Last week, Paul stated…
- Romans 3:28 (ESV) — 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
To get at the gravity of this statement, we need to couch it in a way Jewish ears would have heard it.
- There are at least two things being said.
(1) The badge or identity marker “marking out the people of God” is not circumcision or the law – N.T. Wright.
- The badge of inclusion into the people of God, the thing that joins them to His righteousness, is faith in God.
(2) The thing that puts people right with God (justified) is not circumcision or the law – even if it is in the context of God’s grace, as some Jews understood it.
- The thing that puts us right with God, being joined to God’s righteousness, is faith in God.
BTW – We tend to focus on the second one only.
- Paul’s Jesus – God’s “but now” righteousness – is way bigger than that!
These teachings of Paul were at odds with most of the Judaism in Paul’s day.
- So much so that historically, in fact, many have taken Paul’s teaching here to be anti-Jewish.
Paul understood that…
“God was somehow redefining Israel, redrawing boundaries, bringing in a covenant renewal in which nothing could be taken for granted” – N.T. Wright.
Paul, being sensitive to how radically different this “redrawing” looked, makes an appeal to the Jewish Scriptures to sure up his case.
- Specifically, and importantly, he appeals to the Torah.
- And even more importantly, he appeals to Abraham.
It is crucial that Paul does this.
“Both Paul’s insistence that justification is by faith alone and his concern for the full inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God make it necessary for him to integrate Abraham theologically into his scheme” – Douglas Moo.
Background – Introduction:
It will be helpful here to see what Paul is up against.
2nd Temple Judaism’s view of Abraham was at odds with what Paul was teaching (Douglas Moo).
- Abraham’s righteousness was “linked to…obedience” – Moo.
- It was thought that Abraham “obeyed the law perfectly before it had been given” – Moo.
Sirach 44:19-21 captures this line of thinking.
- “Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations, and no one has been found like him in glory; he kept the law of the Most High and was taken into covenant with him; he established the covenant in his flesh, and when he was tested he was found faithful.”
Jewish thinking saw any faith Abraham had as a work – a response of obedience to God.
- He therefore merited righteousness from God.
But Paul, using the OT, is about to blow this thinking out of the water.
- “Paul’s interpretation stands squarely against this tradition and is also a more faithful interpretation of the original” – Douglas Moo.
Paul appeals to Abraham to show the validity of both things mentioned above.
- “What is the nature of Abraham’s family” – or – what is badge of inclusion into God’s covenant people?
- What is justification – or – how are we made right with God?
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 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 counted to him as righteousness.”
So Paul begins by asking (in the subtext):
- (1) How is it that Abraham was justified – “gained by Abraham” (vs. 1)?
- (2) And, with that, what was the badge of inclusion into God’s covenant and righteousness?
- Or to put another way, how is Abraham “our forefather according to the flesh” (vs. 1) – N.T. Wright.
- As we have seen, these are the two things he has been addressing for some time.
He first warns that if Abraham was “justified by works” (vs. 2) then boasting is in order.
- But he has already established that there can be no boasting “before God” (vs. 2) and 3:27.
He then goes to Genesis 15:6 to answer his questions.
- “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
This OT text demonstrates a number of things.
- It was belief in Yahweh that joined Abraham to God’s righteousness – that justified him.
- It was belief in Yahweh that demonstrated he was marked out as the people of God.
- Abraham’s faith was “calculated in his favour, indicating that he was in the right” – N.T. Wright.
- And, “All Abraham did was to trust the God who declares the ungodly to be in the right” – Wright.
This means, in answer to his questions, that:
- (1) Abraham was made right with God – justified – through his faith.
- (2) Abraham was the “people of God” through his faith.
BTW – Paul is also implying (and will say later) that the object of Abraham’s faith has now been revealed as Jesus Christ.
- It is now a “faith that finds its focus on Jesus and his resurrection as the great, covenant-renewing act of the one true God” – Wright
Paul unpacks all this in verses 4-8.
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Paul now explains how Genesis 15:6 makes the points he says it does.
- He contrasts gifts and wages.
