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.
Throughout the book or Romans Paul is very aware of questions and objections that might be coming into the mind of the reader. For instance, as Paul has made the argument that someone is saved apart from the law, a jew may be thinking, “Is that really how the patriarchs were made right with God? They kept the law.” It’s a fair question. If you are saying that the law can not save people, then that must be true of those who came before Christ. They sure seemed concerned about the law.
Paul knows that this may be a question, and so He addresses it through what the Old Testament said about Father Abraham himself. He was a patriarch. He started the nation of Israel humanly speaking. He was the first Hebrew. Paul points out that Abraham was not justified by works, but by faith. He pointed to the scripture.
And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.(Gen 15:6)
The idea of this word “counted” has the idea of “imputing” or “reckoning” or “considering”. The idea is that God responded to Abraham’s faith and considered him to be righteous even though he had done wrong and was a sinner. God declared Him righteous by His faith, and not by His works. Of course we know that Abraham’s works justified his claim to faith. Because he had faith he manifested that through good works. But the faith and the justification before God came before the works that justified his faith. Right faith always produces good works.
Justification by faith is not a new thing. It is not exclusively a New Testament thing. Everyone who has ever been made right with God has been made right based on the graciousness of God in responding to sincere faith. The people in the Old Testament believed in the revelation that they had looking to God and trusting in Him. Since Christ has come we put our trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
Sincere worship to God by those who have placed their trust in Christ is the appropriate response.
Obedience to the faith for those who have never trusted Christ is the right response as well.