Romans 4

Romans 4:3 Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness

Imagine that you're 100 years old. You decide to read your patriarchal blessing. In the blessing, you are told that you will have a great posterity, that you will be the father of many nations, and that your posterity will be as the stars in the heavens. Yet, as you reflect upon your life, you wonder-knowing that you and your wife have had no children of your own-what is meant by this blessing. You pray for understanding and are impressed that the patriarch's words were inspired.

Would you have the faith to believe that God would make good on his promise? Would you buy a crib and prepare a room for the baby? Would you stock up on diapers and plan a baby shower? Or would you make some excuse or offer some alternative interpretation? Do you really believe that the Lord will keep all of his promises? Abraham did. He knew that biologically he and Sarah were both too old to get pregnant. Still, he believed. Would you?

'...the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision...
And Abram said, behold, to me thou hast given no seed...
And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying...
Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness' (Gen. 15:1-6).

"Abraham's faith-his willingness to believe the promises of God, trust in Jehovah's power to accomplish what to him seemed impossible, and thus to sacrifice Isaac-was what gained him the approval of the Almighty. It is with us as it was with Abraham." (Robert L. Millet, The Apostle Paul, His Life and His Testimony: The 23d Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994], 139.)

Romans 4:4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt

"In Romans, Paul reasons that if righteousness is something men earn, then salvation is something God owes them: 'Now to him who is justified by the law of works, is the reward reckoned, not of grace, but of debt.' (JST, Rom. 4:4.)

"But we can never put God in our debt no matter how diligently we labor. All are, at best, 'unprofitable servants.' (See Luke 17:7-10; Mosiah 2:21.) Consequently, eternal life is 'the greatest of all the gifts of God.' (D&C 14:7; compare 1 Ne. 15:36.) A gift is not a debt. Without the atonement and resurrection of Christ, all mankind would be forever lost to God, no matter how diligently his commandments were kept. (2 Ne. 9:5-9.)" (Rodney Turner, Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation, ed. by Robert L. Millet, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 111.)

"Verse 4 probably refers to the old Jewish belief that a person's storehouse of good works exacts payment from God in the form of salvation as if God owed the man a debt. If that were so, Paul says in verse 2, Abraham would have something to boast about. But the truth is, 'all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.' (Rom. 3:23; italics added.) We are all 'ungodly,' therefore, and must rely on the mercy of God to justify us, to be forgiven of our iniquities. As we have already discussed, this great gift comes to us as we exercise faith in Christ, repent of our sins, submit to the ordinances of the gospel, and thereafter endure to the end in living a Christlike life." (Robert E. Parsons, "I Have a Question," Ensign, Apr. 1986, 40)

Romans 4:5 to him that worketh not, but believeth...his faith is counted for righteousness

"Paul was not saying that only those who do not work are the ones who receive eternal life, but rather that they who receive eternal life are those who labor but, knowing their own fallibility and limitations, never trust in their own works. Paul taught what James taught-that true faith is always manifest in righteous works (see James 2), and that one who relies wholly on the merits of Christ, who has faith in him, will evidence that faith through noble actions and Christian conduct. To argue that we are saved by our works is to argue that Christ's atoning mission was unnecessary. 'I do not frustrate the grace of God,' Paul wrote; 'for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain' (Galatians 2:21)." (Robert L. Millet, Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet: Gospel Scholars Series [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2000], 75.)

Romans 4:6-8 David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works

Jesus also described the blessedness of a man whom God considered righteous even though he lacked good works:

'And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.' (Luke 18:9-14)

The Jews to whom Paul is speaking still held some pride like the Pharisees. They needed to be reminded of their own weakness and nothingness before God. The attitude of the Jewish converts had been disdainful towards the Gentiles. They believed in their hearts, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, uncircumcised, ungodly, ignorant of the law." Paul was trying to teach these to think more like the publican and less like the Pharisee.

