4 February 2014

Romans 4:1-12

“Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” (v. 9)


Paul explained how the founding ancestor Abraham of the Jewish religion fitted into the story of Christian salvation, as a model of one who had faith, as a pattern for both Jew and Gentile (non Jew). God had called Abraham in his old age to leave his homeland and journey to a promised land that God would show him (Genesis 12:1-9), which would bring great blessing. He showed exemplary faith in obeying the voice of God.

If Abraham had worked for and earned his place as the father of Judaism through his own efforts, then he would have had something to be proud about, and some claim on God-like qualities through his own merit. However, Paul explained that what the Hebrew Scriptures actually said was that Abraham believed God, and that was counted to him as righteousness. Righteousness is our character, as it was made to be - one that reflects the beauty and character of God, showing love, justice and mercy.

Paul said if someone had worked, then they should expect wages as owed to them. If they had not worked, wages would be undeserved gift. Did this mean that salvation was an undeserved gift for the non-Jew, but wages for the Jew who had earned it by their own merit?

The crux of the answer for Paul hinged on whether Abraham had earned the gift of righteousness before or after he was circumcised. To be circumcised was a mark of the Jewish covenant and of Abraham's special relationship with God. It became a requirement of covenant law for all Jewish males, and a core mark of their identity as a people of God. Paul said that Abraham had been reckoned to be righteous before he was circumcised and therefore the circumcision had been a sign that he had been made righteous and was not his means of achieving it.

In this way Abraham was the ancestor of all who were circumcised and all who were not, both Jew and Gentile. Those who were not circumcised could follow their ancestor Abraham as the example of a man of model faith.

To Ponder

  • Who do you look back to in your extended family or church family as an ancestor modelling faith and how have they influenced you?
  • Describe some examples of ways you show the quality of having 'faith' in your relationships.
  • How would you explain to an entirely non-religious person what it means to you to have faith in Jesus?

Bible notes author

The Revd Jenny Ellis

Jenny is a Methodist minister and this year has permission to study, as well as work alongside a rural chapel to help it find a new physical presence and sense of mission in its village. She is leading a number of quiet and study days.