Baptism and Romans 4

Faith is reckoned as righteousness

by Matt Slick

Justification is the legal declaration by God where he declares a sinner righteous in his sight.  Only believers are justified.  Those who are justified have been "saved" from the wrath of God; therefore, all who are justified are saved.  This justification is based upon the work of Christ which is reckoned to the believer by faith and not by works.

The word "justification" comes from the Greek dikaiosis.  It "denotes the act of pronouncing righteous, justification, acquittal; its precise meaning is determined by that of the verb dikaioo, to justify."1

  • "Justification means to Paul: Gods act of remitting the sins of guilty men, and accounting them righteous, freely, by his grace, through faith in Christ, on the ground, not of their own works, but of the representative law-keeping and redemptive blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus Christ on their behalf."2
  • "Gods righteousness means justification.  Righteousness is forensically ascribed to believers.  Gods judgment achieves this by remission.  The justification is no mere "as if," for Gods sentence is sovereign.  Nor is it the attainment of moral rectitude.  The justified are "right" before God."3
  • "The act of God declaring men free from guilt and acceptable to him."4

We can see that justification is a legal act of God.  It is "legal" because it deals with the Law, and it is the work of God and not of man.  This justification is seen in the following verses.  Please note that justification is contrasted with wrath.  This is important because it shows us that justification means a person who is justified before God has peace with God and is saved from the wrath of God.

  • Rom. 5:1, "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,"
  • Rom. 5:9, "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him."

We can clearly see that whoever is justified is at peace with God and will not face judgment.  This clearly teaches us that all who are justified are saved, and that there is no distinction between salvation in justification as some teach.  In other words, some teach that salvation and justification are not the same thing, and that a person can be justified but not saved. This is, of course, illogical and against Scripture.

Justification is by faith apart from works

One of the most important questions that is raised in theological circles is whether or not our works played any part in our justification before God. Some say that faith alone cannot save us, and that we must display our faith with good works; and that if we do not display good works, we cannot be saved.  This position is unbiblical.

  • Rom. 3:28-30, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.  29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also?  Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one."
  • Rom. 4:5, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness."
  • Rom. 10:4, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."
  • Rom. 11:6, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace."
  • Gal. 2:16, "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified."
  • Phil. 3:9, "and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."

We can see that Paul separates faith and works and declares that by the works of the Law no one is made right before God.  Paul specifically tells us that the one who does not work but believes is the one who is justified (Rom. 4:5).  In other words, belief alone, apart from any work, justifies us.  We know that it is by faith alone because there are only two options available to us: faith and works.  Paul very clearly negates works as an option for our justification before God.  This means that faith is what is left; faith is by itself--alone.

Baptism and justification

How is justification obtained?  Is it by faith alone, or is it by faith and something else?  Is it by faith and baptism, faith and works, faith and the manifestation of our good works?

In the context of those who believe baptism is necessary for salvation, a person cannot be saved by faith alone.  He must be saved by faith and baptism.  This would mean that a person on his deathbed who is visited by a hospital chaplain, who heard the gospel preached and trusted in Christ by faith and received Christ--believe that he is God in flesh who died and physically resurrected, would go to hell if he died before being baptized. This is the logical conclusion in the position that baptism is a requirement for salvation.

Can this be true, or do we find in Scripture the teaching that justification occurs by faith without anything else involved? The answer is simple: justification is by faith alone and not by faith and something we do.  I'll prove it below.

Romans 4

We see in Romans 4 a declaration of justification by faith alone. Let's begin by looking at the first seven verses from the NASB:

"What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?  2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God.  3 For what does the Scripture say?"  And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."  4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due.  5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: 7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven," (Rom. 4:1-7).

Notice in verse three that Abraham believed God (had faith in God), and that this belief was reckoned to him his righteousness.  The word "reckoned" comes from the Greek logizomai.  It means to reckon, to consider, to take into account, make an account of, a thing reckoned to, etc.5  It "primarily signifies to reckon, whether by calculation or imputation."6 The NASB, RSV, and ASV say "reckoned"; the ESV and KJV say "counted"; the NIV says "credited"; the NKJV says "accounted".  The point of the text is simply that Abraham was justified before God by faith.

In verse five, Paul goes on to say that "to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness." Since Abraham was justified by faith, so too, we now who do not work but believe are also justified by faith.  The one who believes is justified by faith because it is "reckoned as righteousness" just as Abraham's faith was "reckoned to him as righteousness."

Notice that the emphasis is upon belief and belief alone because Paul specifically and very clearly designates faith apart from any type of work.

Some may object by saying that Abraham was Old Testament and Old Covenant, and we are under the New Covenant and must be baptized to be saved.  But this cannot be since Paul tells us that Abraham was justified by faith and then connects Abraham's justification to the present time when he says "but to the one who does not work [speaking of us now] but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness," (v. 5).  Paul spans both Old and New Covenants, Old and New Testament's, and takes the example of Abraham's justification by faith and equates it to present-day justification.

