Romans Chapter Four

Romans 4 Commentary

In this chapter Paul argues an indefensible case for simple faith in a God of goodwill. He urges us to put our lives and our eternal destiny into God's hands and to trust his totally faithful and consistent nature. He argues for this against religious performance and religious tradition. He opens up the whole new world of faith and he says that faith is trusting God’s heart of love towards us, and accepting that when we respond to this love we have found the starting point of a life with God. He shows us that traditional and religious formalism that imposes strict conditions of performance upon people in order for them to find favor with God is NOT the way forward.

Paul uses Abraham, the National forefather of the Hebrew people as the test case for a man being brought into harmony with God simply by trusting in the impeccable character of that loving God.

He also uses the example of another of the Hebrew giants of renown, King David. He quotes David in the psalms as a man who committed grave sins against God, but who found favor and mercy and forgiveness just by asking God for it and believing that God was big enough and loving enough to give it to him.

The argument he uses with Abraham is that Abraham’s act of faith and trust in God was recognized by God before Abraham performed any act of religious formality or ritual. He uses circumcision as the object of formal religious ritual, because Abraham became circumcised and was even commanded by God to do it. But God was simply setting circumcision in place as the sign of the covenant that God was making between himself and the Hebrew Nation that would come through Abraham. But the act of circumcision was just an act, a formality like a signature on a contract – it was not the contract - and it came after Abraham believed - not before.

He then cleverly positions Abraham in a place of favor and harmony with God because of the first response of his heart of faith, rather than the later ritual act of circumcision. But it was the second response that Judaism set most store upon – the sign of circumcision - the basic sign of the Old Testament Covenant, and very important, as far as Jewish law was concerned.

Not only does Paul use this radical truth, but he includes all of us in Abraham’s act of faith, leapfrogging the entire era of circumcision and the rites of Jewish law and the commandments. Pleasing God and getting along with him in our day to day lives now gets brought into a present day result of faith and trust in God - specifically faith and trust in what Jesus - as God and as man - did in bringing mankind into sharing His very own intimate relationship with His Father in heaven.

Paul is arguing vigorously against the mindset of Jewish tradition and formalism. He sees all religious formalism as the obstacle to having peace and harmony with God and he advocates an attitude of trust and faith in what God Himself has declared.  But his argument is actually far broader than just Judaism.

He is saying that it is not just Jewish formalism that is an obstacle - it is all of religious formalism that is the universal obstacle to humanity becoming part of a life lived in enjoying the goodwill of a loving God. The same arguments can be engaged in today against all religiosity, including the Christian Church, and against those who put legal conditions of performance upon people instead of offering them the freedom to enjoy God's company that God Himself offers us.

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1 What are we going to now say about Abraham, our national ancestor? What do we now say about his experience of faith in the light of what we have already been saying?

2 If Abraham had harmony with God by getting everything right he might have been justified in feeling proud of himself, but that would not have impressed God.

3 Doesn't Scripture say that it was Abraham's faith and trust in God that made him right with God?

4 If you have to work to get something what you earn is not a gift but an obligation that is owing to you.

5 However if it is not your own effort but an attitude of trust in God that brings everybody, even those who have not lived in obedience to Him, into harmony with Himself, then it is that same faith and trust that also bonds you to God in a way that completely satisfies Him.

6 Our own King David also talks in the psalms about how wonderful it feels to be brought into an intimate relationship with God without having to do anything to earn that status.

7 He says 'how wonderful it feels to be a person whose wrongdoings are disregarded and whose faults are mercifully covered.'

8 'What a blessing to be someone to whom God does not hold all their past wrongs against them.'

9 Is this great blessing only for those of the Jewish religion who are called 'the circumcised'? Or is the blessing also for all the other Nations as well? - let's call them 'the uncircumcised', because we are using Abraham as an example here, and saying that his faith brought him into close relationship with God.

10 When was this harmony with God established? Was it before he was circumcised or after he was circumcised? It was before he was circumcised!

11 He was circumcised as an outward sign of the inward faith that he had before he was circumcised so that he would be the father of faith to everyone who believed and trusted in God, even if they are not of 'the circumcised' so that they can live in that same closeness with God also.

12 So he is the father of those of the rite of circumcision and the father of those who are not of the rite of circumcision, who also follow in his footsteps regarding the faith that he had before he was circumcised.

13 Because the promise that God made to Abraham, that he would inherit the whole world, was not made to him or to his descendants by becoming people of the Jewish religion and living under the Commandments. It was made to him and to the offspring that would live in intimate relationship with God through faith.

14 So if it is only for those who live under the rites and Commandments who share Abraham's inheritance, the faith is made ineffective and the Promise is made ineffective.

15 Because the rites and Commandments can only work effectively if they process penalties upon those who disobey them, but if there is no active process of Commandments and penalties, then there is no longer any violation to be penalized.

16 So all the terms of reference of living a life with God now have to do with faith, and now the abundant good will of God towards humanity can be demonstrated, so that the Promise can reliably be seen to belong to all of Abraham's offspring. It is  not just for those of the rites and commandments, but for those who had faith like Abraham, who is the father of us all.

17 God said to Abraham in the Scriptures, 'I have made you a father of many nations'. This is the mighty God who brings the dead back to life and calls things into existence by creating them out of nothing.

18 And Abraham who had every reason to lose hope, gained hope through his faith that he would become the father of many nations, because of what God had said to him about his seed inheriting the world.

19 Because he was strong in his faith he did not worry about the fact that his body was worn out, being about one hundred years old, or the fact that Sarah's womb was too old for child bearing.

20 He did not waver in his faith in what God had promised but honored Him by trusting in Him completely.

21 And he was fully convinced that whatever God had said He would do, He had the full power to accomplish.

22 God therefore accounted Abraham as being totally at one with Him.

23 Now all of this has not been recorded in Scripture just to tell us of the closeness with God that only Abraham had,

24 But it has been recorded for our sakes, who will also be brought into intimate closeness with God simply by believing and trusting in the God who raised Jesus from the dead to be Lord over all humanity,

25 Who was dealt a criminal's execution to make up for the misdeeds of mankind, and raised up into life in heaven so that mankind can share the oneness and harmony with The Father that He does.