Hey friends! You've completed one week of "homework" by reading Romans 1-3 and you've been exposed to the profoundly beautiful, rich, and sometimes confusing theology of Romans. If you're reading this today that means you've stuck with it and are committed to reading the whole book of Romans together. Way to go! This whole chapter is a commentary on God's faithfulness through the story of Abraham. If you've never read the Abraham saga or its been while I would recommend reading through it again on your own time (Genesis 11 - 22) The more familiar you are with it the more you'll understand Paul's points here. Otherwise, the first half of this video from our friends at Bible Project will be helpful.
With that said - let's jump into it together.
Scripture to Read
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
Paul continues the argument from Romans 3 that suggests that we are saved by faith, not works, and that we are atoned for our sins through the death of Jesus on the cross. So why bring up Abraham? It was through Abraham that the initial covenant of God was extended - it was through Abraham that God vowed to be our God and we God's people. God took Abraham out at night and showed him the stars in the sky and said that his descendants will outnumber even the stars. Abraham doubted this at first because of his age but eventually followed God on nothing but faith. Paul wisely uses this initial covenant with God and God's people to show that Jesus is not different, but an evolution of that covenant. Perhaps for the Jewish Christians they could see Jesus is the same to the Gentiles as Abraham was to them helping merge the two groups together. For Gentile Christians this would have been helpful to understand why the Torah was so important to their Jewish Christian counterparts. How can we both honor the traditions of church while also leaning into the new things that God wants to do through us?
9 Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.
Checkmate, Paul, checkmate. I admit I had a smile cross my face as I read this in sheer appreciation of the skilled argument and attention to detail. If you've never read the OT (or its been awhile) you might be a little confused why there is soooo much discussion about what to do with a mans penis in the epistles. (haha, e-piss-tles. I'm sorry. I'm a child.) After the covenant with God was made some of the faithful asked Abraham (who would later ask God) how they would distinguish who was "God's chosen people" from the others. God commanded the men to be circumcised (but nothing in relation to the women, as far I as remember.) This way when they entered the ritual baths of purification they could see who was a faithful Israelite and who was not. Paul argues here that people are still "set apart" (the translation for "holy") but instead of a body modification they are set apart through baptism in Christ Jesus as Lord. This remains the truth today.
13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
I find these few verses to be hugely helpful in addressing one of the big estachological questions of our faith regarding the destiny of all the OT characters that came before Jesus. Are they doomed to some version of Hell because they lived before God walked the earth and didn't give their lives to Jesus? What if they faithfully followed God before on the trip to the promised land? What if they made their sacrifices during the exiles? What about Noah and the animals? In my understanding, Paul addresses that here, as he says "but where there is no law, neither is there violation." Abraham existed prior to the law as it was Moses who would receive the 10 commandments, and it would be Moses and his counsel that establish the long, long, long list of laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Therefore, the law (whether that be the Jewish law or the Book of Discipline) is how we live out our faith but it is not our faith. Our faith is God and God alone.
18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Last thing for the day! Paul writes that against all odds God was able to make good on God's promises to Abraham. Abraham had hope in God in spite of everything that was going against him (old age, barren womb, etc.) Contextually speaking it's important to remember that the church in Rome was struggling with persecution and internal conflicts. Paul himself was facing persecution. To be Christian was a difficult choice to make - one that carried with it a very real possibility of death. Paul writes to his peers and encourages them with a story they would have learned from a young age. "God used Abraham despite it looking hopeless. Always stay hopeful." In my own moments of weakness, and I suspect yours too, I think that God can't use someone like me because of the things I've done, the thoughts I've had, the people I've hurt, or any other long laundry list of excuses. Paul, citing Abraham, reminds us that God can deliver on God's promises regardless of us. As our church declines in size and increases in age there is nothing to say that God cannot give us a rebirth for the next 200 years. Let us not dwell in shame because we've been raised to life by Christ. That same core message of Romans rings once more here.
Praying with Praise
I'll let you take a pick of either traditional or contemporary here but both are applicable for Romans 4. Thanks for taking time to study with me today. As you close this time of study in prayer I hope you feel assurance for the rest of your day.
Traditional: God of Abraham Praise
(Lyrics in video)
(Lyrics below video)
You are the God of Abraham
You are in command of every throne
You are the God of majesty
And saw the heart in me and made a home
You have been my God
Faithful through the years
Nations rise and fall
You are standing still
You will be my God
What then shall I fear
I know whatever comes
You’ll be with me still
You are the God of righteousness
You are my defense when I have none
You are the God of matchless grace
In my darkest days, you still hold on
I know You’ve never let go 3x And You never will