Moving along, from Paul’s argument (3:21-31) that the establishment of the Law and the Prophets is the fulfillment of their message in Christ. Here, both Jew and Gentile (who are presently condemned) can be justified by faith as a gift through grace by the redemption Christ alone offers.
Now, Paul continues unfolding the meaning of justification through grace alone apart from the Law by using Abraham as the example. Consider this:
“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 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 credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,”
Here, it seems to be clear that if Abraham were to be justified by the Law (which he wasn’t) he still could not boast before God—point? But Abraham was justified by trusting in God. This trust is not like the employee/employer relationship where the two need each other in order to flourish. Instead, Abraham is receiving God’s favor because he trusts in God’s word of promise which precedes the Law. The fact is that when one works for something, his wage is earned and justly due. But the way to having righteousness credited to our account (as it was to Abraham) comes by faith alone, not by works as David attests:
“6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. 8 “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”
Paul seems to be clearly establishing that righteousness is not something our souls intrinsically possess, but is a state of affairs credited to us because the believer trusts in God’s word of promise. If that is labeled a “work” then it is a “work of faith/trust”, not a “work of Law”. The former receives praise from God (2:29) and the latter gets the applause of man.