For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.” Romans 4:13-15

The Apostle Paul has made some powerful points about righteousness, justification, the Law, and faith. We’ve most recently seen insights to these truths from the lives of Abraham and David.

In today’s study we’ll see how God’s promise to Abraham, that affects both Jews and Gentiles, is granted through faith.

Verse 13

“For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”

ου γαρ δια νομου η επαγγελια τω αβρααμ η τω σπερματι αυτου το κληρονομον αυτον ειναι του κοσμου αλλα δια δικαιοσυνης πιστεως

ου γαρ δια νομου η επαγγελια (ou gar dia nomou hē epangelia) “not indeed by law the promise was” .. the word epangelia means “announcement, promise” and is almost always used for God’s promises in the New Testament.

τω αβρααμ η τω σπερματι αυτου το κληρονομον αυτον ειναι του κοσμου αλλα δια δικαιοσυνης πιστεως (tō abraau ē tō spermati autou to klēronomon auton einai tou kosmou alla dia dikaiosunēs pisteōs) “to Abraham or the descendants of him that heir he should be of the world but by righteousness of faith”

Paul’s meaning and intent is clear. Abraham and his descendants did not become “the heir of the world” through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.

This is the primary point of Paul’s letter. Righteousness is by “faith alone.”

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22

“… being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 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, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” Romans 3:24-31

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 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

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. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 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, 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 stilluncircumcised.” Romans 4:9-12

Paul was consistent in his message. Righteousness is not faith plus anything. It is by “faith alone.”

Verse 14

“For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect”

ει γαρ οι εκ νομου κληρονομοι κεκενωται η πιστις και κατηργηται η επαγγελια

ει γαρ οι εκ νομου κληρονομοι (ei gar oi ek nomou klēronomoi) “if indeed those of law are heirs” .. klēronomoi comes from klḗros (lot) and nemō (to distribute, allot) .. it means “an inheritor, heir”

κεκενωται η πιστις (kekenōtai hē pistis) “has been made void the faith” .. kekenōtai means “deprive of content, empty, make unreal”

και κατηργηται η επαγγελ (kai katērgētai hē epangel) “and made of no effect the promise” .. katērgētai means “make idle, rendering inert, cause to cease, make invalid”

Paul presents the opposite side of verse 13 (“not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith”). If those who are heirs are “of the law,” then faith is made empty and unreal and the promise is made invalid.

Think about that! The “law” makes God’s promise invalid. It also voids “faith,” if the heirs are “of the law.”

Why is that?

Verse 15

“because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.”

ο γαρ νομος οργην κατεργαζεται ου γαρ ουκ εστιν νομος ουδε παραβασις

ο γαρ νομος οργην κατεργαζεται (ho gar nomos orgēn katergazetai) “indeed law wrath brings” .. orgēn is the same word we saw earlier in Romans when Paul wrote about the “wrath” of God .. katergazetai means “work out, produce, accomplish, bring about”

Paul points out the problem with the Law – it produces “wrath.”

ου γαρ ουκ εστιν νομος ουδε παραβασις (ou gar ouk estin nomos oude parabasis) “where indeed no there is law neither is transgression” .. parabasis means “overstepping, deviation”

Paul is getting to the heart of what God did for us in Jesus Christ. The Law brings about wrath (God’s wrath), but there is no deviation, overstepping, transgression where there is no law.

God promised Abraham that he would be “heir of the world.” God also promised that to Abraham’s descendants. How would Abraham and his descendants receive the promise? By obedience to God’s commands? That’s certainly important, but is that what God said to Abraham about the promise?

“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Romans 4:3

Paul was quoting from Genesis 15:6:

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” Genesis 15:4-6

Righteousness could never have come from keeping the Law, Paul wrote, because that would have invalidated the principle of faith –

“faith is made void and the promise made of no effect”

How could it be of “faith” if it was contingent on obeying the Law? It couldn’t! The very thing the Jews were counting on to receive God’s approval was the very thing that emphasized their unrighteousness.

Paul addressed this very issue years earlier when he wrote to the Galatian Gentile Christians who were being encouraged by Judaizers to change from faith-trusting to Law-keeping  –

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursediseveryone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Yet the law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them.’ Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursediseveryone who hangs on a tree’), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3:10-14

Paul had a powerful grasp on reality. He understand the truth about righteousness and faith and explained it clearly to his readers in Rome.

