I am long overdue to return to something that I began doing more than 7 years ago on this blog. Read the introductory post and earlier posts below for the project to get a sense of what I had been trying to do in this series. To put it briefly, it is an effort to retell Paul’s letter to the Roman church in a manner that might help Christian readers today feel the same impact readers in Paul’s time would have. While Christian think of themselves and the church as the people of God over against others, Paul was thinking of Israel that way. Christian readers thus tend not to hear the impact of Paul’s challenging message and thought the way his contemporaries would have. Here’s Romans 4:1-25 retold:
What did Abraham, our predecessor in the faith, find to be the case? If he was justified by his act of believing certain things to be true, then he would have had something to boast about (even if not before God). For what does the Bible say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now if someone works, their wages are not counted as a gift but as their due. But if someone does not work but trusts in the God who justifies the ungodly, their trust is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the person against whom the Lord will not count their sin.”
Is this blessing only for those who happen to have the right doctrine, or is it also for those who are wrong about things? We say that Abraham’s trust in God was counted as righteousness. But how was it counted? Did Abraham know or believe all the things that Christians believe about God? God continued teaching Abraham new things after he trusted, and because he trusted. Abraham can thus serve as the spiritual father of all who trust God, whether their opinions and doctrines are correct or wrong. Even those whose beliefs are more accurate must demonstrate the trust in God that Abraham had if they wish to be considered his descendants.
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through doctrine but through the righteousness of trust. For if it is the adherents to right doctrine who are to be the heirs, trust is nullified and the promise is rendered void. For statements of faith bring debate and excommunication, but where there is no doctrine there is no heresy.
That is why it depends on trust, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to the adherent of Christian doctrine but also to the one who shares the trust of Abraham who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he trusted, who gives life to the dead and calls the things that do not exist into existence. Abraham hoped against all hope that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in trust for God even when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the infertility of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but his trust in God grew stronger as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what had been promised. That is why his trust was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who trust in the one who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. We do not merely affirm beliefs about Jesus, but trust as Jesus trusted, in the one in whom he trusted.
Here are the earlier posts in this series:
Also of related interest to what Paul writes in Romans: