What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 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.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
There is a form which pastors fill out on a regular basis. It is an information form which the District President uses as he is considering call lists for congregations. Toward the end of the form, it asks if you have received any honors or awards. When I filled that out for the first time I was somewhat taken aback by that question and pondered it. What is an honor which a pastor might receive? At the time there was a little girl, about 7 years old, who gave me a hug after church without fail. She and her family would walk by as I shook hands with congregants after the service and she would give me a hug. I put on the form that I got a hug from Katie every week. That was the honor that mattered most.
When Paul speaks of boasting in this passage from Romans, he is using that word in a first century Roman context. For us the word is almost always negative. My parents did not want me to boast. But Paul means something more akin to filling out a resume here. In the Roman context boasting was listing out your accomplishments on your CV or job application. It was a way for the world to know who you are and if you were qualified to do something. If Abraham was justified by works, he would have an item to put on his resume, asserted Paul. But not before God. You see, if you live a perfect life, one in which you do not sin, you still have not done anything special in God’s eyes. A perfect life simply means you have met the minimum requirements.
Paul’s point is brutally clear. God is not rewarding or honoring us for what we have done. Rather, God is graciously including us in His family by uniting us with Christ, His only Son. That is a reality which is ours not through doing something but through believing God’s promise to us, trusting that God has done this thing. Abraham still has nothing to boast about, except as Paul says in Galatians, except in Christ crucified for him (Gal. 6:14)