Romans 4:9 for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness

Faith is the first principle of revealed religion (Lectures on Faith, 1:1). Therefore, obedience is not the first principle of revealed religion. Sometimes in our meetings, obedience receives such heavy emphasis that we forget that faith is fundamentally more important. When we consider our fellow saints, we tend to equate righteousness with obedience. The Lord, on the other hand, equates righteousness with the exercise of faith (Heb. 11:6). An examination of the greatest of God's servants reveals that they all had great desires for righteousness; their belief was undeterred; and they all sought the face of God with diligence. All of these qualities are expressions of faith. While there may have been contemporaries of Peter, Joseph Smith, Abraham, or Moses who were as obedient as they were, these prophets were unparalleled in their faith, desire, and determination. Consider Abraham's description of himself: 'I sought for the blessings of the fathers...desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge' (Abr. 1:2). These are the desires of a righteous heart; they are expressions of great faith. Similarly, the brother of Jared exhibited great faith even if he wasn't perfectly obedient. He had to be chastened for forgetting to pray (Ether 2:14), but his faith was so great that the veil was taken from his eyes and the heavens were opened. It wasn't his obedience which opened the heavens, it was his faith. Indeed, the greatest events in religious history have all been wrought by faith, not by obedience (see Ether 12 and Hebrews 11).

Once we understand the doctrinal supremacy of faith, we may correctly understand the importance of obedience. Great faith brings great works. This is why James declared, 'I will shew thee my faith by my works' (James 2:18). Faith without works is dead, and works without faith is dead. You have to have both, but you have to have faith first.

Joseph Smith

"'Without faith it is impossible to please [God]' (Heb. 11:6); and that salvation 'is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.' (Romans 4:16.) And that Israel, who followed after the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. 'Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone.' (Romans 9:32.) And Jesus said unto the man who brought his son to him, to get the devil who tormented him cast out: 'If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.' (Mark 9:23.) These with a multitude of other scriptures which might be quoted plainly set forth the light in which the Saviour, as well as the Former-day Saints, viewed the plan of salvation. That it was a system of faith-it begins with faith, and continues by faith; and every blessing which is obtained in relation to it is the effect of faith, whether it pertains to this life or that which is to come. To this all the revelations of God bear witness." (Lectures on Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 7:17.)

Romans 4:10-13 How was it reckoned? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?

Paul is faced with an entrenched religious tradition among the Jewish members of the church. They were guilty to some degree of the self-righteousness of their fathers. They were self-righteous on three points: 1) they were circumcised and thought the Gentile members should be as well, 2) they believed that righteousness came by the law of Moses and expected Gentile members to conform to their religious tradition, and 3) they believed they were chosen by lineage, saying within themselves, 'We have Abraham to our father' (Matt. 3:9).

To dispel these false notions, Paul uses Abraham as an example. His choice is brilliant on all three points! According to Jewish notions, Abraham is the most righteous man to have ever lived. Yet, Paul demonstrates that Abraham himself could not claim righteousness based on circumcision, the law of Moses, or genealogy. When Abraham gained God's favor, he was uncircumcised; he lived centuries before the law of Moses; and his father, Terah, was a wicked and idolatrous man.

Hence, the Gentiles in the church should not be forced to conform to Jewish notions. They could achieve righteousness as Abraham did, 'though they be not circumcised' (v. 11). They needed neither circumcision, the law of Moses, nor direct descent through Abraham to be recipients of the promise, for they were 'of the faith of Abraham' (v. 16).

Romans 4:15 where no law is, there is no transgression

George Q. Cannon

"The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that all will be judged according to the law that has been taught unto them... 'Where no law is,' the Apostle says, 'there is no transgression.' (Romans 4:15.) Men cannot be held accountable for that which they never knew. God will never consign his creatures to a never-ending misery for not obeying the Gospel of His Son when they never had it taught unto them, and it is as great a fallacy and as great a libel on our God as ever was propagated about any being to make such an assertion. . . ." (Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, selected, arranged, and edited by Jerreld L. Newquist [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 73.)

JST Romans 4:16 Therefore ye are justified of faith and works, through grace

The Joseph Smith Translation clarifies that justification does not come by faith alone, but requires both faith and works. This is keeping with James teachings on the same subject. Remarkably, James' epistle seems to be written in direct response to Paul's writings in Romans 4. He seems to be making commentary on this exact verse when he says:

'But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.' (James 2:20-24)

Abraham is a good example of one whose faith was made perfect by their works of righteousness. Righteous works follow true faith as surely as the night follows the day. "God's initial approval comes when a prophet or convert responds with undoubting faith, but final approval is strictly conditioned on the successful testing of that faith. The first approval of Abraham appears powerfully in Romans 4, whereas the testing of Abraham's faith appears in Hebrews 11. James speaks bluntly of this second stage in saying that Abraham was 'justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar' (James 2:21)." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 222 - 223.)

