Paul has just finished saying how neither Jews nor Gentiles can be justified before God, but that the law shows us our sin. We can be justified, but through no effort or help of our own. We must be, so to speak, bundled up bodily and carried out of the kingdom of this world and into the Kingdom of our God on the shoulder of Jesus Christ. The only “help” we can give is to cling to Him and not to kick and scream as we are rescued from certain destruction.
There’s no place here for boasting. We are all saved by grace (the working of God in our lives) through faith–and the faith itself is not of ourselves, but is the gift of God. We don’t get faith through our own works, so we have no grounds for boasting.
Paul discusses boasting a little more in Romans 4, but the main theme of this chapter is Paul’s demonstration that faith saves both the circumcised and the uncircumcised. This was a major issue in Paul’s day. I wonder how it will apply to us. This is my installment for this week’s small group bloggers’ Bible study. To go back to the assignment page and read other folks’ take on Romans 4, click here.
What has Abraham found? Abraham had something a lot of us covet. Abraham knew God–really knew Him. Abraham talked with God face to face and God talked back. In words. Nowadays if you tell someone God told you this or that, they’re liable to have you evaluated for mental soundness, yet today when we say something of this sort, we generally mean that we got an impression in our mind/heart/spirit that God was saying thus and such. We have God’s Word in the Bible and we have the practice of prayer. Though God usually doesn’t show up in the company of several angels to have a discussion with us, He manages to get His point across if we hang around Him long enough to get our ears unplugged from the world.
So what was the result of Abe’s knowledge of God? He believed Him. No, Abraham really believed. Abraham believed so much that it showed through in his actions and attitudes. Abraham didn’t force himself to act in accordance with his “beliefs” in order to prove he believed. Abraham acted like he believed because he did believe, because he knew God.
This is the kind of “believe” that God credits toward our account as righteousness. Do we believe God? Does it show through into our lives? There was a Christian song entitled “Live Like You Believe”, but no one has to be told to “live like we believe”. We do this naturally. We may be confused about what we really, truly believe. It’s easy to get that way, especially when our “beliefs” are the acceptable thing in our social circle. When we habitually do things we don’t approve of, we need to check our beliefs. Likely, something is amiss there and needs to be adjusted.
God saves us because we believe in His Son. Not because we said a magic prayer or made a magic walk to the altar. In a very real sense, faith saves us, but only faith in Christ, and only genuine faith. Make believe belief can’t motivate us to flee the fire.
Does God have to save us? No. He chose to credit our faith in Him as righteousness. It’s a gift. Of mercy. Paid in the blood of God. A very, very big deal. How dare we think ourselves superior in any way to anyone else because we have been saved? As if we contributed to our salvation. We are blessed by God. Not naturally innocent of sin, but innocent by His mighty works. As if we could get into His good graces by doing more “good” than bad when even the “good” things we do are tainted by self-interest and could not, in any event, cancel out the bad.
Our only hope is that God has forgiven our sin and covered it in His own blood. He will never charge us with sin. Sing Praise to God!
Since Abraham is the father of our faith, is justification only for his offspring? Well, yes and no. Abraham was credited with righteousness before he was circumcised and maintained that gift after his circumcision. The circumcision (or works of the law) did not save him. Symbolically, Abraham’s faith led to the fulfillment of the law in the act of circumcision, not the other way round.
The promises God made to Abraham were made on the strength of his faith, not because of his obedience to the Law. Because Abraham was credited with righteousness apart from the works of the Law, so may we be, if we believe God as Abraham did. We, and all who follow in Abraham’s spiritual footsteps, are his children, whether in spirit or flesh.
God promised Abraham that he would inherit the earth. This was before and independent from the Law. If we’re justified by keeping the Law, what do we need faith for? The promise is canceled if we’re justified by the law, because the promise was that we would be accepted on ground of faith, not perfect observance of the Law.
Law produces punishment. If it’s not illegal (yet) to produce this or that drug and sell it to recreational users, you can’t be prosecuted for illegal trafficking in that drug. So you invent this new drug, people start using it, harm is done and the press hears about it, lawmakers make a law, and now it’s illegal and you can be prosecuted for what you’re doing. It has not, only just now, become wrong, but it has been declared wrong and a punishment is therefore justified.
God gave us the laws of nature and he gave His chosen people the more explicit Law of Moses. We are without excuse. We know right from wrong. But we can’t keep the Law. God knew we couldn’t. He gave it to show us clearly that we can’t make it on our own, so that we stubborn children might grab the life preserver He meant to throw to us (and has thrown us in Christ).
The Law can’t save us. God knew that, as the depraved children of Adam, we could not do right. He holds out His hands and says, “Come!” But we, like confused and rebellious toddlers, run from what is best for us. If we truly have faith and believe God, we will trust and obey Him. This is the only way we can be saved, whether we are children of the Law or children of Abraham through faith.
Abraham is the physical father of many nations, but he is also the spiritual father of many, many nations–everywhere people can be found who follow after the faith of Abraham.
We are given the example of Abraham believing God for a son and heir, though Abraham believed God in many situations, possibly because of the correlation of Abraham’s trust in God to give him a son, with believing God for His Son to come at some point in Abe’s distant future, and pay the price for the redemption Abraham was enjoying in his present tense.
Abraham’s faith was credited for righteousness; our faith likewise is credited as righteousness. Our belief. Our trust in God. Our knowing Him well enough to know to run to Him, not away from Him. He has given His Son, allowed Him to bear our sins, raised Him up (and with Him, raised us as well) and legally, actually, factually justified us.
We cannot be justified apart from Jesus any more than we can be plucked out of the water if we refuse to grab the life preserver thrown to us. We believe in the life preserver and in the one who has thrown it to us and we are saved by our faith and the actions that naturally follow from it.
Grace and Peace,