An Exemplary Faith: Abraham Trusted God’s Promises (Romans 4)
As we have seen in Romans 1–3, the cross of Christ brings salvation to all people—Jews and Gentiles alike. In Christ, God puts all people back into right relationship with God and one another without regard to the provisions of the Jewish law. For this reason, Paul’s principal focus throughout Romans is helping the divided and quarreling Christians in Rome to reconcile their broken relationships in order to live faithfully into what God has accomplished in Christ.
This interpretation of Christ’s death raises a problem for Paul, however, since he is writing not only to uncircumcised Gentiles but also to circumcised Jews, for whom the law still matters. Further, Paul’s interpretation seems to ignore the story of Abraham, understood to be “father” of the Jews, who was in fact circumcised as a sign of his covenant with God (Gen. 17:11). Doesn’t the story of Abraham suggest that entering the covenant of God requires male circumcision for all peoples, whether Jewish or Gentile?
“No,” argues Paul in Romans 4. Interpreting the story of Abraham from Genesis 12:1–3, 15:6, and 17:1–14, Paul concludes that Abraham had faith that God would honor his word and make the childless Abraham the father of many nations through his barren wife Sarah. Consequently, God reckoned Abraham’s faith as righteousness (Rom. 4:3, 9, 22). Paul reminds his readers that God’s acknowledgment of Abraham’s righteousness took place long before Abraham was circumcised, which came later as a sign of his already-existing faith in God (Rom. 4:10–11).
In other words, at the time God reckoned Abraham’s faith as putting him in right relationship with God, Abraham shared the same status as an uncircumcised Gentile in Paul’s world. Thus, concludes Paul, Abraham became the father of both Jews and Gentiles through the righteousness of faith rather than righteousness under the Jewish law (Rom. 4:11–15).
The example of Abraham in Romans 4 provides Christians with great hope for our work and workplaces. Abraham’s example of trusting God’s promises—despite adverse circumstances and seemingly impossible odds—emboldens us not to waver in trust when we face challenges at work or when God does not seem to be present (see Rom. 4:19). God did not immediately fulfill the promise to Abraham, which further encourages us to be patient in waiting for God to renew or redeem our circumstances in life.