4.8 Romans -- the Nature of Faith, cont.
Paul then begins to pull exegetical rabbits out of a hat: in Rom 4, he appeals to the fount of Israel to prove that righteousness with God has never been possible through the Law -- Abraham was made right with God because he believed the promise of God that he would have an heir.
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6).
Only later was he circumcised (Gen 17:24). This is Paul at his best. When he was in Athens, he quoted the Greek poets. When writing to Jews, he cites Abraham, their chief authority. He turns his opponents' big guns on themselves. Circumcision was only a sign of Abraham's faith. The true heirs of Abraham are not those who have received the cutting of the flesh, but those who receive the promise by faith. Boy, did this make them mad! Biological descent from Abraham was crucial to Jewish personal identity and faith:
"We are Abraham's descendants....Abraham is our father," they answered (Jn 8:33, Jn 8:39).
And now Paul was devaluing lineal descent, and adopting pagans into the holy nation!
He is the father of us all (Rom 4:16).
Is it any wonder they tried to tear him apart in Jerusalem?
But here again, let us note that this is another linchpin in the Christian assault on racism. If every believer is a spiritual descendant of Abraham, there is a kinship among them that overrides natural ties. When one believes in Jesus as his way to God, his righteousness with God, he severs natural ties, the claims of family, nation, blood. Jesus put it:
"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life" (Mat 19:29).
What he gains is far more -- membership in the Kingdom of God itself, reaching all over the earth and through every century.
From the perspective of the Old Testament, Paul was a raving apostate. But this was because he was determined to exposit the full meaning of the Gospel of Christ. He realized that the coming of the New meant the end of the Old. They could not co-exist, despite the efforts of the Church in Jerusalem to harmonize them.
But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code (Rom 7:6).