The Primacy of Faith
By Rick Howard
Text: Romans 11:17, 18
“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." (2) But Abram said, "Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" (3) Then Abram said, "Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!" (4) And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir." (5) Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." (6) And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”
Paul chose this (our text) verse, as well as Habakkuk 2:4, as his two primary verses early on in his epistle to the brethren in Rome to build the case for the role of faith vs. works of the law. His argument dealt with the affects of the law for Jews and works of the flesh for Gentiles (in reference to either salvation or to service to God). Faith is the only way to be acceptable to God (Hebrews 11:6). Remember, Paul starts and ends the whole book of Romans with the simple phrase “obedience to the faith” (Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26).
So the entire book is about the primacy of faith – or as Paul states it -- “from faith to faith” (Romans 1:17).
Faith saves -- faith is obedient -- and faith produces righteous works. Romans covers all these – made real “by the law of faith” (Romans 3:27).
In Romans 1:17 we established the principle that faith for salvation (how our spirit becomes righteous) and faith for proper service (how our life matches our righteous spirit) are both imbedded in that great Old Testament text of Habakkuk 2:4, “The just shall live by faith.”
Paul’s second major Old Testament text for his main thesis in Romans is Genesis 15:6, “And he (Abraham) believed in the LORD, and He accounted to him for righteousness.” We will see this also has the dynamic, full-dimensional nature to it that Habakkuk 2:4 has when brought over in New Testament use.
Genesis 15:6, as used in the book of Romans (see: Romans 4:3,9,22) is a good example of taking a New Testament teaching, in this case on justification, limiting it in its entirety to that first point of faith at salvation, then reapplying it back into the Old Testament and concluding Abraham not saved until 85 years old.
A static, overly narrow application of words and scripture quotes can lead to serious mistakes, such as making Abraham an unregenerate man until he was 85. This is in the face of many facts that point to the contrary.
Leaving Ur by Faith
The fact that Abram left Ur by faith is stated outright in Hebrews 11:8 –
“by faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place…”
So right away our earliest account of Abram is that he is a man of obedient faith when God called him to leave his homeland and to go to an unknown place. In Acts 7:2,3 it is made clear “the God of glory” appeared to Abram and called him in Ur with an actual appearance of glory and detailed instructions;
“And he said, "Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran,”
In Genesis 12:1 we read where the Lord “had said to Abram,” (referring to God having already conversed with Abram) long before arriving in Haran while he yet lived in Ur. Thus begins the account of an intimate relationship between Jehovah and Abraham, who was already separate in spirit but now called to be separate in location as well. Why?
The passage found in Joshua 24:2 gives us a partial reason;
“And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods.”
Next, the prophet Nehemiah weighs in showing how that God chose Abram in Ur (prior to Haran) because of an already existing faith –
"You are the LORD God, Who chose Abram, And brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans, And gave him the name Abraham; (8) You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give the land of the Canaanites, The Hittites, the Amorites, The Perizzites, the Jebusites, And the Girgashites— To give it to his descendants. You have performed Your words, For You are righteous.” Nehemiah 9:7,8
Bear in mind all of this had happened before God had made a covenant with him.
Quite a Start for an Unregenerate Man!
In this call of Abram, God offers 7 promises (See: Genesis 12:2, 3) which are dependent on Abram obeying the 4 commands of Genesis 12:1. These lists of commands, promises and conditions require quite a lot from both Abram and Jehovah for Abram to still be a lost man in his Adamic sins as some would have us to believe.
Abram’s Faith Displayed Long before the Offering of Isaac
When Abram arrives in Canaan at Shechem at 75 years old (Genesis 12:4) Jehovah again speaks to him, renewing the promise (Genesis 12:7). As a result, Abram freely builds an altar “to the LORD” as a memorial of the promise and a means of offering sacrifices to Jehovah. Abram then moves on to Bethel and does two things as noted in Genesis 12:8 –
1. He builds another altar “to the LORD”
2. He “called on the name of the LORD.”
What is the significance here? Nowhere does Abram ever show the idolatry of the land he left behind – he was a believer in the true God Jehovah. Both of these actions describe a man in close fellowship with Jehovah God. Even when Abram returned to Canaan from Egypt, he made sure to go right “to the place of the altar” and from that altar “Abram called on the name of the LORD” (Genesis 13:1-4).
After Lot separated from Abram, God renews yet again the promise of seed and land as an inheritance from God. This prompted Abram to build a 3rd altar “to the LORD” in Hebron. This all was the early part of Abram’s life of faith, partly fulfilling Hebrews 11:9, “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise…” (Genesis 13:14-17).
