This chapter, more than any other in the New Testament, demonstrates the need to understand reckoning if one is to grasp Paul’s teaching on justification by faith. The verb “to reckon” (Greek logizomai) appears 11 times, but it is not usually translated as such, so Bible readers likely do not benefit as much as they should from the meaning of this important word.
In essence, logizomai means to recognize the truth of something on the basis of reason from known facts. You can read about the word’s origin in mathematics and accounting here. A bookkeeper adds up a column of numbers, calculates the sum, and enters that figure into the correct account. Those steps constitute the meaning of reckoning.
Reckoning operates in two directions in the Bible. First, God reckons people righteous when he recognizes their faith. To illustrate this truth in Romans 4, Paul points to God’s reckoning of Abraham and David. Second, on the basis of God’s reckoning of people righteous, people in turn can reckon themselves righteous.
From God’s reckoning in chapter 4 Paul will shift the perspective to human reckoning in Romans 6. Verse 11 of that chapter is Paul’s momentous command to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ, which is the subject of my book Dead to Sin, Alive to God.
Here in this chapter reckoning is at the forefront of Paul’s argument that people are made righteous by the declaration of God, not by human effort. God’s declaration is given in response to human faith, but faith is not a “work” that earns righteousness.Prelude: Review of chapter 3
In chapter 4, Paul uses Abraham to illustrate how a person gets into a right relationship with God. To see why Paul brings up Abraham at this point in his argument, we need to review chapter 3, which is a gold mine of theological assertions. I summarize them as follows:
2. Everyone deserves condemnation by God, who is the righteous judge of the world (3:5–6).
3. No one can attain righteous standing before God (that is, be “justified”) by carrying out the requirements (“works”) of the law (3:20).
4. A person can be justified only by receiving God’s gracious gift of righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, whose death paid the penalty for people’s sin (3:24–26).
5. Justification is available to both Jews and Gentiles, because God justifies everyone, circumcised and uncircumcised, by faith.
These truths form the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The superstructure of the gospel as preached by Paul takes shape in chapters 5–8.
Because Paul insisted that Abraham was justified not by works but by faith, some Jews charged him with violating the Scriptures. They believed Abraham earned his righteousness precisely because of his obedience as demonstrated primarily in his offering up of Isaac (Genesis 22:1–18). They also considered Abraham a model law keeper even before the law was given through Moses.
By pointing to a couple of strategic uses of the word reckoning in the Old Testament, Paul wins the argument against his Jewish opponents. The next message will examine how Abraham was reckoned as righteous.