If Abraham was “one who works” (vs. 4) for his justification, then he would get only what his works obligated his employer to pay.
- He calls this “his due” (vs. 4).
The problem with this is something that Paul explained earlier in his letter.
- Our “due” (vs. 4) from the works of the law is God’s judging righteousness.
- The law actually testifies against us.
- So there would be no payment of saving righteousness to Abraham.
However, if one “believes in him who justifies the ungodly” (vs. 5) then one is in position to be given a “gift” (vs. 4).
- The “gift” God gives is that one’s “faith is counted as righteousness” (vs. 5).
- When connected to God’s righteousness through faith, you don’t get what you deserve but what the object of your faith “gifts” to you.
Douglas Moo sums up Paul’s point:
“Work means the reward is given by obligation, the reward of righteousness must not be dependent on work—for God is never obliged by his creatures; justification is a gift, freely bestowed, not a wage, justly earned”.
Paul then appeals to Psalm 32 to show that this truth is also confirmed there as well.
- The Psalmist speaks of the enormous blessing freely given to the “one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works” (vs. 6).
Psalm 32 describes these blessings, aka, free gifts.
- “lawless deeds are forgiven” (vs. 7)
- “sins are covered” (vs. 7)
- “the Lord will not count his sin” (vs. 8) against him.
So to be one of the justified ungodly (vs. 5) people of God…
- To be in place where God will not count your sin…
- To be in a place where your sins are forgiven and covered…
- You must be a son of Abraham…
- You must be part of the people of God…
- You must be a “faither”.
Tom Schreiner sums up this aspect of Paul’s argument.
- “Covenantal grace does not depend on circumcision. Faith alone is the path to blessing” – Tom Schreiner.
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted 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. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
Paul then has to contend with an objection.
- So Paul, if this is all true, why did God give Abraham circumcision?
Paul first points out that God’s covenant and promise to Abraham was always inclusive of the Gentiles.
- “for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?” (vs. 9)
Then Paul engages in the affirming the negative approach.
- We know that circumcision was not to justify or serve as the badge of inclusion because…
- When was righteousness “counted to him?” (vs. 10)
- “Was it before or after he had been circumcised?” (vs. 10)
- It was “before he was circumcised.” (vs. 10)
- So circumcision didn’t merit or include Abraham anything at all!
Paul then addresses the question head on – so why circumcision?
- He gives three reasons.
(1) It was “a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (vs. 11)
- What is a “seal of the righteousness”?
- It is something that “confirms, documents, ratifies, and authenticates the right standing by faith that Abraham already had” – Schreiner.
Wright likes to speak of a wedding ring here.
- Look at your wedding ring – what is its significance?
(2) Father of Gentiles
- “The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well” (vs. 11)
- Abraham is the patriarch of the Gentiles!
(3) Father of Jews
- “and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (vs. 12)
- Abraham is patriarch of the Jews.
- “The interpretation proposed above says that Jews are the children of Abraham only if they have faith” – Schreiner.
- This is scandalous stuff!
N.T. Wright sums up Paul’s point this way:
“Paul has redefined the family of Abraham in two ways. First, he has opened it up so it contains Gentiles as well as Jews—specifically, Gentiles who believe in the gospel. Second, however, he has narrowed it down, so it no longer includes all Jews automatically” – N.T. Wright.
As we stated at the beginning, Paul’s “but now” righteousness (Jesus) is way bigger than justification by faith.
- To be connected to Jesus through faith is to be connected to Father Abraham.
This is crucial because…
- This is how God has demonstrated that He has been faithful to His covenant and promises to Abraham.
- For it was through Abraham that God promised to put things right.
- This is how we receive the blessings due only to the covenant people of God.
- This is how we are marked out as the people of God.
- This is how we become one of the justified ungodly (vs. 5).
- This is how the righteous divine activity in Jesus is connected to God’s “righteousing” in the past.
As Paul has said, Jesus’ is not a new righteousness of God…
- He is the “but now” manifestation of God’s OT “righteousing”.
- He had to be this or the Gospel falls to pieces.