Again, to review this critical point, Paul said,

" . . . And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.  4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due.  5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness," (Rom. 4:3-5).

Paul contrasts Abraham back then with us now. He puts us all in the same justification-by-faith boat. Did you see that? Paul talks about Abraham who was justified by faith in verse three, and then in verse five says that he who believes in Him, speaking of us now, will likewise be justified by faith.

Mosaic Law?

I would like to note that verse four negates the idea of speaking only of the Mosaic Law.  In verse four Paul speaks of works and wages.  This is not a reference to Mosaic law but a reference to works in general, things done with the hands, that deserve recompense for what is due.  Paul is speaking of all works.  In verse five Paul tells us that the "one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness." Did you get that?  Paul separates any sort of work from faith and justification.  He tells us that we are made right before God by faith apart from any works at all!

Paul wants us to understand this point very clearly.  He goes on and says . . .

"Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account."  9 Is this blessing then upon the circumcised, or upon the uncircumcised also?  For we say, "Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness."  10 How then was it reckoned?  While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised?  Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned to them," (Rom. 4:8-11).

Paul tells us that Abraham's justification was before he was circumcised.  This is important because it tells us that this seal of righteousness, which is circumcision (v. 11), is not the thing that saved Abraham; that is, circumcision is not the thing that made him righteous, nor is it the thing that brought him into a righteous state with God so that Abraham could be justified by faith.  Abraham was not justified by faith when he was circumcised.  He was justified by faith apart from circumcision and before circumcision, and that circumcision is a seal of the righteousness of faith which he already had while uncircumcised, v. 11.

"and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.  13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.  14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation.  16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain 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 sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.  18 In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, "So shall your descendants be." (Rom. 4:12-18).

Verse 16 tells us that faith is in accordance with grace and to all the descendants of Abraham--not merely the Jews who follow the Law but also to those who are "part of the faith of Abraham."  This is telling us that Abraham, to whom God said that in him all the nations would blessed (including the Gentiles), is the father of all who are justified by faith.  Gal. 3:29 says, "And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abrahams offspring, heirs according to promise."

If Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised and before he offered up Isaac (before he demonstrated his faith by his works), then we too are justified by faith before we are spiritually circumcised (baptized per Col. 2:11-12) and before we demonstrate our faith by our works. That's right, spiritually circumcised.

"and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead." (Col. 2:11-12).

Paul shows a strong comparison between circumcision and baptism.  The Old Testament circumcision represented the future circumcision of the heart; that is, it represented the sign and seal of the gospel.  In Gal. 3:8 Paul said, "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the nations shall be blessed in you." Notice that the Abrahamic covenant is called the gospel.  This quote "All the nations shall be blessed in you" is from Gen. 12:3, and it is before circumcision and before Abraham offered up Isaac.  It is before Abraham did anything.

Paul tells us that circumcision of the heart is shown by having been buried in baptism.  If Paul draws such a strong comparison between circumcision and baptism, then we need to examine whether or not baptism, like circumcision, is biblically considered a work.

Is Baptism a work?

Those who hold to baptismal regeneration say that it is necessary to be baptized in water in order to be saved, but that baptism is not a work because it is something that they don't do themselves; it is something done to them.  But, the same argument can be applied to circumcision. Circumcision was likewise something they did not do themselves; it was something done to them.  Yet, Paul condemned those who sought to be circumcised as a means of completing the process of becoming justified by faith.

"You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?  2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  4 Did you suffer so many things in vain if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 6 Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." (Gal. 3:1-6).

Paul openly condemned those who sought to finish by the effort of the flesh that which was begun by the Spirit.  Paul even quotes the same verse again about Abraham believing God and it being reckoned to him his righteousness.  Paul clearly is telling us justification is by faith and not by faith and circumcision and not by faith and something and not by faith and baptism.

Paul goes on and mentions circumcision

"Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.  3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.  4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace, 5 For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.  6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love." (Gal. 5:2-6).

Paul openly condemns those who seek to complete the work of God on the cross with a human effort of circumcision. Paul then said that those who seek circumcision are under obligation to keep the whole law.  Why?  Because they were trusting, in part, in a passively received work in combination with faith and were not trusting in God by faith alone.  Thus, they were condemned because they were essentially adding a requirement to faith and saying that there was something that needed to be done in addition to faith in order to be saved.  To this, Paul wholeheartedly condemns them.

What do we see from Romans 4:1-18?

We can draw conclusions from the text under examination.

  1. Abraham was not justified by works before God, v. 2.
  2. Abraham believed God, and his faith was reckoned as righteousness, v. 3.
  3. Paul speaks of works beyond the scope of the Mosaic law, v. 4.
  4. We who do not work but believe are justified by faith, v. 5.
  5. Being declared righteous is apart from human works, v. 6.
  6. Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness, v. 9.
  7. Abraham was justified by faith before circumcision, v. 10.
  8. Circumcision is a seal of the righteousness of faith he already had while not circumcised, v. 11.

Romans 5

"Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God." (Rom. 5:1-2).

