Five Minute Devotions: Romans 4
In Romans, Paul again turns to the Old Testament, this time to give a justification for his doctrine of justification. He goes back to the original patriarch, Abraham, and describes how Abraham was justified through faith, not through works (Romans 4:1-3). He moves onward to David, the greatest king of Israel, and quotes from the Psalms as confirmation that God’s justification has always been by faith (Romans 4:4-8). Since the physical act of circumcision was such a big deal to the Jews, Paul then discusses its beginnings in the time of Abraham (Romans 4:9-12) and how Abraham was justified by faith before his circumcision. Thus, Paul argues, one can be justified even when not circumcised (Romans 4:13-17). In the same way, believers are justified even if they are not Jews (Romans 4:18-25).
The Example of Abraham
Romans 4 is directed toward first century Jews who were struggling to reconcile their past belief in Judaism with their present belief in Christianity. In the former, they had been taught of the superiority of their Jewishness, which is described in terms of circumcision. In the latter, they found it difficult to believe that God would save those who did not fulfill the ceremonial aspects of the Jewish law. This was the primary conflict within the early church and Paul’s ministry as the Apostle to the Gentiles paved the way for a drastic cultural change in early Christianity.
Paul’s argument is very clever. No one would deny that Abraham was justified by faith. Paul’s direct quote of Genesis 15:6 assured that. He gives a second example from David, then returns to Abraham.
Ah, you agree that Abraham was justified by faith. Question: Was this before or after his circumcision?
So then, Abraham the uncircumcised was justified?
And the begrudging answer has to be yes. And if Abraham is justified outside the ceremonial law, so are Gentile believers. In this manner, Paul ties together the Old and New Testaments. He shows the Jew how God has always been the God of Gentiles as well.
This is not just an important point to the first century Jew, this is an important point for the twenty-first century Christian, just for the opposite reason. Modern Christians can get it into their heads that God had an Old Testament way of saving people and a New Testament way of saving people. When the OT way of sacrifice and law didn’t work, in comes Jesus to save the day. Now, it’s very unlikely that we would ever open acknowledge Jesus as God’s Plan B, but that’s the way we treat it when we misunderstand the OT sacrificial system.
The Law never saved. The sacrificial system never saved. Abraham was saved the same way you will be: through the shed blood of Jesus. What the law and the sacrificial system did was expose sin and foreshadow Christ. Abraham was justified by faith under the same requirements we have been. God’s plan of salvation has been the same through the ages.