Paul now wants to give a practical example of how his ongoing argument works itself out in real life. (And in case our attention spans have forgotten, Paul has been making a strong claim that all people are messed up but that they can be made right through faith in God. — It wouldn't hurt to read the first three chapters of Romans straight through once more at this point.)
So at the beginning of chapter 4 in the letter-book of Romans, Paul turns his attention to the father of nations, Abraham. One of the most famous and influential persons to have ever lived, Abraham had wealth, territory, political sway and integrity (good and bad) before the name 'Israel' was ever spoken. (Apparantly he even made an album with the Smurfs in his spare time… He and Papa Smurf had several things in common I guess…). In terms of faith, the original Abraham is counted among the most faithful person ever to have lived… He trusted God with all things, including his son Isaac— He was willing to sacrifice anything for God.
And yet, even Abe messed things up. That might be sacreligious for me to say… But it's time to sac some aspects of religion anyhow. Look, it was not Abraham's good works that made him right in God's sight… It was Abraham's faith. Abraham trusted God… And this was proven often through Abraham's good actions, yes… but it was also proven during times of Abraham's poor actions as well.
Genesis 15:6 is key here. Abraham, a very old man, married to a very old wife, barren during their lifetimes and now well beyond child-bearing years, is shown the sky by God. "See these stars," God says to him. "See how many stars there are? Uncountable, aren't they, Abe? That's how many descendents you will have." And Abraham believed God.
What did Abe do? Well, Abraham "believed" God… and then he messed up. He tried to take God's promise into his own hands (he and his wife actually forced a child through another woman and obviously things got very messy). Oops.
And still God credited him as "right". How?
Because in God's grace, Abraham was given another shot… and when presented with the opportunity to embrace God's pattern, Abraham squeezed his son Isaac tight with both arms. In the end and throughout his struggles Abraham certainly showed a pattern of believing in God… and God chose to see Abraham as "right" in His sight.
We have a good God.
Romans 4:1-3 (NLT) Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”