Paul then goes on to say "therefore having been justified by faith." The only context available to us here is chapter 4 where Paul tells us that Abraham was justified by faith apart from any work, from any seal, and from any sign, from any ceremony whether passively or actively performed. Paul has taught us from the Old Testament the doctrine of justification by faith, and he has done so by pointing out that Abraham was justified by faith apart from anything that he did or anything that was done to him.

Therefore, we can see that baptism is not necessary for salvation.  We are justified by faith--not by faith and something else.

Objections Answered

  1. Baptism is not a work because it is something that is done to us--not something we do.
    1. This was answered above in Paul's condemnation of circumcision which is also something that is done to us--not something we do.  Paul rejected this as a work.
    2. If a person is justified by faith, then he is justified by faith. Faith in God is what justifies him. If he is justified by faith, then gets baptized and then he is not justified by faith but by faith and baptism.
    3. Faith is believing.  If we are justified by faith, then we are justified when we believe. If we are justified by faith when we get baptized, then we are not justified by faith (when we believe) because faith occurs when we believe, and belief occurs before baptism.  Therefore, if baptism is necessary for salvation, then we are not justified by faith when we have faith (when we believe) because we have faith before we are baptized!  Therefore, baptismal regeneration denies justification by faith.  If faith is combined with an action in order to bring justification, then it is not justification by faith but justification by faith and something.
  2. It does not say we are justified like Abraham was.
    1. Yes it does.  Paul tells us that Abraham was justified by faith and then connects Abraham's justification to the present-time when he says "but to the one who does not work [speaking of us now] but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness." (Rom. 4:5).  Paul spans both Old and New Covenants, Old and New Testaments, and takes the example of Abraham's justification by faith and equates it to present-day justification.
  3. It says the Jews were seeking to be justified by Law, which is not what we who believe baptism is necessary for salvation agree with.
    1. Whether or not you agree with it does not change the fact that Paul condemned those who sought to be justified by completing their faith with circumcision.  Remember, in Col. 2:11-12 Paul compares baptism and circumcision very clearly.  The Galatians had heard the message of the gospel of salvation and faith in Christ but were saying that a small act was necessary for them to receive that justification.  Paul condemned them.  Why?  Because a person is justified by faith or is not.  Is either justified when he believes, or he is not.  He's either justified by faith and faith alone, or he is not.
  4. We can be justified before we are saved and are not saved because we are called justified.
    1. This is an argument of ignorance.  To be justified means that God has declared that person legally righteous in his sight.  This means that he has been saved from the righteous judgment of God.  Therefore, the ones who are justified are saved.
  5. Abraham's faith wasn't like the demons of James 2:19.  It had works, and therefore faith combined with his works saved him.
    1. James is speaking about false faith and true faith.  The demons had false faith which resulted in no works.  But, true faith is manifested before others by actions.  This is why in James 2:14 he begins his discourse by mentioning dead faith but then goes on to explain what true faith really is.  For more on this, please see Are we Justified by Faith (Rom.) or by Works (James)?
  6. James says we are justified by works.
    1. "James speaks three times about being justified by works.  The reference is to present justification.  Abraham is a righteous man whose works are recognized.  This is not said in polemic against Paulinism but in order to stress that true faith is not idle but active (Jms. 2:21ff.)."7 Again, see Are we Justified by Faith (Rom.) or by Works (James)?
  7. Faith is something we do, so your premise is invalid.
    1. This shows that the one objecting does not understand that Paul contrasts faith with any work; therefore, faith is excluded from the category of works since it is contrasted with it. To say that faith is something we do and then say that is equal to works is a ludicrous assertion--especially since it is God who grants that we believe (Phil. 1:29), our believing is the work of God (John 6:28-29), and we are born again not of our own wills (John 1:13).
  8. Asking Jesus to save you, to forgive you of your sins is "doing something."
    1. Asking Jesus to forgive you of your sins is an appeal by faith to the Lord.  Jesus told us to ask anything in his name, and he would do it (John 14:14); and we are to call upon the name of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 1:2). To pray to Christ is not a work and not a ceremony but an appeal by faith that is a result of God's work in us.  It is God who grants that we believe (Phil. 1:29).  Our believing is the work of God (John 6:28-29), and we are born again not of our own wills (John 1:13).
    2. This objection fails to distinguish between two categories: faith and works.  Faith is an appeal--a trusting in the work of God.  Though it is something we do (i.e., we believe), it is not our work but the work of God (John 6:28-29) and does not fall under the category of works against which Paul was drawing such a stark contrast.

 

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  • 1. Vine, W., & Bruce, F. (1981; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996). Vine's Expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words : W.E. Vine ; Old Testament edited by F.F. Bruce. (electronic ed.).  Old Tappan NJ: Revell.
  • 2. The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.
  • 3. Kittel, Gerhard, and Friedrich, Gerhard, Editors, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) 1985.
  • 4. Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible : Showing every word of the test of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurrence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (G1347). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Kittel, Gerhard, and Friedrich.

 

 

 

 
 
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