Bruce R. McConkie

"Abraham's works of righteousness were these: He had faith in the Lord Jehovah, whose gospel he believed and in whose paths he walked; he repented of his sins, was baptized, after the manner of his fathers, and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. Thereafter he endured in good works all his days-honoring the priesthood, living in the patriarchal order of matrimony, receiving visions and revelations and the gifts of the Spirit, and worshipping the Father in the name of the Son, as did Adam and all of the ancients. As to that celestial marriage practiced by Abraham and that eternal life which grows out of it, the revealed word to latter-day Israel is: 'This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself. Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.' (D&C 132:31-32.)" (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979-1981], 3: 163.)

Romans 4:18-20 Who against hope believed in hope...He staggered not...but was strong in faith

James E. Faust

"Hope is trust in God's promises, faith that if we act now, the desired blessings will be fulfilled in the future. Abraham 'against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations.' Contrary to human reason, he trusted God, 'fully persuaded' that God would fulfill His promises of giving Abraham and Sarah a child in their old ages.

"A few years ago, Sister Joyce Audrey Evans, a young mother in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was having trouble with a pregnancy. She went to the hospital, where one of the nurses told her she would probably lose the baby. Sister Evans replied: 'But I can't give up. ... You have to give me hope.' Sister Evans later recalled: 'I couldn't give up hope until all reason for hope was gone. It was something I owed to my unborn child.'

"Three days later she had a miscarriage. She wrote: 'For one long moment, I felt nothing. Then a profound feeling of peace flowed through me. With the peace came understanding. I knew now why I couldn't give up hope in spite of all the circumstances: you either live in hope or you live in despair. Without hope, you cannot endure to the end. I had looked for an answer to prayers and was not disappointed; I was healed in body and rewarded with a spirit of peace. Never before had I felt so close to my Heavenly Father; never before had I felt such peace. ...

"'The miracle of peace was not the only blessing to come from this experience. Some weeks later, I fell to thinking about the child I had lost. The Spirit brought to my mind the words from Genesis 4:25: `And she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed. ...`

"'A few months later, I became pregnant again. When my son was born, he was declared to be `perfect.`' He was named Evan Seth." ("Hope, an Anchor of the Soul," Ensign, Nov. 1999, 60)

Neal A. Maxwell

"...faithful Abraham 'staggered not ... through unbelief' (Rom. 4:20). Of that episode John Taylor observed that 'nothing but the spirit of revelation could have given him this confidence, and ... sustained him under these peculiar circumstances' (in Journal of Discourses, 14:361). Will we too trust the Lord amid a perplexing trial for which we have no easy explanation? Do we understand-really comprehend-that Jesus knows and understands when we are stressed and perplexed? The complete consecration which effected the Atonement ensured Jesus' perfect empathy; He felt our very pains and afflictions before we did and knows how to succor us (see Alma 7:11-12; 2 Ne. 9:21). Since the Most Innocent suffered the most, our own cries of 'Why?' cannot match His. But we can utter the same submissive word 'nevertheless ...' (Matt. 26:39)." ("Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father," Ensign, Nov. 1995, 24)

Romans 4:21 being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform

Jeffrey R. Holland

"I think of those who want to be married and aren't, those who desire to have children and cannot, those who have acquaintances but very few friends, those who are grieving over the death of a loved one or are themselves ill with disease. I think of those who suffer from sin-their own or someone else's-who need to know there is a way back and that happiness can be restored. I think of the disconsolate and downtrodden who feel life has passed them by, or now wish that it would pass them by. To all of these and so many more, I say: Cling to your faith. Hold on to your hope. 'Pray always, and be believing.' Indeed, as Paul wrote of Abraham, he 'against [all] hope believed in hope' and 'staggered not ... through unbelief.' He was 'strong in faith' and was 'fully persuaded that, what [God] had promised, he was able ... to perform.'

"Even if you cannot always see that silver lining on your clouds, God can, for He is the very source of the light you seek. He does love you, and He knows your fears. He hears your prayers. He is your Heavenly Father, and surely He matches with His own the tears His children shed." ("An High Priest of Good Things to Come," Ensign, Nov. 1999, 36)