11 April 2016

Romans 4:13-18

“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).” (v. 16)

Psalm: Psalm 69:1-21


As we read Paul's letter to the Romans we are aware of the story of its author: Saul, the zealous, pharisaic Jew who was met and transformed by the risen Christ (Acts 9:1-9). In Romans, Paul writes to a congregation which includes both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. So we can hear in the discussion that Paul works through in this section of Romans two potential conflicts. One is between those Christians in Rome who were Gentiles and for whom the (Mosaic) Law has no value, and those who were Jews and who seem to have expected that the Gentiles adopt some of their practices. The other is between Paul's Christian faith and his understanding pre-transformation. That he has been baptized does not mean that all he believed before is not true. On the contrary, Paul has to hold together three great truths:

  • God is utterly faithful and will not go back on God's word
  • (therefore) what God promised to Abraham and his descendants stands
  • (but) in Christ God has offered salvation to all people.

The way that Paul reconciles these truths is to argue that when God promised Abraham that he would be the ancestor of many people this was not a reference to the physical descendants (of children Abraham and Sarah were yet to have), but to all those who were part of a family of faith. That Abraham trusted that God would give him descendants was remarkable: the key text for Paul was Genesis 15:6 - "he believed the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness". Abraham's faith, as an elderly childless man, was what Paul had come to understand as being the vital element in the story. Therefore, he argues, God's commendation of Abraham's faith indicates that his family will include all who trust in God to keep God's promises.

To Ponder

  • Muslims as well as Jews claim to be the children of Abraham. How does our understanding of 'the family of Abraham' shape our approach to people of other faiths?
  • Can you remember a time when God proved faithful, even though the problems you faced seemed insurmountable? What happened?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..