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OUR FAITH WILL BE RECKONED TO US AS RIGHTEOUSNESS
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, 29th Week of the Year, October 21, 2019
Romans 4:20-25, Luke one, Luke 12:13-21


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

20 “No distrust made him [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was ‘reckoned to him as righteousness.’ 23 But the words, ‘it was reckoned to him,’ were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:20-25).

 

 

St. Paul continues today to use the example of Abraham’s faith to teach us that justification comes to us through faith, not through works. This means that we are set right and made right with God not because of our good works or moral life or obedience to God’s moral law, as though being right with God were something that we could earn or merit by our works. The only way that we can be made right with God is by the work of God’s Son on the cross, whereby he made full reparation for our sins by suffering our just penalty for them for us as our substitute. When we put our faith in Christ, God considers his suffering and death as paying our debt of suffering and death that we have with God in punishment for our sins. God therefore acquits us of our sins and declares us ungodly sinners righteous.

 

 

We are now righteous because our just punishment for our sins has been fully paid for by Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. The all-just God can therefore in all justice declare us ungodly sinners righteous in his sight.

 

 

The wonder of it all is that if it is God himself that declares us righteous, then we are righteous indeed. His mere declaration that we are righteous makes us righteous (Romans 5:19), because his word accomplishes what it says, for God could hardly say something that is false, namely that we are righteous if we were not truly and really righteous.

 

 

St. Paul argues that Abraham is an example of all of this, for this same thing happened to him. Let us now look at today’s reading to see exactly how St. Paul makes his argument.

 

 

Romans 4:20-21. Here St. Paul speaks about Abraham’s great faith in God, namely that he would fulfill his promise to make him a great nation through his wife Sarah, even though he was about a hundred years old and still had no child by her. This is how strong Abraham’s faith was. “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21.

 

 

Romans 4:22. So strong was Abraham’s faith that God “reckoned his faith to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:22). “That is why his faith was ‘reckoned to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:22). The words in single quotation marks are a quotation of Genesis 15:6, namely that God reckoned Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness. This line is the key to this whole chapter, for what God did to Abraham, he does to us who put our faith in Christ. Abraham became righteous before God, because God declared him righteous, not on the basis of any works of his, but on the basis of his great and strong faith in God. The same thing will happen to us. This is the point St. Paul makes next.

 

 

Romans 4:23-24. In these two verses St. Paul makes the comparison between Abraham’s faith and our faith; between the result of Abraham’s faith (being declared righteous) and the result of our faith (also being declared righteous by God). Here is what St. Paul says, “But the words, “‘it was reckoned to him [as righteousness],’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us [as righteousness] who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord” (Romans 4:23-24).

 

 

St. Paul is making the point that if we put our faith in Christ, God will count his atoning, vicarious death on the cross for our sins as making full reparation for them, and so will credit our personal account with his suffering and death as payment of our debt of suffering and death that we have with God in punishment for our sins.

 

 

So, since our debt of punishment for our sins has been fully paid for us by Christ on the cross, when we put our faith in him, God reckons our faith to us as righteousness, meaning God declares us righteous, since our sins have been fully paid for and punished in Christ’s death on the cross. Therefore the case of Abraham was not some unique case that only happened to him, but rather what happened to Abraham will also happen to everyone that has the faith of Abraham.

 

 

When the Scripture says in Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 quoted in Romans 4:3) this teaches us that we will also become righteous in the same way that Abraham became righteous, namely through our faith, not through our works.

 

 

We would expect St. Paul to say that what happened to Abraham will also happen to us who believe in Christ and in his atoning death; but he doesn’t say this. Rather he says that what happened to Abraham will happen to us too, because “It [righteousness] will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord” (Romans 4:24). “It is somewhat unusual for him [Paul] to designate God himself as the object of Christian faith [usually it is Christ; that is, faith in Christ]. Undoubtedly he does so here to bring Christian faith into the closest possible relation to Abraham’s faith. Not only is our faith of the same nature as Abraham’s; it ultimately has as its object the same God” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (The New International Commentary on the New Testament; Eerdman’s, 1996), page 287-288). Since St. Paul is trying to draw a parallel here between us and Abraham, who didn’t know about Christ, but simply had faith in the God who revealed himself to him, so the parallel to us is the same. Like Abraham, we also need to have faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. If we do, the same thing will happen to us that happened to Abraham. We will be justified; that is, declared righteous by God.

 

 

Romans 4:25. In this final verse of chapter four of Romans St. Paul sums up the mystery of justification by faith, not by our works, because of Christ’s death on the cross that atoned for our sins. St. Paul says that Jesus our Lord is the one “who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Why was Jesus put to death? It was for our sins, or he was put to death because of our sins in order that we might be acquitted of them and declared righteous. And why was Jesus raised from the dead? It was for our justification, that is, for the sake of our justification, so that we might be justified.

 

 

We should not understand here that Christ’s death is not the cause for our justification, but only his resurrection caused our justification. His death and resurrection go together as really one mystery, one saving action. His resurrection completed his death. If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, we would not have been redeemed by his death. His resurrection shows that his death succeeded in doing what it was meant to do, namely make full satisfaction and reparation for our sins so that we might be justly acquitted of them and declared righteous by an all-just as well as all-merciful God. In other words, his resurrection completes the work of his death. So actually we should take this as saying that we are justified by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

 

 

“We should certainly not take the second clause [about being justified by Christ’s resurrection] to mean that the resurrection was the sole cause of our justification. Paul can also say that we are ‘justified by his blood’ (5:9)” (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (The Pillar New Testament Commentary; Eerdman’s, 1988), page 215). Douglas Moo also makes the same point, “The division of the lines [Christ was put to death for our trespasses, and then the second part that he was raised for our justification] may be purely for rhetorical effect, the whole formula saying no more than that Jesus’ death and resurrection are basic to the believer’s salvation” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, page 289).

 

 

This doctrine has tremendous importance for us today. All of us stand unworthy before God because of our sins. We are not righteous before God by our own merits or by anything that we have done to earn our justification. How can we be saved out of this terrible condition? We are justified only by faith in Jesus Christ and in his atoning death, for when we put our trusting faith in him and in his vicarious death, as our substitute, suffering for us the penalty that we should suffer for our sins, God counts Christ’s suffering as substituting for our suffering and declares us righteous.

 

 

In this way Jesus fulfills the sin offerings of the Old Testament, whereby an animal is indicated as the sinner’s substitute by placing his hand on its head and then slaying it before the Lord, indicating that the animal bears the sinner’s punishment for his sins for him, and then its blood is sprinkled by the priest around the altar, and so atonement is made for his sins.

 

 

This was the symbol that God gave Israel to prepare them for the only sacrifice that actually does atone for our sins, namely that of Jesus Christ the only Son of God on the cross. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah symbolizes a future human sin offering, which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. For “the Lord has laid on him [the Suffering Servant, fulfilled in Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). And then our sins were punished in his flesh. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

 

 

Just because we are justified by faith, not by works, does not mean that works are not important, for they are. Once justified by faith, we must immediately begin to follow God’s moral law, which our justification now both enables and obliges us to keep, with the result that we will grow thereby in holiness (sanctification).

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