) failed to recognize that Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness while he was uncircumcised (Gen. 15:6). Binding any part of the Law of Moses as essential for salvation is inconsistent with this fact (Acts 15:5-11). When we “walk in the steps of the faith” that Abraham had (while he was still uncircumcised), our faith will also be accounted to us for righteousness. Justifying faith is active (it is a walk), it is obedient. We walk in the footsteps of Abraham when we obey the gospel by believing in Christ, confessing our faith, repenting and being baptized (Jno. 8:24; Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 2:37-38). God is not a respecter of persons. Whoever “fears Him” and “works righteousness” is “accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35). We are justified by faith when we believe and obey God like Abraham did (Jas. 2:20-24).
6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” (Romans 4:6–8, NKJV)
Abraham was not the only person justified by faith. Truly, everyone who is justified will be justified by faith, not by works of law. The reason is clear – “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). Importantly, it was Abraham’s faith that was accounted to him for righteousness (Rom. 4:3). The same is true of every soul who is justified by faith – “his faith is accounted to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). David supported this vital truth in Psalms 32:1-2, which Paul now quotes (v. 7-8). The Lord does not charge the account of the sinner who is justified by faith. Instead, God accounts that person’s faith for righteousness. (Remember, saving faith is includes obedience to God – the works of faith. It is this complete or “perfect” faith that justifies the sinner, Jas. 2:20-24.) This verse does not say the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner. It supports the truth of Genesis 15:6 that is quoted in Romans 4:3, “Abraham believed God, and it (Abraham’s faith, jrp) was accounted to him for righteousness.” When we have the type of faith Abraham and David had, our sins are forgiven because our faith (like theirs) is imputed to us (put to our account) for righteousness.
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.
25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25–26, NKJV)
God put forth Christ Jesus as our means of obtaining mercy for our sins. His death is the atoning sacrifice that appeases God’s just wrath against our sins. This means of justifying sinners is “by His grace” and “through faith” (Rom. 3:24-25). God’s way of justifying sinners 3:21-22) through “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24), and demonstrates two aspects of God’s personal righteousness. First, God’s forbearance is witnessed in the restraint He exercised in not exacting just punishment against all sinners before Christ’s death (v. 25). God’s forbearance is witnessed in the sacrifice of Jesus, which atones for sins under the law of Moses (the Jews) as well as the sins of the Gentiles. Secondly, God’s personal righteousness is vindicated in the justice of this divine arrangement (v. 26). God did not acquit sinners without an acceptable sacrifice. He did not condone or ignore their sin. He has provided a way of justification for all sinners. God is shown to be just when justifies (acquits of guilt) sinners through faith in Jesus (Rom. 1:16-17).
21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:21–23, NKJV)
Law identifies sin, but it cannot save the sinner (Rom. 3:19-20). How God justifies the sinner is revealed in the gospel of Christ, not in the law of Moses (Rom. 1:16-17). God’s redemption is “apart from the law,” that is, the Law of Moses could not justify sinners. (Christians who attempt to justify themselves with the Law of Moses “have fallen from grace,” Galatians 5:4.) The “righteousness of God” in today’s verse is the means by which God counts sinners righteous (Rom. 1:17). How God does this is testified of by the Law and the Prophets, and is accomplished “through faith in Jesus Christ” to all who believe (whether Jews or Gentiles). Since all have sinned, no one attains to the glory of God on his own. That would require sinlessness. The sinless person is the only one who could earn justification as a debt owned (Rom. 4:1-5). Since we are all sinners, no one can earn the right to be saved. We need grace to be justified (Rom. 3:24). This is a far cry from denying the need to obey God to be saved. Without obedient faith we are lost (Acts 10:34-35; Heb. 5:8-9; 11:6). Obeying Jesus does not earn salvation, it is trusting Christ to save us because we have the faith to obey Him.
19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19–20, NKJV)
Jesus respected and obeyed the Law of Moses, and, He taught those who lived under it to do the same. But, Jesus speaks here to more than faithfully keeping the Law of Moses. He drives to the heart of righteousness in the kingdom of heaven (the Son’s kingdom, which is His church, Matthew 16:18-19; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:22-23, 28). The scribes and Pharisees hypocritically strained at gnats and swallowed camels by emphasizing parts of Moses’ law while abandoning “justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23-24). That was their form of righteousness. But, righteousness in the kingdom is not about selecting some commands and ignoring others. It is not about displaying ourselves so others will praise us (Matthew 6:1, 5, 16). Greatness in the kingdom of heaven is about a heart and life that “does and teaches” all of God’s commands (Matthew 5:19). That is how we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. (Matthew 5:17–18, NKJV)
Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the prophets, not to invalidate them. He did exactly that as He fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law (He never sinned against it). Thus, Scripture says Jesus Christ is “the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, ‘The man who does those things shall live by them’” (Romans 10:4-5). Jesus was the aim or outcome of the Law to believers. Jesus is the Messiah who fulfilled the Law and the prophets, becoming the perfect and adequate sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 5:8; 10:5-10). Therefore, Jesus was fulfilling the Law and the prophets as He was preaching “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23; 5:2; Luke 4:16-21). To conclude Jesus was preaching the Law to Jews to teach them how to be faithful Jews misses this fundamental point. Jesus came teaching His gospel, which contains the righteousness of faith (Romans 10:6; 1:16-17). We must hear Jesus because, as God’s Son, He fulfilled the Law and the prophets (Matthew 17:5; Hebrews 1:1-2).
5 The righteousness of the blameless will direct his way aright, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness. 6 The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the unfaithful will be caught by their lust.” (Proverbs 11:5–6, NKJV)
To be blameless does not mean one has never sinned or has never failed in some spiritual responsibility. All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). However, the blameless person takes responsibility for his sin and corrects it according to God’s will. Therefore, no charge of ongoing sin can be properly laid against him; He is “upright” (v. 6). He is directed by righteousness and walks uprightly in the light of God’s truth (1 John 1:7-9). By contrast, the wicked person falls in his wickedness because he does not seek the righteousness of God (Matthew 6:33; Romans 1:16-17). This person is captured by his own lust and lost in sin (James 4:1-4). Which person are you? Are you directed by truth and delivered by righteousness from the pains and trials of evil? Or, are you unfaithful to the Lord, driven by lusts that bring sin’s suffering to your life? Salvation and blamelessness are possible through Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 1:12-17). The choice is yours, and its result will be everlasting.