Read & Study the Bible Online - Bible Portal

The Faith Which Takes God At His Word

4:1-8 What, then, shall we say that Abraham, our forefather from whom we take our human descent, found? If Abraham entered into a right relationship with God by means of work, he has some ground for boasting--but not in regard to God. For what does scripture say? "Abraham trusted in God and it was accounted to him for righteousness." The man who works does not receive his pay as a favour; he receives it as a debt due to him. But, as for the man who does not depend on work, but who trusts in the God who treats the ungodly as he would treat a good man, his faith is accounted as righteousness. Just so, David speaks of the counting happy of the man to whom God accounts righteousness apart from works--"Happy they whose transgressions are forgiven and whose sins are covered! Happy the man to whom God does not account sin!"

Paul moves on to speak of Abraham for three reasons.

(i) The Jews regarded Abraham as the great founder of the race and the pattern of all that a man should be. Very naturally they ask, "If all that you say is true, what was the special thing that was given to Abraham when God picked him out to be the ancestor of his special people? What makes him different from other people?" That is the question which Paul is going on to answer.

(ii) Paul has just been seeking to prove that what makes a man right with God is not the performance of the works that the law lays down, but the simple trust of complete yieldedness which takes God at his word and believes that he still loves us even when we have done nothing to deserve that love. The immediate reaction of the Jews was, "This is something entirely new and a contradiction of all that we have been taught to believe. This doctrine is completely incredible." Paul's answer is, "So far from being new, this doctrine is as old as the Jewish faith. So far from being an heretical novelty, it is the very basis of Jewish religion." That is what he is going on to prove.

(iii) Paul begins to speak about Abraham because he was a wise teacher who knew the human mind and the way it works. He has been talking about faith. Now faith is an abstract idea. The ordinary human mind finds abstract ideas very hard to grasp. The wise teacher knows that every idea must become a person, for the only way in which an ordinary person can grasp an abstract idea is to see it in action, embodied in a person. So Paul, in effect, says, "I have been talking about faith. If you want to see what faith is, look at Abraham."

When Paul began to speak about Abraham, he was on ground that every Jew knew and understood. In their thoughts Abraham held a unique position. He was the founder of the nation. He was the man to whom God had first spoken. He was the man who had in a unique way had been chosen by God and who had heard and obeyed him. The Rabbis had their own discussions about Abraham. To Paul the essence of his greatness was this. God had come to Abraham and bidden him leave home and friends and kindred and livelihood, and had said to him, "If you make this great venture of faith, you will become the father of a great nation." Thereupon Abraham had taken God at his word. He had not argued; he had not hesitated; he went out not knowing where he was to go ( Hebrews 11:8 ). It was not the fact that Abraham had meticulously performed the demands of the law that put him into his special relationship with God, it was his complete trust in God and his complete willingness to abandon his life to him. That for Paul was faith, and it was Abraham's faith which made God regard him as a good man.

Some few, some very few, of the more advanced Rabbis believed that. There was a rabbinic commentary which said, "Abraham, our father, inherited this world and the world to come solely by the merit of faith whereby he believed in the Lord; for it is said, 'And he believed in the Lord, and he accounted it to him for righteousness.'"

But the great majority of the Rabbis turned the Abraham story to suit their own beliefs. They held that because he was the only righteous man of his generation, therefore he was chosen to be the ancestor of God's special people. The immediate answer is, "But how could Abraham keep the law when he lived hundreds of years before it was given?" The Rabbis advanced the odd theory that he kept it by intuition or anticipation. "At that time," says the Apocalypse of Baruch (Baruch 57:2), "the unwritten law was named among them, and the works of the commandment were then fulfilled." "He kept the law of the Most High," says Ecclesiasticus ( Sirach 44:20-21 ), "and was taken into covenant with God.... Therefore God assured him by an oath that the nations should be blessed in his seed." The Rabbis were so in love with their theory of works that they insisted that it was because of his works that Abraham was chosen, although it meant that they had to argue that he knew the law by anticipation, since it had not yet come.

Here, again, we have the root cleavage between Jewish legalism and Christian faith. The basic thought of the Jews was that a man must earn God's favour. The basic thought of Christianity is that all a man can do is to take God at his word and stake everything on the faith that his promises are true. Paul's argument was--and he was unanswerably right--that Abraham entered into a right relationship with God, not because he did all kinds of legal works, but because he cast himself, just as he was, on God's promise.

"If our love were but more simple,

We should take him at his word;

And our lives would be all sunshine,

In the sweetness of our Lord."

It is the supreme discovery of the Christian life that we do not need to torture ourselves with a losing battle to earn God's love but rather need to accept in perfect trust the love which God offers to us. True, after that, any man of honour is under the life-long obligation to show himself worthy of that love. But he is no longer a criminal seeking to obey an impossible law; he is a lover offering his all to one who loved him when he did not deserve it.

Sir James Barrie once told a story about Robert Louis Stevenson. "When Stevenson went to Samoa he built a small hut, and afterwards went into a large house. The first night he went into the large house he was feeling very tired and sorrowful that he had not had the forethought to ask his servant to bring him coffee and, cigarettes. Just as he was thinking that, the door opened, and the native boy came in with a tray carrying cigarettes and coffee. And Mr Stevenson said to him, in the native language, 'Great is your forethought'; and the boy corrected him, and said, 'Great is the love.'" The service was rendered, not because of the coercion of servitude, but because of the compulsion of love. That also is the motive of Christian goodness.

Related Topics

Be the first to react on this!

Scroll to Top

Group of Brands