What does it mean to be justified by faith? We know the Bible teaches it, and it might be that we are quick to give a correct answer, but what does it mean? In Romans 4, the apostle Paul gives an illustration to help us understand what it means to be justified by faith. In the previous chapter, Paul made clear that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (3:23), and but a little further ahead he states that sin leads to one’s spiritual death (6:23). Sandwiched between these two thoughts is an illustration from the life of Abraham to help us understand what the Holy Spirit wants us to know.
A great many people will tell you that to be justified by faith means to pray what is known as the “sinner’s prayer,” but that is not what Paul said. In fact, what is commonly known as the “sinner’s prayer” is not even found in the Bible, much less did Abraham know anything about it. In Romans 4 we learn that to be justified by faith means do what Abraham did. Let me explain.
Abraham trusted in God. This trust in God was Abraham’s total reliance on God to accept what he offered. What did Abraham offer? His heart. But this was not all that he offered. In Genesis 15, the Lord attributes to Abraham justification because Abraham not only believed (trusted) God, but obeyed Him as well. Twice we learn that Abraham obeyed when he was told by the Lord to do particular things. First, he was told to pick up his family and depart for a land he knew nothing about (Genesis 12). Second, he was told to keep covenant with God by having all the males in his family circumcised (Genesis 17). In both cases, there was nothing easy about that which was required of him. To complicate matters more for Abraham, the Lord promised Abraham that from his wife would come a son. Some had doubts. For Abraham, however, though he may not have understood how such a thing could occur with a woman past the normal time of child-bearing—Abraham was fully convinced and did not waver in unbelief (Romans 4:19-21).
What does it mean to be justified by faith? It means that one fully trusts God and obeys Him in everything He said. Why would anyone want to call Jesus Lord, but then not obey Him (Luke 6:46).