Thursday night I had the wonderful privilege of attending a seminar in
which the panelists were a Jew, a Moslem, and a Mormon each of whom had
come to Christ. They were presenting their perspectives on the journey that
had led them to saving faith in Jesus. It was a magnificent time with three
very different people, all of them winsome Christians with an important
word to share.
Tuvya Zaretsky, the panelist who spoke of being raised as a Jew, mentioned that Judaism views Abraham as its fountainhead. He is the origin of the faith of the Jews. Islam also finds its roots in the life and experience of Abraham, and even Mormonism with its emphasis of Abraham, and even Mormonism with its emphasis on the priesthood of Melchizedek testifies to his importance. With this breadth of testimony to the importance of Abraham's influence we will benefit greatly from considering what the New Testament teaches about him.
We'll see in Romans 4 that there is no one who will ever know God without following the example of Abraham. Abraham is indeed a transcendent figure who stands astride human history in a unique way. He traveled the journey of faith that all believers since him have taken.
In the last half of chapter 3 Paul concludes an analysis in which he finds everybody guilty before God. The self-identified rebel, the moralist, and the legalist are all guilty. Everybody stands, as he says, with mouths shut, having to listen to God's answer to the human predicament. His solution is a surprising gift which is offered apart from any contribution by those who will receive it. He has made his righteousness known and available to us because Jesus died on the cross as the payment for our sins. That message does away with all boasting. We must refuse to be impressed with our contribution in any sense, but having received the opportunity to experience the righteousness of God, we must do so by faith and with appreciation for the giver of the gift.
Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.The term "the Law" is used in different ways throughout the New Testament (even within Paul's writings) and the Old Testament. What Paul is using it to mean here is the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. Do we nullify the Law by speaking of this righteousness of God that comes from an oblique angle and intersects human history in a way we didn't expect? The answer is no, we do not nullify the Law, because Abraham's story is there in Genesis. What Abraham teaches us is that from the beginning the righteousness of God has always been apprehended by faith.
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?
For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:We are not learning systematic theology in considering Abraham's life. You can go to a seminary or open a theology book and find propositions about God, man, salvation, and history; and each of the propositions can be undergirded by the texts of Scripture that support it. But that is not how we encounter the righteousness of God here. We will hear of Abraham's experience, the way he spoke with the living God and what it meant to him. We will hear David cry from his heart in a psalm, "Oh, the blessedness of the one whose lawless deeds have been forgiven!" We're going to learn of the Lord the way they learned, by knowing him, by experiencing the righteousness of God given to them.
"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
And whose sins have been covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account."
Paul quotes Psalm 32:1-2:
"...David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works."
"'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,The verses that follow in Psalm 32 continue:
And whose sins have been covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.'"
"When I kept silent,For David, righteousness was this experience: "Oh, the extraordinary blessedness [that is how verse 1 should be translated] of the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account, whose lawless deeds have been forgiven!" Abraham was made a promise by God that he believed, and he became the friend of God. David came to God with sins that were melting his bones, with depression and heartsickness and self-hatred and shame for what he had done and for the hurt he had inflicted on other people. When righteousness was given him, he especially appreciated that he was forgiven, that his lawless deeds had been covered and would be remembered no more, that he could walk into the presence of God cleansed.
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, 'I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD'-
and you forgave
the guilt of my sin."
Is this blessing then upon the circumcised, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say, "Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness." How then was it reckoned? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.So if you came into the world a Jew and are circumcised as a Jew, you are still required to believe what Abraham believed in order for righteousness to be yours. If you came into the world as a Gentile, you are also required to believe what Abraham believed in order to be made right with God. Either Jew or Gentile, what you need is to experience the righteousness of God given as a gift.
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace....That is a very important phrase; grace and faith correspond. If it is a gracious gift, it must be received by faith. If the wage is earned, as described earlier; then it is no longer a gift.
...in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all....The United States Constitution invented the United States of America. The colonies didn't become states until the Constitution made them states. States have different laws in this country. And municipalities within states have different laws; for example, zoning laws that vary from region to region. If you live in a rural area you might have traffic laws that allow for animals to cross the road. If you live in an urban region you might have traffic laws that apply only to buses. Legal differences may exist from one municipality to another, but no municipality can take away the rights of a US citizen because the federal government clearly enumerates rights that supersede local laws. As a citizen you may claim rights of free speech, a free press, and the free exercise of religion. Because these rights were codified in the constitution from the beginning, no subsequent law-making body can deny them.
In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, "So shall your descendants be." And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God....
...and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform.If you want a succinct statement of what the content of faith is, it is the last half of verse 17: If we are to have faith we must believe that our God is the one who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which did not exist. If you want a succinct commentary on what the experience of faith is, it's verse 21: being fully assured that what God has promised, he is able to perform. When I know a promise of God, I am convinced that he can and will do what he said, and I'll bet my life on it.
Therefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written, that "it was reckoned to him," but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead....This is the God who calls into being that which is not and gives life from the dead. Our responsibility is to believe in the specific truth that our Lord laid down his life and that he was then raised from the dead. He is the one in whom we place our faith as Abraham placed his faith in the promise of God as he stood under the stars. As we place our faith in Christ, we are to conform ourselves in our experience to Abraham's example.
...He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.God accepted the sacrifice and raised Jesus up, giving him life again. The acceptable sacrifice of Christ for our transgressions makes possible the gift of righteousness. But what will our journey of discovery be? Abraham believed God and found himself the friend of God, so that in all the rest of his wanderings and his conversations, never once was he without the companionship of God. David was supremely grateful for the forgiveness of his sins. It is valuable for us to articulate, if only to ourselves, what we appreciate most about the gift we have received.
"Where is your wife, Sarah?" [the angels] asked [Abraham].Ishmael had been born about fourteen years earlier. At some time since then Abraham had ceased having sexual intercourse. It had been a long time since he and Sarah were intimate as husband and wife. Now Sarah is laughing to herself, "I'm worn out. He's old. And these men are telling us that the two of us will become lovers again ("have this pleasure") and have a child." Yet, sometime in the course of the next three months Abraham and his wife would draw near to one another again trusting in God and perhaps laughing with appreciation instead of incredulity believing that they would have a son; a son who would be named Isaac which means laughter. They invited each other into intimacy and became the parents of the child who was promised to them.
"There, in the tent," he said.
Then the LORD said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son."
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?"
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