Genesis 15 Through the Lens of Romans 4
Greetings, everyone! Welcome to Friday’s edition of EDiBS, and thank you for coming along for our daily time in the Word of God. In the few minutes that we have today we’ll be embarking on a brief look at the fourth chapter of Romans in light of Genesis 15, so if you have your Bible, take a moment to turn there and then join me for a moment of prayer to our loving Heavenly Father:
Lord, thank you so much for this gift you have given us – the amazing gift of your Word, which is living and active and powerful as it brings us to the saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Please bless our study for these next few minutes, and work in our hearts to the end that we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Savior. In His name we pray, amen.
As we get started today, Paul begins now to explicate the great theological tenet of the Christian faith. Our focus: faith credited as righteousness, apart from works.
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him."
This past week I had to bundle up, get the tractor out in the cold and use it to move my compost pile to a new spot. Winter is a good time to do a job like that because your compost generally isn’t cooking as much as it does at other times of the year and thus you’re not interrupting the decomposition process very much. But that’s not why I did it. I bundled up and got my tractor out in the cold to move my compost pile because my pigs discovered a way to rut under the containment fence, tunnel into the heap, and eat through it from the bottom up! Up to this point I’ve always used the simple pile-and-turn method to break things down, but with my sneaky porcine pals I’m having to change to a new system. So now, on the other side of the barn away from the pig pen, I’ve constructed some stacking bins and topped the whole thing with a plywood lid. Why the lid? Because the compost is no longer fenced in like it was before. Though the pigs are no longer a threat, now I have to worry about wild animals and birds and dogs. And unless that stinking, steaming, decomposing pile of waste is covered, it’s going to end up spread around all over the place; a mess I wouldn’t wish on anyone!
As we move our way into the fourth chapter of Romans today and continue to track with Paul’s ongoing, inductive teaching on the central components of our Christian faith, he now begins to flesh out in greater detail the issue of righteousness; righteousness which is by faith; righteousness which comes, not through the keeping of the Law, but apart from the Law. Why does he continue to parse this out? Because he wants his readers to understand to their very core the accounting and the covering that comes through the gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Through faith in Jesus our Savior, the counting of our sins against us has been replaced by God counting us as righteous. Through faith in Jesus our Savior, the stinking, steaming, decomposing pile of waste that is our bondage to sin is covered over, the mess cleaned up, the threat of eternal punishment eliminated. How does Paul demonstrate these points? By going back to two of the great heroes of the Old Testament: Abraham and David.
Verses 1-3: Going to verses 1-3, let’s look first at Abraham. Remember, Abraham is The Guy when it comes to the Jews and their giants of the faith. He is their father. He’s the one to whom they look for everything related to living a godly life, and the rabbis of the day continually focused on his life as a teaching platform. One thing we often don’t realize, however, is that many Jewish teachers of Paul’s day had unscriptural views about Abraham; unscriptural because they put more stock in the theological writings of certain esteemed scholars and religious figures than they did in Scripture itself. A collection of Jewish writings whose beginnings go back to about 200 B.C., and which today we call the Pseudepigrapha, is a good example of that. Many of those documents assert that Abraham was justified before God by his works. In fact, one ancient passage actually says, “Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord.” But Paul makes just the opposite clear in our text, and he does so by going directly to the source and appealing to Scripture in Genesis 15: Abraham’s righteousness did not come from his performance of good works, but from his belief in God. It was a righteousness obtained through faith.
Verses 4-5: Verses 4-5 spell it out even more with Paul’s example: when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. They are owed to him. We know, however, that in the spiritual realm all have sinned, right? And what are the wages of sin? Death. According to our works, God owes us nothing but the damnation we deserve. But just as Abraham believed and it was accounted to him for righteousness, as the old KJV puts it, so our faith is accounted to us as righteousness. As David Guzik says, this wasn’t some special arrangement meant for Abraham alone; through faith we are brought into that relationship with God also.
Verses 6-8: King David is brought up next, and let’s just very briefly say regarding verses 6-8 that if anyone knew what it was like to be guilty under the Law, it was him! David also, however, knew what it was like to be truly forgiven, didn’t he. He knew, as the text says, the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works. Why does Paul say that? Because if David were judged on works alone, the righteousness of God would condemn him.
As we wrap up for the day, what’s the point of all this? I believe it can be well summed up in the words of commentator R.C.H. Lenski, one of the old Lutheran giants of the early 20th century. He said, “No sinner, and try he ever so hard, can possibly carry his own sins away and come back cleansed of guilt. No amount of money, no science, no inventive skill, no armies of millions, nor any other earthly power can carry away from the sinner one little sin and its guilt. Once it is committed, every sin and its guilt cling to the sinner as close as does his own shadow, cling to all eternity unless God carries them away.” That’s the point indeed…and Paul endeavors make it ever more clear to us going forward. Take care everyone; I’ll look forward to being with you again on Monday, when we'll pick this back up in Genesis 15. God’s peace!