The Jews were pretty proud of their famous forebear, Abraham. It was their descent from him after all that made them the favored, the chosen people of Yahweh. Do they have exclusive rights to the patriarch? Or have the Jews been shoved aside and rejected in favor of the church? And if so, which church in particular? Paul had something to say about this, of course. Here’s my paraphrase of Romans 4:1-12:
So then, what shall we say about our father Abraham? If Abraham was declared righteous by works, then he has something to boast about (though not before God). For what does scripture say?
Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him as righteousness.
Now, to the one who works, his reward — his wages — are not given as a favor but because he has earned them and his employer is obligated to pay him. Whereas to the one that does not work, but trusts Him who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited to him as righteousness.
David also spoke of the happiness of the person to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
Happy are those whose sins have been forgiven and covered! Happy the person whose sin Yahweh will not count in any way.
So . . . is this happiness for the circumcision or the uncircumcision? (the Jews or non-Jews) Because we say, “Abram’s faith was accounted to him as righteousness” how was it accounted? Before or after his circumcision? Before! The circumcision came after, as a symbol and a seal of the righteousness he received because of his faith — before he was circumcised.
It happened this way so that he might be the father of all who believe and who are not circumcised, so that the same righteousness might be credited to them. And ALSO father of the circumcision — to those who are not ONLY circumcised, but who also walk in the steps of faith that Abraham had before he was circumcised.
God doesn’t owe us anything because off works that we’ve done. Even if we HAD obeyed Him, what would He owe us? As His children, cared for by His hand, obedience is merely that which is our duty to do. Even Abraham hadn’t earned the grace and favor of God. That doesn’t mean that our Papa doesn’t incur any obligation to His creatures simply by the act of creating them. That is another topic. The point here is that WE can do nothing to put Him in our debt so that we might say, “I have earned this status,” rather than, “I am here because of His grace and love toward me.”
Here, Paul points out that Abraham was declared righteous by God because Abraham acted in faith toward God (which is the duty of his and our relationship to God). Because of this, he was declared righteous completely apart from works of the law as evidenced by the fact that he hadn’t yet so much as taken on the seal of the covenant — circumcision.
Paul says that it was done in this way to allow Abraham to be the spiritual father of those who are of the Jews and also those who are of the nations (non-Jews). In this he says to the gentiles (non-Jews), “You are acceptable apart from the works of the law,” and to the Jews, “You are accepted because of your faith, not because you have kept the works of the law (you haven’t), but because you trust the word of the Lord that He has made you righteous.”