Other Commentators

“Abraham was the father of all who walk in his steps. For this all is not limited by the Law any more than it is limited by circumcision. The promise of that world-wide inheritance was not given through the agency of the Law (which at that time did not exist), but as an effect of the righteousness which proceeds from faith. This Messianic kingdom cannot have anything to do with law; for if it had, faith and the promise would cease to have any office. Faith and law cannot co-exist. They are the opposites of each other. The proper effect of law is punishment; for law only exposes sin. Faith, on the other hand, is the real key to the inheritance. It sets in motion grace; and grace, unlike law, excludes no one. It is open alike to the legal and to the spiritual descendants of Abraham; in other words (as the Scripture itself testifies), to all mankind, as the representative of whom Abraham stands before God. But in reality the Law is unable to admit them to this. It has an entirely contrary function—namely, to call down punishment upon the offences that it reveals. The Law and faith, therefore, mutually exclude each other, and faith is left to be the sole arbiter of salvation.” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

“The promise was made to Abraham long before the law. It points at Christ, and it refers to the promise, Ge 12:3. In Thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. The law worketh wrath, by showing that every transgressor is exposed to the Divine displeasure. As God intended to give men a title to the promised blessings, so he appointed it to be by faith, that it might be wholly of grace, to make it sure to all who were of the like precious faith with Abraham, whether Jews or Gentiles, in all ages. The justification and salvation of sinners, the taking to himself the Gentiles who had not been a people, were a gracious calling of things which are not, as though they were; and this giving a being to things that were not, proves the almighty power of God. The nature and power of Abraham’s faith are shown. He believed God’s testimony, and looked for the performance of his promise, firmly hoping when the case seemed hopeless. It is weakness of faith, that makes a man lie poring on the difficulties in the way of a promise. Abraham took it not for a point that would admit of argument or debate. Unbelief is at the bottom of all our staggerings at God’s promises. The strength of faith appeared in its victory over fears. God honours faith; and great faith honours God. It was imputed to him for righteousness. Faith is a grace that of all others gives glory to God. Faith clearly is the instrument by which we receive the righteousness of God, the redemption which is by Christ; and that which is the instrument whereby we take or receive it, cannot be the thing itself, nor can it be the gift thereby taken and received. Abraham’s faith did not justify him by its own merit or value, but as giving him a part in Christ.” Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary

“The argument of Romans 4:9-12 is reiterated and confirmed here in other terms. Abraham is the father of all believers: for it is not through law that the promise is given to him or his seed, that he should be heir of the world—a condition which would limit the inheritance to the Jews, but through the righteousness of faith—a condition which extends it to all who believe. We might have expected a quasi-historical proof of this proposition, similar to the proof given in 10 f. that Abraham’s justification did not depend on circumcision. But the Apostle takes another and more speculative line. Instead of arguing from the O.T. narrative, as he does in Galatians 3:14-17, that the promise was given to a justified man before the (Mosaic) law was heard of, and therefore must be fulfilled to all independently of law, he argues that law and promise are mutually exclusive ideas. For (Romans 4:14) if those who are of law, i.e., Jews only, as partisans of law, are heirs, then faith (the correlative of promise) has been made vain, and the promise of no effect. And this incompatibility of law and promise in idea is supported by the actual effect of the law in human experience. For the law works wrath—the very opposite of promise. But where there is not law, there is not even transgression, still less the wrath which transgression provokes. Here, then, the other series of conceptions finds its sphere: the world is ruled by grace, promise and faith. This is the world in which Abraham lived, and in which all believers live; and as its typical citizen, he is father of them all.” Expositor’s Greek Testament

“By the phrase ‘righteousness of faith’ we are not to understand that the faith exercised by the sinner is righteous in quality. The promise was made to Abraham not upon the basis of any attempted obedience to the law on his part but because of that faith which her exercised, which faith was of such a nature as to cause God to put righteousness down to his account.” Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, Kenneth Wuest, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

“To show that the faith of Abraham, on which his justification depended, was not by the Law, the apostle proceeds to show that the promise concerning which his faith was so remarkably evinced was before the Law was given. If this was so, then it was an additional important consideration in opposition to the Jew, showing that acceptance with God depended on faith, and not on works.” Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible

“He now more clearly sets the law and faith in opposition, the one to the other, which he had before in some measure done; and this ought to be carefully observed: for if faith borrows nothing from the law in order to justify, we hence understand, that it has respect to nothing else but to the mercy of God. And further, the romance of those who would have this to have been said of ceremonies, may be easily disproved; for if works contributed anything towards justification, it ought not to have been said, through the written law, but rather, through the law of nature. But Paul does not oppose spiritual holiness of life to ceremonies, but faith and its righteousness. The meaning then is, that heirship was promised to Abraham, not because he deserved it by keeping the law, but because he had obtained righteousness by faith. And doubtless (as Paul will presently show) consciences can then only enjoy solid peace, when they know that what is not justly due is freely given them. Hence also it follows, that this benefit, the reason for which applies equally to both, belongs to the Gentiles no less than to the Jews; for if the salvation of men is based on the goodness of God alone, they check and hinder its course, as much as they can, who exclude from it the Gentiles.” Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible

Next Time

We will follow Paul’s amazing logic in Romans 4 as we continue our study of the Gospel of God.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.