thesis now takes a slight detour to deal with certain questions and objections
which would logically arise at this point. Anticipating Aquinas on this point,
Paul knew that an argument was not complete without answers to objections. We
shall state those objections, and Paul’s answer – and then proceed to examine
the implications thereof.
Romans 4:1-8 NIV
then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? (2) If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he
had something to boast about--but not before God. (3)
What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to
him as righteousness." (4) Now when a man works, his wages are not credited
to him as a gift, but as an obligation. (5)
However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked,
his faith is credited as righteousness. (6)
David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom
God credits righteousness apart from works: (7)
"Blessed are they
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered. (8) Blessed is the
whose sin the Lord will never count against him."
might see in this three objections to Paul’s argument concerning the nature of
human sin and God’s response to it. We may phrase those objections as follows:
is all just theory. You need to show me by historical evidence that such
a thing is plausible at least and ultimately required. Give me an
this talk puts me down. I’m not a axe-murderer; but I might as well be by
your argument. Surely good – OK, great – people are exempt from this. If
this is true, why do I feel OK about myself?”
have obviously missed one central point: God works by Law. The Old
Testament is full of rules and regulations. How can you reconcile that
with your theory?”
answer comes in two parts: Abraham and David.
must remember how Abraham would have been viewed by the legalist Jews of the
day. He is the patriarch, the man with whom God started his system. To one
who reasons through these things, he would be seen as one greater than Moses,
and thus greater than the Law (being the ancestor of Moses). From our point of
view he is the man with whom God arranged the promises of Christ, and therefore
a man worthy of high praise, at least in our view.
brings our attention, therefore, to what Abraham discovered. The point
is experimental. God did not simply write it down for him; Abraham discovered
the character of God through a lifetime of interaction. Now, it cannot be said
that Abraham kept the Law, for the Law was several hundred years in the future
from him. But through his experience, Abraham learned to trust God – and for
this he was “credited” with being righteous.
can see the point. Promises are made to Abraham concerning his descendants;
his descendants in that sense inherit those promises. Those promises come by
faith, not keeping the Law. Historical example, and logical point.
David we find no man of great logic and reason as much as we find an artist – a
poet, to be specific. If Abraham is left-brain, David is right brain. Paul
quotes him here (Psalm 32) showing us the blessing of God – by God’s action,
not our own. A blessing is not something earned, but given as favor by God.
And what is that blessing?
our sins are forgiven – which sets our relationship to God in order.
they are “covered” – meaning that God will not bring them up again at some
convenient time. God, if you will, can’t find them anymore.
our sins will never be counted against us. Our sins are fact; their
impact depends upon God. If he forgives, they cease to count against us –
and this is a great blessing.
point is poetic. If the burden of sin is unbearable gloom,
then forgiveness, covering and remission are indeed the blessings of God.
cannot help but note that God is making this argument both to the Romans and to
Romans 4:9-17 NIV Is this
blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have
been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. (10) Under what circumstances was it credited? Was
it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! (11) And he received the sign of circumcision, a
seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still
uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been
circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. (12) And he is also the father of the circumcised
who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith
that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (13) It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring
received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the
righteousness that comes by faith. (14) For
if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is
worthless, (15) because law brings wrath. And
where there is no law there is no transgression. (16)
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be
guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring--not only to those who are of the law but
also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. (17) As it is written: "I have made you a
father of many nations." He
is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life
to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
come now to the “biker problem.” Consider it this way: it’s one thing to tell
a pious, hard-working, upright Christian that faith is so pre-eminent. It is,
from that point of view, a solution to many difficulties – for example, the
call to perfection. But let us consider that icon of badness, the biker. How
can we say that faith avails for such a person as that?
is the obvious: the promise comes by faith. The biker may be greatly
inferior in being nice to his mother, but that doesn’t necessarily imply
he can’t have faith. So, purely logically, this shouldn’t be a problem.
But it is.
draws this conclusion by inference from circumcision. Righteous people
are (physically or symbolically) “circumcised.” That’s the Old Testament
dividing line between the good guys and the bad guys. If God had given
Abraham the promise after circumcision, we might conclude that only
the good guys can have the promise. But God didn’t.
also argues from first principles. God is one. His family is therefore
one. God is father to us all; indeed Abraham is called a father to many
nations, not just the Jews. The question is not, “who is righteous?” but
“who is family?”
the idea that there are rules and regulations, and that life is about following
them, is so ingrained in us that we fail to see the limits of the rules. Look
at it this way, perhaps:
Law – the Old Testament version of rules and regulations – looks
backward. It asks, “What have you done?” and provides penalties for it.
In the law itself there is no hope, for hope concerns the future. The Law
of God brings the Wrath of God.
even in our legal system there is the slight hope of pardon. The Promise
of God looks forward, as do all promises. Therefore, there is hope. If
you have faith, He will deliver.
brings us to another logical objection: if this is so, then why do we have Law
at all? Why do we teach the Christian that he must ceremonially be cleansed
(baptism) and then stay clean?
ceremonial part is well described here as a “seal of righteousness.” If
you will, it makes your attributed righteousness official. It’s the
purple ink, raised letter seal on the death certificate of sin.
clean? Any parent knows the answer to that. It’s a fact that obedience
in children pleases their parents; obedience in the Christian pleases
God. And disobedience provokes not God’s wrath but his discipline.
Romans 4:18-25 NIV Against
all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations,
just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." (19)
Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as
dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also
dead. (20) Yet he did not waver through
unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and
gave glory to God, (21) being fully persuaded
that God had power to do what he had promised. (22)
This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." (23) The words "it was credited to him"
were written not for him alone, (24) but also
for us, to whom God will credit righteousness--for us who believe in him who
raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. (25) He
was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our
is not the same thing as probability. Probability guesses what is likely to
happen; hope believes – even knows – what is going to happen. The facts do not
matter to hope.
when he was told he’d have his own biological son, was pushing a hundred.
Remember, no Viagra. He just laughed at the idea; God was serious,
maybe Abraham can do the job – but his wife? Sarah was pushing ninety.
There’s a reason Medicare doesn’t cover pregnancy.
more telling, Abraham proposed that his son by Hagar, Ishmael, should be
his heir. God said no. In short, Abraham made a reasonable suggestion –
and God countered with an unreasonable promise.
all odds? You bet.
kind of faith?
kind of faith would do a thing like that? I give you three characteristics:
was “fully persuaded that God had the power.” Such faith begins with the
knowledge of God – and that knowledge includes knowing his power. We shy
away from that; gentle Jesus is more approachable than the creator of all
things. But they are one in the same.
did not develop this faith by himself; rather, we are told that he was
strengthened in it. If you need help in this, ask the one who gives
is not “faith in faith” – that is, if you just have enough faith it will
come true. It is faith in the promise of God.
didn’t earn this treatment; God “credited” it to him. God is the Father of
Abraham as well as our heavenly father; what he did for Abraham he will do for
us. He will credit us with righteousness – if we believe.
what? Paul tells us simply: the death and resurrection of Christ. There is a
reason that the attacks against Christianity center on this.
the hope? The hope is none other than the return of Christ and the
resurrection of the dead – including us. The facts are there to support it
You know God’s power; you know of the resurrection of Christ; you know that you
are part of God’s family. This hope is a leap of faith, to be sure – a
dazzling leap of faith. It is also a sure one.