The Faith of Abraham
In Genesis, God continues to implement His plan to redeem humanity by establishing the Covenant with Abraham, beginning with His summons for the Patriarch to leave his homeland and sojourn to the “land that I will show you.” Yahweh would produce a “great nation” from him, and the Covenant would bless all the “tribes of the Earth.” Moreover, from its start, the promise of territory was and remains central to the Abrahamic Covenant.
In his letter to the churches of Rome, the Apostle Paul presents Abraham as the great exemplar of faith for both Jewish and Gentile believers, the model for every man and woman who chooses to live “from faith,” and Abraham was and is the prototype “heir of the world.”
|[Photo by Gaël Gaborel - OrbisTerrae on Unsplash]|
In God’s Kingdom, the original promise of land in Canaan finds its fulfillment in the coming resurrection and the New Creation. Thus, the Patriarch and all who live from the same faith as him will inherit the “world” or kosmos:
- “And a sign he received, circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while yet uncircumcised; to the end he might be the father of all that believe during uncircumcision, to the end, the same righteousness might be reckoned to them; and the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the faith while yet uncircumcised of our father Abraham. For not through the law does the promise belong to Abraham or to his seed, that he should be the heir of the world, but through a righteousness from faith. For if they who are from the law are heirs, faith is made void, and of no effect is the promise. For the law works out anger, but where there is no law, neither is there transgression. For this cause, it is from faith, in order that it may be by way of grace, so that the promise is firm to all the seed, not to that from the law only, but to that also which is from the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. Even as it is written, A Father of many nations have I appointed you, before him whom he believed, God, who causes the dead to live and calls the things that are not as things that are.” - (Romans 4:11-17 – Scriptural quotation from Genesis 17:4-5).
WITHOUT THE WORKS OF THE LAW
And in the Book of Genesis, God declares Abraham “right” and reckons his faith as “righteousness” while he is yet in an uncircumcised state. Thus, he was justified by God apart from the “works of the Law,” namely, the Torah that was given many centuries after the fact.
Because of his faith in God’s promise, Abraham became the “father” of everyone that is “from faith,” circumcised or not. All who are from that faith are members of the “seed of Abraham,” and therefore, heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant.
The Greek prepositions used in the passage mean “FROM [ek] faith” and “FROM [ek] the works of the law,” NOT “by faith” or “by the works of the law.” The distinction is important since Paul is using the story of Abraham to echo his thematic statement from the start of the Letter – the “righteousness of God is being revealed FROM faith FOR faith” – (Romans 1:17).
Moreover, Paul’s reference to believers emulating the “FAITH OF ABRAHAM” is a verbal link to his explanation of how they are justified before God in Chapter 3 - the “righteousness of God through THE FAITH OF JESUS CHRIST - FOR all those who believe.”
It is not generic faith or the act of exercising faith itself that saves, but the source, content, and target of that faith. Sinners are justified on the faith or faithfulness of Jesus and respond accordingly by placing faith in him and what God has accomplished in his death and resurrection. It is Christ’s act of “obedience unto death” that justifies and saves. All any sinner can do is respond in faith - (Romans 3:22).
References in the passage in Chapter 4 to “promise” and “heir” point to future realities. For Abraham and his “seed,” the promised inheritance is the entire “world” or kosmos. Paul universalizes the original promise of a small territory in Palestine to include the entire “world,” the Cosmos.
HEIR OF THE WORLD
This promise was to Abraham and “his seed,” the group that includes all those who walk in the same faith that he did, the “faith of Abraham.” The inheritance is through faith and grace; therefore, the “promise is firm to all the seed.” Yahweh appointed Abraham to be the “Father of many nations,” not just the Father of Israel.
And the references to Abraham as the “heir of the world” and the “father of all who believe” anticipate Paul’s detailed discussion of the believer’s future hope in Chapter 8 of Romans. The disciples of Jesus receive the “Spirit of adoption” whereby they address God as “Father.” And if believers are the “children of God,” then they are also the “heirs of God” and the “coheirs” of Jesus, and so, they will participate in his “glory.”
Regardless of the sufferings of this present life, the “coheirs” of Christ will be “delivered from bondage and corruption” when they receive the “redemption of their bodies,” namely, the bodily resurrection of the righteous dead when Jesus arrives from heaven – (Romans 8:15-23).
But Abraham qualified for this future inheritance because he believed the word of the God who “raises the dead and calls the things that are not into being.” Paul applies this to Abraham’s belief that God would grant him “seed” as promised, namely, Isaac, even though Sarah’s womb was “dead.”
Thus, Paul finds the fulfillment of the original promise of territory to Abraham and his biological descendants in the gathering of men and women from every nation to the church as the Gospel is proclaimed to the nations. The Gospel is, in fact, the “blessing of Abraham” promised for the Gentile nations, and its proclamation will culminate in the resurrection and the New Creation.
Thus, the Abrahamic Covenant finds its fulfillment in Jesus, the “seed of Abraham,” and in the Good News of the Kingdom proclaimed by his followers to “the uttermost parts of the Earth.”