What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about — but not before God. What does Scripture say?Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.Romans 4:1-3
Paul says that Abraham our forefather discovered two ways to gain worth: One, Paul suggests, is by works. Abraham was a man of good works. In Genesis, Abraham was an idolator and worshipped the moon goddess. But he was not deliberately seeking to evade God. He worshipped in ignorance. It was in the midst of that condition that God appeared to him and spoke to him. Abraham believed God, responded to his call, and set out on a march without a map. He trusted God to lead him to a land he had never seen before, to take care of his family, and to fulfill his promises. So Abraham appears in the Scripture as a man of great works.
Paul admits that if Abraham was righteous because of works, he had something to boast about. Works always give you something to boast about. You can look at the record, you can show people what you have done and why you ought to be appreciated. You may not boast openly, but we all have very subtle ways and clever tricks of getting it out into the open so people can see what we have done. You can drop a hint of something you have done, hoping that people will ask some more about it. Somehow you manage things so that people will know you are a person of significance. That is the way the world is today, and the way it was in Abraham's day.
That may work before men, but not before God. God is never impressed by that kind of performance. God, who sees the heart, is not looking at outward performance. He knows the selfishness, the greed, the grasping, the self-centeredness, the ruthlessness with which we cut people out and harm those we profess to love. He sees all the maneuvering and manipulating, the clever arranging that goes on in our lives and in our hearts. Therefore that beautiful performance is utterly invalid, worthless, to God. That is why the sense of righteousness that results from our performance before men never lasts. It is but a temporary shot in the arm that we need to repeat again and again, almost as though we were addicted to it. But it will always let us down in the hour of crisis. It is only the righteousness that comes from God that is lasting and will work — not only in time, but for all eternity. That is what Abraham discovered. He discovered that righteousness which comes from performance is worthless.
How did he discover this? Paul refers to the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, where God appeared before Abraham. He took him out one night and showed him the stars in the heavens.
Abraham, look up! Abraham looked up into the stillness of the night, with the stars blazing in all their glory. God said to him,
If you can number those stars, you can number your descendants. Their number will be far more than all the stars of heaven. Paul says,
Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness — self-worth, standing before God, acceptance, a sense of love and value in the sight of God.
Abraham believed God, but we have to be careful.
Interestingly enough, when James quotes this passage from Genesis 15 he says,
Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, then he adds,
and he was called God's friend, (James 2:23). That is acceptance, isn't it? Abraham became God's friend, not because he behaved so well, or because he was a godly man and obeyed God, he became the friend of God because he believed God's promise. Abraham is a beautiful example of what Paul is talking about here in Romans.
Father, forgive me for any lingering desire in my heart to try to earn a standing before you, for any hungering after the righteousness that comes from men. Help me to live and operate by faith as Abraham did.
Does our standing with our Holy God differ from that of Abraham? How does this affect our walk of faith? Do we continue to earn our worth by affecting good works?