Faith and the New Humanity

As NT Wright points out in his commentary on Romans, Paul’s description of Abraham’s faith reverses point-by-point the earlier description of sinful humanity, humanity under wrath. Abraham believes in God the Creator, while the wicked ignore the creator (1:20, 25). Abraham’s body is as good as dead and yet trusts God for new life, while the godless dishonor God in their bodies through idolatry (1:24). Abraham gives glory to God, while the unrighteous refuse to honor God as God (1:21). Abraham relies on God’s power, while the wicked know the power of God but refuse to worship Him. Finally, Abraham and Sarah, despite their age and despite being good as dead, become fruitful, while the wicked pursue unfruitful sodomy and lesbian sexuality (1:26-27). Abraham and Sarah are parents of a true Adamic race, which will be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.

A couple of additional thoughts suggest themselves, all more or less under the heading of “faith is necessary for the restoration of human society.” First, in Paul’s teaching, wrath is not only God’s response to sin, but the operative power of God that distorts and destroys the flourishing of human life. Wrath is what CAUSES men to pursue fruitless sex, and it produces all the evils Paul describes at the end of Roman 1. If human life is going to flourish, something must be done with wrath. Torah is no solution, since Torah brings wrath. Second, wrath begins to operate when men know God but refuse to honor Him as God, glorify Him, and give thanks. Here is where faith is key. Faith does not merely produce obedience to the first commandment as a “fruit”; faith IS obedience to the first commandment, since faith acknowledges God as the trustworthy, powerful, unique God that He is. Faith, in short, honors God as God, glorifies Him, and gives Him thanks. Faith thus is, on the human side, the beginning of the reversal of wrath, and the beginning of the restoration of human life. This is surely at the heart of what Abraham’s faith was all about; he trusted God to produce the seed that would make him a father of nations, restoring the nations that had been scattered at Babel. Finally, all this suggests a much broader understanding of faith than is normal in dogmatics, broader in the sense that its effects go beyond the scope of soteriology narrowly defined. Faith is a key POLITICAL and CULTURAL factor.

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