It Depends on Faith

“That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring — not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16).

- Romans 4:13–25

When we study Paul’s view of the Law, it is essential for us to see that his negative assessment of the Law’s ability to provide justification does not mean that it has no positive role for believers. After all, he does tell us “the law is good, if one uses it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:8).

The works of the Law and faith are not opposed in all respects, otherwise believers could not praise it (James 1:25). For the redeemed, the Mosaic commandments have been fully revealed in the law of Christ, making them a delight and guide for growing in holiness (Matt. 5:17–20; Rom. 13:8–10; Gal. 6:2). Works of the Law and faith are antithetical in justification. Thus upholding the Law drives us to abandon all hope of securing our own righteousness through perfect obedience (Rom. 3:31).

We must understand that the Mosaic law itself understands that no one can perfectly conform to it; thus, sinners cannot be justified by its deeds. True, the Law tells us what must be done to earn right standing with the Lord, and it promises life to those who obey its teachings (Lev. 18:5). However, it also despairs of our ability to do so. The institution of sacrifices to atone for sin assumes that man will fail to obey it perfectly. Moses also directly predicts Israel’s failure to conform to the Law’s precepts (Deut. 31:24–29).

Those of faith in the Old Testament who tried to follow the Law saw their inability to conform to it, and they cast themselves immediately on the Lord alone for their justification (see Ps. 51 and Dan. 9:1–19). Though the Law enjoins faith and works, its insistence on human inability proves that while our obedience affects our sanctification, works of the Law never provided justification for the people of God. The elect of God before and after Christ are justified by faith alone.

This is the point Paul makes in today’s passage. Abraham was justified by faith, by an active trust in the promises of God (Rom. 4:19–20). He was “fully convinced” that the Lord would do what He promised, and therefore he was declared righteous (vv. 21–23). His justification proves that all with faith in the Messiah, Jew or Gentile, gain their right status before God by their faith alone (vv. 24–25).

Coram Deo

All of us face the temptation to believe something more must be done for us to gain right standing with God. Unspoken doubts about our forgiveness can be a sign we think the price Christ paid for us on the cross was not enough. If you are having trouble understanding Christ’s atonement, look to the Word of God and the law of Christ as something to be obeyed in thankfulness and not something to be done to earn forgiveness.

Passages for Further Study

Num. 5:5–10
Ps. 119:65–80
Gal. 3:1–9
1 John 3:4–10

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.