Romans 4:2-5

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 credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, the wages are not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,

I am particularly confused about V4. I think Paul is drawling a contrast with someone deserving a wage and someone being gifted something he didn't earn. V2 is already setting the premise that Abraham could not justify himself with works. However, I am not understanding how V4 really draws a contrast. I feel like I am missing the wordplay. Perhaps, someone can clarify the mean by translating the Greek.


  • 1
    It might help the interpretation if we undestand vv4-9 as parenthesis, interrupting the logical connection between v3 and v10. Apr 17 at 20:09

4 Answers 4


What Paul writes about wages in Romans chapter 6 verse 23 may help bring clarity. First, he contrasts sin with grace, showing how believers in Christ no longer serve as slaves to sin, but how they have been set free from servitude to it (verse 6). He says that when they were the servants of sin, they "were free from righteousness" (vs. 20). He uses the analogy of working for wages from their 'master' (sin) but then shows the transforming power of God's grace when their 'old self' is 'crucified with Christ'.

"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23 A.V.

We all work jolly hard building up a great accumulation of sinful works during our lifetime. Some try not to, of course, but they fail. We all earn our wages of sin, which is death.

God does not withhold wages from workers - that would violate his own righteous laws. But, he has done what was necessary to have sinners freely pardoned so that they could pass over from death to life eternal, through faith in Christ. Thus, we sinners (who were spiritually dead) all die physically, but spiritually - when brought to new life in Christ prior to physical death - we know (from that verse 6) that we no longer 'work' for sin as our 'master'. We belong to another - Christ - and he has given us everlasting life (John 10:28 & 11:25). Yet not as an earned wage. Given purely as unmerited grace.

So, back to Abraham in Romans 4:2-5. He did not have faith in that of which he had no cognizance. Faith is not an emotion, nor a superstition. It is reasonable. God demonstrated something to Abraham, who kept faith, so that his obedience to God made his faith perfect (James 2:21) His faith caused God to evaluate him as being justified in God's sight.

"A dead faith justifies nobody. But the faith with which Abraham believed was a living, vibrant faith. A faith that realised what he believed. A faith that laid hold and a faith that made invisible things real. A faith that justified God and a faith that actually believed God. Dead assent to technicalities cannot be called a living faith... And Abraham's works proved the reality of his faith. It was this living faith that God counted." Righteousness, Nigel Johnstone, pages 70-2 Belmont, 2012

That is the way God "evaluated" Abraham's faith. Living faith, gifted by God and working by love, is the faith God reckons. "For the just shall live by his faith" (Romans 1:17). That is what Paul meant in Romans 4:2-5 (and throughout).

"The Apostle Paul declares that the righteousness of God is imputed to faith without the deeds of the law... The word used in the Greek scriptures regarding imputation is the word logizomai... The imputation of the righteousness of God is absolutely logical. God logicates righteousness in answer to faith. Is the faith there? Then it is logical that the righteousness of God should be there also. Abraham believed God. And it was logical that God saw his own righteousness upon Abraham. It would be completely unreasonable and illogical not to see it there!

Romans 4:7 - Blessed are they whose anomia are aphesis, [iniquities are forgiven] and whose hamartia are epikalupto [sins are covered]. Blessed the man to whom the Lord will not logizomai hamartia [impute sin]. (Ibid. p 79 & 82 & 85 & 108)

The problem being grappled with, regarding this English word "credited", is that there is no suitable English word for logizomai. The nearest equivalents seems to be taken as impute, or credit. But 'evaluates' is better, for that gets rid of any false notions about meriting, or being due something. God sees living faith, and evaluates that person lovingly demonstrating such living, God-given faith as demonstrating his righteousness.


First, Paul contrasts two modes of justification: one based on works and the other based on faith.

What's Paul's argument?:

4 "Now to the one who works, the wages are not credited as a favor, but as what is due."

Simply, someone receives wages for work done. This is the principle of earning or deserving something. When someone works for wages, they are not receiving a favor or a gift. What they are receiving is what is rightfully owed to them based on their labor. In other words, wages are not given out of grace or generosity but as a matter of obligation.

Paul contrasts this with the concept of faith-based justification in verse 5:

5 "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness."

Here, Paul introduces the idea that righteousness is not earned through works but is instead received by faith in God. It is not about work, human effort, or merit, but about trusting in God's grace and mercy. When someone believes in God's promise of salvation and trusts in Him for justification, their faith is credited to them as righteousness.

The summary is this: Works result in wages owed, while faith results in righteousness credited as a gift from God.


Paul, in Romans 4, is using the metaphor of wages to illustrate the functioning of God's free (unmerited) grace. That is, he is contrasting two situations:

  1. when a person works, there is a contract between employer and employee in which wages are awarded for work done. That is, because of the work done, the contract demands the payment of wages as an obligation (V4)
  2. by contrast, neither Abraham nor sinners did anything to earn God's love, grace, salvation, and "righteousness". Righteousness is a free gift that is the initiative of the giver, God.

