“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.” (Romans 4:13)
I have, in my own mind, clustered together the Old Testament passages and the Epistle passages. So often the theme, context, and background of one relates to the other. I strongly suspect it is because it is Paul who is writing most of the epistles. And that his biblical and theological training leads him to connect the Old Testament to the message of Jesus Christ as he understands it. So here we have Abraham as he was presented yesterday as the focus of today’s passage.
“If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. “ (Verses 14 – 15)
That is not to imply that the Epistle passage is explained by the Old Testament; or that the Old Testament passage is expanded upon by the Epistle passage. Just that the two seem to swirl around each other.
Paul does not much like the law, except for those times that he does. Here he does not like the law, because the law is premised on sin and the describing of sin. Paul likes faith much better, and would set aside the law in favor of faith – except in those places where the law shows the need for faith. He also likes grace.
“For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) –in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Verses 16 – 17)
Sharing the faith of Abraham – not just having the same brand/blend of faith, but the unshakable faith of Abraham.
“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.” 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. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Verses 18 – 21)
The unshakable faith of Abraham, except when he was Abram who thought it better to have a son through/with Hagar than to trust the Almighty’s perception of fertile biology.
“Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” (Verses 22 – 25)
Dear Paul, never counting the exceptions and not letting the rules/law get in the way of his preaching. But I think the exceptions should be noted and celebrated. Paul paints the picture of perfect faith, dovetailing with the finesse of following the law, and exhorting his readers to rely on grace but living such that only a small amount is needed. To be far, Paul also paints another picture where he says that he does those things he should not, and does not do the things he should. And there, actually, he has a lot in common with Abraham!
This is Lent, beloved reader, bumbling and stumbling our way to Ash Wednesday when we confront what we have done. And then spend the next five weeks examining ourselves and confessing where we have gone wrong. Proclaiming our faith, but admitting our defeats.
None of us are the rule – that is, none of us are perfect, perfectly following the rules and laws. But none of us are the extreme exception – that is, sinning constantly and continuously. We are all somewhere in between. Yes, we need grace. And yes we have faith. We are the spiritual children of Abraham, with all his faults and missteps. Praise be to the Lord God that the covenant God made with Abraham also covers us. And praise be to the Divine that we have celebratory examples to follow! Selah!