In Genesis 14, Abram rescues Lot and defeats an army and gives credit and glory to God, shown in Romans 14:22, “I have lifted my hand (in an oath) to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth…”
Is it not clear by now? Abram knew Jehovah God in a very detailed way, showing a close relationship – all happening before he offered up his son to God.
But now, the real clincher showing Abram as a man of faith in Jehovah God before Genesis 15:6 is revealed in Genesis 14:19, 20. Such was the moment of Melchizedek blessing Abram with the blessings of a priest of Jehovah –
“And he blessed him and said: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; (20) And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." And he gave him a tithe of all.”
This came from “the priest (and king) of God Most High” – the clearest, direct type of Christ in the Old Testament -- so we be certain that Melchizedek knew of which he spoke, describing Abram as worthy of blessing and protection from Jehovah! Then, chapter 15 opens with the vision God gave to Abram of assurance, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” These are words spoken as current realities due to a current close relationship “by faith” in God (compare: Psalm 16:5).
And Now the Moment We’ve been Waiting For
All the above is the setting for this great passage of Genesis 15:6. To therefore insist that Abram was a lost, unregenerate man at 85 years of age after all his up-close dealings with God, and still in his sins until his offering of Isaac is a tragedy of interpretation.
So, how do we then rightly apply Genesis 15:6 as referenced by Paul in Romans 4:3,9, 22? And again by Paul to the churches of Galatia (Galatians 3:6)? And then also by apostle James (James 2:23)? How may this be accomplished in the dynamic way necessary -- lest we put limits on them that force interpretations that are not valid. Paul explains in Romans 4:12 we are to…
“…walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.”
All this description of Abraham’s walk of faith was before the Law, so Romans 3:19-24 is proven in their father Abraham. And then David their great King, during the Law, was forgiven, not by keeping laws but by heart repentance (Romans 4:6-8).
Does it take a different kind of faith to save and another kind to serve? Hebrews 11:6 is just faith. The kind of faith Abraham had is the kind God accepts “Abraham believed God” – He looks for faith! “from faith to faith” as Paul’s earlier text verse emphasizes in Romans 1:17.
If Romans 4:3 is to be applied to only salvation faith, what do we do with Romans 4:22 of the same declaration of faith but now Abraham being 99 years old of the promise of Isaac?
And, James 2:23 applies this same declaration to Abraham “when he offered Isaac his son on the altar” in Genesis 22 many years later – so, three times applied to Abraham at three different ages, and all of them after the “by faith” of Hebrews 11:8. We must make this a dynamic statement about having faith in God and the results of that true faith all through our life – a declaration by God of rightness.
Examples of Justification’s Requirements
Two examples are given in Romans 4 of the requirements from us for justification: Abraham and David. Some key truths:
Abraham – In Romans 4:3 we note it takes Abraham’s kind of faith to thereby act as a credit for rightness;
Other good examples of a faith acted out which resulted in credit for rightness is found in these passages;
“Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, And the plague was stopped. (31) And that was accounted to him for righteousness To all generations forevermore.” (Psalm 106:30, 31)
“By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” (Hebrews 11:7)
David – Now, in David’s case of justification (rightness credited by God) we note in Romans 4:6-8 his faith manifested in his humble repentance (of his sin of murder and adultery, long after he was saved - Psalm 32), thereby demonstrating God’s willingness to not credit sin. David’s relief is seen in his offering of proper service acceptable to God. Thus we see both faith and repentance at work in God’s means of justification.
Faith as Credited by God
Abraham and David were not saved again, but faith is credited. The word translated ‘credited’ is the Greek, logizomai, which is an accounting, legal term. God’s decision to justify Abraham and David’s faith (as rightness) was on the credit side of the ledger, not the debit side.
Noah’s faith (Hebrews 11:7b) was credited as well. However, his faith resulted not only in an accounting on the credit side of the ledger, but in an accounting on the ‘debit’ side of the ledger in that by his faith he ‘condemned the world.’
The accrediting of our faith is an on-going process from start to finish, or as the Bible terms it, “from faith to faith.”
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."
For Further Study
Logizomai is interesting term being used 11 times in Romans chapter four alone. In the New Testament the word appears about 40 times, thus deserving of an in-depth study of its own.
The main truth about this subject: Romans 3:21-26 to demonstrate the rightness of His Son and how we can obtain that rightness in order to escape the wrath of a Holy Judge and be credited for rightness as we believe in and then walk by faith in the ways of His Son.
“…that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness.” 1 Peter 2:23-25
When we have true faith, we are credited, accounted, reckoned, imputed with rightness by God the Judge. When we repent, we are not credited, accounted, reckoned, imputed with sin -- we are rather forgiven! (1 John 1:9).
Because both salvation and service are all by grace through faith, with a repentant heart, we cannot boast in our own righteousness but give all the glory to Christ, Who is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:29-31).