What was it that Abraham, the ancestor of the Jews, discovered concerning this matter of justification?
If, in fact, Abraham was justified by what he did, he had something to boast about – though not before God. But what do the scriptures say? They say: ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’
Now to a person who works for somebody, his wages aren’t credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. But to someone else, who hasn’t worked for it, but is trusting God who justifies the ungodly, that person’s faith is credited to him as righteousness. David says exactly the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord won’t count against him.’
Is this blessedness only for people who’ve been circumcised, or also for those who haven’t been circumcised? We’ve been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. But under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? Well, actually, it wasn’t after, but before! And he was given his circumcision as a sign – a seal of the righteousness he’d received by faith when he was still uncircumcised. So then, he’s the father of all who believe but haven’t been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he’s also the father of the circumcised, who not only are circumcised, but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
It wasn’t through the law that Abraham and his descendants received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings judgment. But where there isn’t any law, there isn’t any transgression.
Therefore, the promise is received by faith, so that it comes by grace and is guaranteed to all of Abraham’s descendants – not only to those who are descendants according to the law, but also to those who have the same faith as Abraham. Yes, he’s the father of us all. As has been written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He’s our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
Hoping against hope, Abraham believed – and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – because he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also barren. But he didn’t hesitate because of doubt concerning God’s promise, but he remained strong in faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God could do what he had promised. That’s why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’
These words ‘it was credited to him’ weren’t recorded for Abraham alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – if we believe in him who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead. For he was delivered to death for our sins, but raised to life for our justification.