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Abraham Justified By Faith January 24, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Romans 4:1-25.

Summary: In the latter part of Romans 3, Paul introduced the concept of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Naturally, critics (especially Jews) would question the validity of this concept. In this passage, Paul proves its validity by referring to the example of Abraham. He begins by quoting from Genesis 15 to ensure that he and his critics are on the same page regarding Abraham’s justification (i.e. Abraham was declared by God to be righteous). We must then ask: how was Abraham justified? Paul asserts that Abraham’s justification was by his faith in God, and he establishes this assertion by examining the key events in Abraham’s life. In particular, Paul rules out the possibility of Abraham having been justified by his circumcision, as the events in Genesis 15 occur before the birth of Isaac. Paul also rules out the possibility of Abraham having been justified by his obedience to the law (either the Mosaic law or the natural law that is written on the hearts of men), since Abraham was trusting solely in God to provide him with the offspring that he desired. Thus, we are left with faith as the instrument by which Abraham was justified. Moreover, Paul infers that Abraham was the first, chronologically speaking, of a class of people who genuinely trust in God. Paul provides us with a clearer picture of the level of trust that is required for the members of this class by noting that Abraham believed God’s promise despite the following facts:

  • he was roughly a hundred years old, and so he was much closer to death than to fertility
  • his wife, Sarah, was barren.

Thus, believers must exercise faith even when faced with seemingly ironclad (from the world’s perspective) evidence. To conclude, Paul asserts that

  • believers share the same faith that Abraham exercised
  • believers are to trust and rely on God – the God who put His own Son to death to cover our sins and raised Him to secure our justification.

Thoughts: Reading through this passage raised the following questions for me: what, exactly, was the faith that Abraham possessed, and what was the promise that he had been given? From passages such as verses 13 and 18, it becomes more evident that this promise entailed:

  • the most awesome blessings (for those who put their trust in God)
  • having all nations be blessed through Abraham.

In fact, this blessing would be fully realized in the person of Jesus Christ; moreover, we know from John 8:56 that Abraham himself knew about Jesus Christ and looked forward to the time when He would inaugurate His kingdom on earth. From this, we see that Abraham’s faith entailed a firm trust and reliance on God to carry out that promise, even though it defied human logic. Since believers also trust and rely on Jesus Christ to (fully, in our case) inaugurate His kingdom on earth, in that sense we share the faith of Abraham. We believe that by putting our hope and trust in God, we will be blessed in ways beyond our imagination; we also believe that Christ’s love and mercy extends to all nations.

The word “father” appears seven times in this passage and is worth a brief investigation. Hodge notes that:

The word “father” expresses community in nature or character and is often applied to the head or founder of any school or class of men whose character or course is determined by the relation to the person so designated: as in Genesis 4:20-21, “Jabal…was the father of those who live in tents,” and “Jubal…was the father of all who play the harp and flute.”

It is clear that as believers, we share the faith that Abraham possessed. It should also be clear that we have “inherited” the promise that Abraham was given; he was the first person to receive the covenant that is solely based on God’s works, and not our own efforts.

According to Hodge, verse 25 is a “comprehensive statement of the Gospel.” First, we see that Christ’s death covered our sins by satisfying God’s justice. If we accept the legalistic interpretation of justification as expounded by Hodge, then this immediately follows – Christ is the perfect, and hence, acceptable, sacrifice in God’s sight. Second, we see that Christ’s resurrection is necessary for us to be declared righteous by God. This is more difficult to comprehend, and Hodge addresses this as follows:

First, it was a proof that his death had been accepted as an expiation for our sins…And, secondly, in order to secure the continued benefits of the merits of his sacrifice, he rose from the dead and ascended on high, where he appeared before God for us.

In the first part of this statement, we see that if Christ had not been resurrected, He would have been a liar, and His whole life would have been called into question. As for the second part of this statement, I did start to wonder how the Father would need the Son to constantly intercede for believers; how could He “forget” his Son’s sacrifice and resurrection? Hodge notes that this can be best understood by referring to the Old Testament tradition where the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement to intercede for the people of Israel. In fact, this was an annual occurrence, and so intercession for the sins of God’s people had to be made on a continual basis under the former dispensation (and hence, under the current dispensation).

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