J.B. Phillips New Testament
Let us go back and consider our father Abraham
4 1-3 Now how does all this affect the position of our ancestor Abraham? Well, if justification were by achievement he could quite fairly be proud of what he achieved—but not, I am sure, proud before God. For what does scripture say about him? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’.
4-8 Now if a man works his wages are not counted as a gift but as a fair reward. But if a man, irrespective of his work, has faith as righteousness, then that man’s faith is counted as righteousness, and that is the gift of God. This is the happy state of the man whom God accounts righteous, apart from his achievements, as David expresses it: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin’.
It is a matter of faith, not circumcision
9a Now the question, an important one, arises: is this happiness for the circumcised only, or for the uncircumcised as well?
9b-12 Note this carefully. We began by saying that Abraham’s faith was counted unto him for righteousness. When this happened, was he a circumcised man? He was not, he was still uncircumcised. It was afterwards that the sign of circumcision was given to him, as a seal upon that righteousness which God was accounting to him as yet an uncircumcised man! God’s purpose here is twofold. First, that Abraham might be the spiritual father of all who since that time, despite their circumcision, show the faith that is counted as righteousness. Then, secondly, that he might be the circumcised father of all those who are not only circumcised, but are living by the same sort of faith which he himself had before he was circumcised.
The promise, from the beginning, was made to faith
13-14 The ancient promise made to Abraham and his descendants, that they should eventually possess the world, was given not because of any achievements made through obedience to the Law, but because of the righteousness which had its root in faith. For if, after all, they who pin their faith to keeping the Law were to inherit God’s world, it would make nonsense of faith in God himself, and destroy the whole point of the promise.
15 For we have already noted that the Law can produce no promise, only the threat of wrath to come. And, indeed if there were no Law the question of sin would not arise.
16-17 The whole thing, then, is a matter of faith on man’s part and generosity on God’s. He gives the security of his own promise to all men who can be called “children of Abraham”, i.e. both those who have lived in faith by the Law, and those who have exhibited a faith like that of Abraham. To whichever group we belong, Abraham is in a real sense our father, as the scripture says: ‘I have made you a father of many nations’. This faith is valid because of the existence of God himself, who can make the dead live, and speak his Word to those who are yet unborn.
Abraham was a shining example of faith
18 Abraham, when hope was dead within him, went on hoping in faith, believing that he would become “the father of many nations”. He relied on the word of God which definitely referred to ‘your descendants’.
19-22 With undaunted faith he looked at the facts—his own impotence (he was practically a hundred years old at the time) and his wife Sarah’s apparent barrenness. Yet he refused to allow any distrust of a definite pronouncement of God to make him waver. He drew strength from his faith, and while giving the glory to God, remained absolutely convinced that God was able to implement his own promise. This was the “faith” which ‘was accounted to him for righteousness’.
23-25 Now this counting of faith for righteousness was not recorded simply for Abraham’s credit, but as a divine principle which should apply to us as well. Faith is to be reckoned as righteousness to us also, who believe in him who raised from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, who was delivered to death for our sins and raised again to secure our justification.