Romans 4:16-17 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Romans 4:16
  • Romans 4:17

No one can live up to God’s standard; we are saved by grace through faith. Every person, in every nation who believes is made a part of Abraham’s family and therefore a part of Abraham’s inheritance—because Abraham is the father of all who believe.

Since law is not operative to bring us righteousness, then faith has to be the instrument. Otherwise there would be no righteousness, because we cannot be good enough rule keepers to be justified before God. As Paul said in Romans 4:2, even Abraham, the friend of God, did not earn any justification before God. Abraham’s deeds were amazing, perhaps better than any other, but that comparison means nothing to God; God has His own standard. What God has chosen to do is to deem Jesus’ work as meeting the standard on our behalf.

The word “grace” appears over twenty times in Romans, and is a key point the Apostle Paul hammers home. The competing Jewish “authorities” claim adherence to the law as a necessity for righteousness; Paul asserts this is not what the Bible teaches, that even the Jewish heroes Abraham and King David were made righteous before God by grace through faith, and that grace is available to all. It is available to law keepers and to lawbreakers.

The wonderful thing is that none of us can nullify God’s grace by our own faults, we cannot out-sin the grace of God. Jews who keep the religious laws, perhaps even these, who are slandering Paul, are the faith-children of Abraham if they believe. The Gentiles, who do not keep the religious laws, are also made Abraham’s children by faith. Abraham is the father of all who believe, irrespective of the religious practices they do or don’t do.

It is interesting to reflect how irritated the religious authorities were at Jesus for not obeying their rules. Their rules came about by their interpretation of how to meticulously keep the law of Moses. However, Jesus said they had missed the point because God gave the law to be a blessing, but they had made it a burden. The great irony is that the law is a reflection of Jesus, so in a way the religious leaders were mad at Jesus because He did not look like they expected from having studied Jesus’ shadow.

Paul continues the thought that Abraham is the father of all who are of faith, of law keepers as well as lawbreakers. And that means Abraham is the father of anyone God declares righteous because they believe His promise. “Many nations” refers to those nations not a part of Israel. Every person, in every nation who believes is made a part of Abraham’s family and therefore a part of Abraham’s inheritance—because Abraham is the father of all who believe.

Paul is insistent that this enhances rather than diminishes the importance of the nation of Israel. He has already been adamant on this point, and when we get to chapter 11, Paul will further emphasize that Gentiles are grafted into the promise of Israel. Gentiles do not replace but expand Israel. There is no basis for antagonism to the Jews; they are still the chosen people (Romans 11:26-29).

Biblical Text

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, 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.

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