The word credit/credited in this chapter is used eleven times (if my count is correct) and along with righteousness seems to be the focal point. Now how often is righteousness used, what is this quality, and how is this righteousness reached? The term righteousness is used eight times and it is the quality of the kingdom where one is in right standing before the judge of heaven that is credited to Abraham because he believes.
Paul now asks about the time in which this righteousness was credited to Abraham: before or after circumcision? Moreover, he asks if this blessing of righteousness is exclusively for circumcised Jews or can uncircumcised Gentiles also partake? Righteousness is for both Jew and Gentile alike. And since Abraham was credited this righteousness before his circumcision (not after) Paul then concludes that righteousness comes from works of faith, rather than works of law:
“9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised;”
Then of what significance is circumcision? It’s a sign, a seal of the righteousness of faith, not faith itself:
“11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.”
Circumcision given after Abraham’s faith was seen as a seal pointing to that faith and also pointing to God’s promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations (made of Jew and Gentile) who would birth the faith of father Abraham. This promise came before the Law not after it; it came through the “righteousness of faith”. Paul continues:
“13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified;”
The apostle presents an “if…(elliptical) then” clause which accentuates that either righteousness comes through faith or by Law, not both. If, as many Jews argued, law keeping made one righteous, then Abraham could not be their father because this ex-pagan’s faith was credited to him as righteousness before any law was given from Sinai. This is a “titanic” declaration that goes contra Jewish understanding of the purpose of the Law. This next verse is puzzling to me:
“15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.”
Is Paul saying that Law produces in us sin and thus results in the meting out of wrath, but when there’s no law there’s no rule to break? Or is Paul saying that the Law never was designed as a means to achieving righteousness, but to show just how deep the pit of sin in us really goes, and when it comes to being credited as righteous through faith, Law is totally out of the equation? Maybe both, but Paul explicates this:
“16 For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,”
Righteousness through faith is what was promised, not through Law, so that Abraham who trusted God’s word of making him a father of many nations is the example to both Jew and Gentile alike. The text says that Abraham’s attitude was a God-centered reality where he knew God had the ability to fulfill what He said, even if with man it was impossible:
“17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. 18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.”
Abraham was an absolute realist. He knew his body and Sarah’s could not produce a child because of their age and body, but he also trusted that God, the Creator, could do what He promised, because He is God!
Abraham’s faith was consistent with his worldview—if God could create heaven and earth and all it contains, then it’s no big deal for Him to give a barren woman and seedless man a child. That’s the nature of saving faith! It trusts the word of the Creator, not blindly, but logically. Yes, logically! Paul ensues:
“22 Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.”
Abraham’s actions revealed the genuineness of his faith. Note that this account occurred before Sinai and was written down for our sakes. It’s as if attention is being brought to the Bible above any other books which contradict it. We have no excuse of being ignorant because it’s written.
This promise (of the Abrahamic faith credited as righteousness) was fulfilled in Christ when he was delivered over by the Father to execution because of our transgressions and He raised Jesus from the grave for our justification (V.25). Thus, the righteousness which comes through faith is that which justifies Jew and Gentile alike. It neither comes through the Law nor circumcision because that was not their purpose. Instead, the righteousness which comes through faith alone is based on God’s grace alone evidenced in the fulfilled promise of Christ Jesus the Lord.