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?
“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
How does a person attain righteousness in God’s eyes? Is it through obedience and faithful observance of the law, as Paul’s Jewish opponents claimed, or through faith in Jesus Christ who alone was completely faithful to God? The Jews said Scripture was on their side and Paul’s gospel was in violation of it. In bringing up Abraham, Paul responded that the gospel of Jesus Christ is actually in continuity with those Scriptures. His crucial evidence is the statement made in Genesis 15:6 about how Abraham was made righteous.Is faith a work?
Interpretation of Genesis 15:6 brings up this question: Was Abraham’s belief itself a work, which was what the Jews claimed, or was it the type of trust in God Paul called for in his gospel? The issue is whether faith can be considered an act of righteousness, in which case it would have the ability to earn righteousness.
Remarkably, James quotes this same Genesis verse and appears to side with the Jews. He concludes that a person “is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24). The apparent contradiction disappears when we understand that Paul and James mean different things by “justified” or “righteous,” as these scholars explain.
If faith were a work that could earn righteousness, Abraham could boast, as Paul says in verse 2. He knows Abraham was not justified by works, but for the sake of argument he assumes it to be true. He proves it to be false in verse 3 with his quotation of Genesis 15:6.The word “reckoning” helps decide the matter
By understanding how reckoning operates, we see that Abraham’s faith cannot be considered a work that merits right standing with God. Douglas Moo explains that the word “reckoning” helps us to settle the issue of whether Abraham’s faith could be a work:
Everett Harrison puts it this way: “Abraham’s faith was credited to him ‘as righteousness,’ which means that faith itself is not righteousness.” And Colin Kruse: “That his faith ‘was credited as righteousness’ was a matter of pure undeserved grace on God’s part.”Let’s also hear out Charles Swindoll:
Paul stated the meaning of saving faith most clearly in Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (2:8–9).Righteous by God’s declaration
RC Sproul notes that justification entails a legal declaration. When someone trusts in Christ, God transfers the merit of Christ to the person’s account and declares him or her righteous. This is how God does not violate his justice when he declares unrighteous people righteous. It is not a fictional righteousness because it is the righteousness of Christ imputed to the person. Sproul says, “If we had to wait until we were perfectly righteous before we could be justified, none of us would make it.”
Neither Abraham’s faith nor ours merits anything. Reckoning is the act of God’s grace by which he regards our faith as if it were righteousness. Jesus Christ is the righteous One, and God credits his righteousness to our account. Joy!