After Paul's conclusion that both Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith, the Jewish readers were undoubtedly disturbed. Although Scripture is really very clear that deeds of the Torah don't mean anything without faith in God, many of the Jews of the first century had lost sight of this truth as evidenced by the following:
John 8:33 (KJV)
They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
Practically, the Jews had come to believe that the righteousness of Abraham could be credited to his descendants and result in their justification. So, as we come to chapter 4 of Romans we see that Paul had anticipated how his readers would question him.
Romans 4:1-3 (KJV)
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Paul's question in essence was, "What did Abraham find in his works that were done in his own efforts (verse 1)?" Paul's answer was that if Abraham had been justified by his works he could have boasted (verse 2). In many ways Abraham was an example of someone who obeyed God and did righteous deeds. Just think of Abraham's obedience in offering Isaac on Mount Moriah. Yet, Abraham knew that he had not followed God completely and could not boast before God. He would not have been saved by his works. However, what does the Scripture say (verse 3)? Paul quoted Genesis 15:6.
Genesis 15:6 (KJV)
And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Abraham believed God and that was what granted him justification. His faith counted for righteousness in the eyes of God, not his works.
The theme of Abraham and faith will continue next time!