Think of someone not in your circle of family and friends you really admire and look up to. This person could be a famous singer, athlete, actor, or actress. Growing up, I always admired Steve Nash. Steve Nash was one of the best guards in the NBA when I was learning to play basketball. Anytime his games were on TV, I was watching. I tried to play just like him. I remember wishing I was as fast as he was with the basketball. I wished I could shoot the ball as well as he did.
But I knew I could never be as good as him.
Whenever my dad wanted to motivate me to work harder and practice more, he would use Steve Nash as an example. He would say something like, “You know, even Steve Nash has to put in hours of practice.” He would give me so many reasons why I needed to work harder at my game, but only when he used my favorite player as an example did I listen to him.
Paul is doing something similar in Romans 4. He has already argued why we can’t be made right with God through our works (Rom. 3:21-26). But if his argument wasn’t enough, he adds an example that would grab the attention of every Jew. He uses Abraham as an example to show that the only way to be right with God is through justification by faith.
Using Genesis 15:6, Paul shows us that God did not enter into a relationship with Abraham on the basis of his good deeds, but instead on the basis of Abraham’s faith in the promises of God. If God had declared Abraham righteous on the basis of how well he obeyed him, then he could boast in his own righteousness. But Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. This means that Abraham’s relationship with God is a gift, not a reward.
We don’t receive salvation as a reward for how good we are. We receive salvation as a gift despite how bad we are. “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.