Accounted as Righteousness (Romans 4:1-5)
One Sunday after worship, Tammy, the boys, and I went to Red Lobster for a nice meal. When we were finished, the waiter brought the check by, and I reached in my pocked for my wallet, but it wasn’t there! I wasn’t terribly concerned, because we could use Tammy’s card to pay. But then I saw the look in her eyes—she didn’t have her wallet, either!
We needed credit, and we needed it then. I was humiliated! Tammy stayed at Red Lobster with the boys while I went and got my wallet and credit card. The staff at the restaurant was wonderful to Tammy and the boys—they kept getting them drinks and bringing them cheddar biscuits—but I never want to do that again!
I’m the only one here who’s had such an experience, right? You’ve never gotten up to the cash register at Target only to learn you’ve maxed out your credit card. Years ago, when you paid by check, you never went to the grocery store, did your shopping, and then realized you left your checkbook at home. You’ve certainly never had a check to bounce. You’ve never been in a tight spot when just a little more credit could help.
We’re humans. We’re going to have banking difficulties of one kind or another. We might miss a decimal when we’re balancing the checkbook, we might overspend without realizing it, or we might forget our cards at home.
But Paul explained that God is the perfect accountant. Paul quoted Genesis 15:6 and said, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Rom 4:3). The Greek term for “counted” meant “to enter in the account book;” the accountant was giving someone credit for money he didn’t have.
God credited Abraham with righteousness based on his faith. Abraham didn’t have any righteousness on his own; Paul had just declared, “None [including Abraham] is righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10). Abraham had been an idolator, he took Lot with him when God told him to leave his family behind, and he lied about Sarah. But Abraham believed, and God accounted him with righteousness.
You’re like Abraham—you don’t have any righteousness based on your own merit. I mentioned some of Abraham’s sins; would you want me to mention some of your sins publicly? But Abraham’s example shows you have hope, for “God credits anyone who trusts him with righteousness.”
Scripture (Romans 4:1-5)
Paul wrote Romans to heal divisions between Jew and Gentile believers. In the first three chapters, Paul made clear that everyone—Jew and Gentile—is a sinner, and he concluded chapter three by saying that a person is made right before God through faith and not the law. The Jews were probably thinking, “Wait a minute, Paul! What about Abraham?” Paul answered that question in this paragraph.
Abraham could have boasted had he had been justified by his works. He could have told everyone how great he was, all the great things he had done, and how he had earned his righteousness and salvation.
But in that scenario, Abraham could not have boasted before Almighty God. Why could Abraham not boast before God?
- God knew Abraham’s sins, but God himself has no sin.
- God knew that Abraham could never earn his salvation.
Abraham could never have boasted about his great righteousness before a holy God.
“What does the Scripture say?” The inspired apostle turned to Scripture to see what God had revealed.
“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” In Genesis 15, God promised to make Abraham the father of many nations, and notice the text carefully: The text does not say that Abraham believed there is a God nor does the text say that Abraham believed what God told him—rather, the text says, “Abraham believed God.”
Abraham put his trust, his confidence, and his assurance in God—Abraham knew that every word God uttered was true. And that confidence prompted Abraham to act—he left Ur of the Chaldeans, he knew without a single doubt he would have a son, he and his household were circumcised, and he attempted to sacrifice his only son at God’s word. Abraham’s faith wasn’t saying that there is a God or even going to church a couple times a week—Abraham’s faith changed his whole life.
Because of that trust, God credited Abraham with righteousness—God, because of Abraham’s faith, looked at him and saw him as righteous.
If you work, you earn wages, not a gift. But if you do not work and trust the One who justifies the ungodly, your faith is credited as righteousness. You are a sinner and you absolutely cannot earn your salvation, but if you trust God, he will credit your account as righteous—in other words, God will view you as righteous.
God justifies the “ungodly.” The Greek term for “ungodly” is a strong word and means a person who commits sacrilege—a vile, evil, and wicked person. But even the most ungodly and wicked person can believe the Lord and have righteousness credited to his account.
The most wicked and vile person can be credited as righteous because “God credits anyone who trusts him with righteousness.” Abraham’s life radically changed when he trusted the Lord. How should your life radically change because “God credits anyone who trusts him with righteousness?”
You cannot boast about your great works. Had Abraham been justified by works, he could have boasted about it, but justification comes through faith, not works. Paul himself had reasons to boast: Philippians 3:4-6. Before God, however, Paul had no reason to boast.
You cannot boast before God. I don’t care what great things you’ve done—how many meals you’ve prepared for the sick or how many Bible classes you’ve taught or how many times you’ve taken someone to the doctor or how many people you’ve led to Jesus or how much you’re contributed to the Lord’s work or how many times you’ve prayed for your brethren.
Why can you not boast before God?
You are a sinner.
“None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). One who is a sinner cannot go into God’s presence and boast about all the good he has done, because:
Jesus had to die for your sins.
God gave his only Son for your sins. “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3). “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet 1:18-19). Read those three verses over and over, but take out “our” and “your” and read your own name there. How dare you boast about all that you’ve done when Jesus Christ had to die for your sins!
Good works are your duty.
“When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Lk 17:10). Get in your very soul that what good you do is your duty to God.
What caused Abraham to trust God in Genesis 15:6? God told Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. . . . So shall your offspring be” (Gen 15:5). Abraham heard God’s voice.
If you are to trust God, you need to hear God’s voice in Scripture. Scripture increases faith. John 20:30-31. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17).
Bible study increases your trust in God. How is your attendance at Bible study? This church needs to do better with Bible class attendance. Make communal Bible study a priority in your life and allow the word of God to penetrate your heart and create trust.
Abraham believed God; you need to believe God. Abraham did not simply believe there is a God; Abraham trusted God. Because Abraham trusted God, he picked up and moved when God told him to; he knew that he would have a son, although he and Sarah were long past childbearing years; and he placed that son of promise on an altar to sacrifice him because God said to do it. That’s what believing God really means—you set aside all human reason, you trust every word God has said, and you live your life in full assurance of faith.
How much do you trust God? Do you obey God even when it goes against what you want? Do you obey God even when it goes against what everybody else thinks? Do you obey God even when it doesn’t make sense?
When is the last time you stepped out on faith? When is the last time you really needed courage to obey the words of Scripture? When is the last time your acting on faith went against what your family and friends thought? When is the last time you obeyed God although it went against everything you thought and you wanted?
How much do you really trust God? Do you need to trust him this morning and act accordingly?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.