Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. What then shall we say? Do we find Abraham to be our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.
I was struck today by how precisely Paul’s argument is structured in Romans 4.3-5:
- “Abraham believed God, and [a] it was [b] counted to him [c] as righteousness.”
- Now to the one who works, [a] his wages are [b] not counted [c] as a gift but as his due.
- And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, [a] his faith is [b] counted [c] as righteousness
This mystifies me because Paul should [?!] have paralleled faith against works, not faith against the wages one earns, or fails to earn, by works.
I suppose I had better crack open a commentary now…
But also note that this argument depends on a common acknowledgment that righteousness must be a gift. Paul is working “backwards” from the acknowledged fact that righteousness must be a gift to an inference that therefore it must come through faith and not through works.
If Paul’s opponents deny that righteousness is a gift then he has nothing to say to them in these verses.