Paul is effectively condemning the iniquitous (and soul-destroying) doctrine of :Legalism: where people attempt to do good works in order to earn God's favor, salvation, and righteousness. In Romans 4, Paul teaches two things about this idea that are the basis of all else: (1) that such legalism is impossible (2) we cannot earn God's favor because we already have it - God's grace is a free gift to all!!

Thus, Paul is teaching a profound truth - we do not earn God's grace by doing good things or good works and thus earn righteousness. Righteousness of God is credited to us as a free gift. Paul teaches this in many other places:

  • Gal 3:21 - Is the law, then, opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come from the law.
  • Rom 3:20, 4:6 – atonement cannot be achieved by man by the works of the law
  • Eph 2:5, 8-10 – atonement is a free gift of God, out of His love and grace to do good works and glorify God
  • Gal 2:16 – we are justified not by works but by Jesus’ faithfulness because by the works of the law no flesh will be justified.
  • Titus 3:5 – we cannot atone for our own sin by deeds of the law
  • Isa 64:6 – our own righteousness (right doing or “deeds”) are as “filthy rags”
  • Acts 4:12 – sinners are saved by Christ alone
  • Phil 2:13, John 6:44, Rom 2:4, 5:5, Eph 2:5 all show that salvation and atonement are God’s initiative and that any positive response to God’s invitation is also the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Rom 3:23, 24, 5:6, 8, 10 – the fact that God provided atonement for all sinners, while were still sinners, indicates that atonement is God’s initiative alone. Isa 65:1

This is sometimes expressed another way called, “The Divine Exchange” and is illustrated in the following texts:

  • 2 Cor 5:21, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Gal 1:4, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
  • Gal 3:13, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.
  • John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
  • 2 Cor 8:9, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
  • 1 Peter 3:18, For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit,
  • Isa 53:4-6, Surely He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken by God, struck down and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

That is, Jesus was treated as we deserve so that we can be treated as He deserved.

  • +1. I've heard it said of Barabbas and Jesus. God had to treat Jesus like Barabbas, in order for him to be able to treat Barabbas like Jesus.
    – Jason_
    Apr 18 at 0:14
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    @Jason_ - yes - that is a variation of my statement above.
    – Dottard
    Apr 18 at 0:30
  • 1
    Abraham believed God and there was a response to his faith. The statement 'God's grace is a free gift to all' seems to contradict that. Who are the 'all' ? Do you mean 'all who believe' ?
    – Nigel J
    Apr 18 at 3:19
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    @NigelJ - there are two sides to this - the offer and acceptance. God offers to all as per 1 John 2:1, 2, John 12:32, Acts 17:30, Rom 3:23, 24, 2 Cor 5:14, etc. However, not all accept that grace and many reject it. Therefore, belief is not a work we do to earn salvation. God does not respond to us; we must respond to God's free offer. That is, salvation is God's initiative, not ours.
    – Dottard
    Apr 18 at 4:42

Paul & Works

It seems Paul is against “works” for salvation and he is all for passive “grace”.

Yet, the same Paul advises the Philippian believers:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, WORK out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philip 2:12).

What?! Paul says “works” is necessary for salvation!

Again, our rewards are based on our very “works”; so says Paul himself:

“He "will give to each according to his WORKS:" everlasting life truly to those who with patience in good WORK seeking glory and honor and incorruptibility; …………. trouble and pain on every soul of man that WORKS out evil, both of Jew first, and of Greek. But glory and honor and peace will be to everyone **WORKING out good””, both to the Jew first, and to the Greek (Rom 2:8-10).

So, “works” is not that bad; on the contrary, we are going to be judged on the basis of our works (Rev 20:12, 13; 1 Pet 1:17)!

The Works Paul is Against

The truth is, Paul is not against all works. He is only against the “Works of Law”!

“Because by works of Law not one of all flesh will be justified before Him” (Rom 3:20).

“Then we conclude a man to be justified by faith without works of Law” (verse 28).

Works of Law ≠ Ten Commandments

The works of Law has nothing to do with the Ten Commandments of God. Paul says so:

“Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but obeying God's commandments is everything” (1 Cor 7:19).

Besides, Paul says:

“So indeed the Law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Rom 7:12).

“For we know that the Law is spiritual” (verse 14).

So, what is “holy”, “just”, “good” and “spiritual” cannot be as useless as the works of Law!

Unless and until we understand the distinction Paul makes between “the good works of salvation” and the futile “works of Law”, we will never reach anywhere in understanding Paul’s “grace vs. works” controversy that was kick started by Martin Luther!

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