Reader: “Abraham believed God,”
Response: “and God counted him as righteous.”
Scripture: Romans 4:1-12
Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”
When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners. David also spoke of this when he described the happiness of those who are declared righteous without working for it:
“Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sins are put out of sight.
Yes, what joy for those
whose record the Lord has cleared of sin.”
Now, is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it also for uncircumcised Gentiles? Well, we have been saying that Abraham was counted as righteous by God because of his faith. But how did this happen? Was he counted as righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised!
Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised. So Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith but have not been circumcised. They are counted as righteous because of their faith. And Abraham is also the spiritual father of those who have been circumcised, but only if they have the same kind of faith Abraham had before he was circumcised.
Reader: The word of the Lord
Response: Thanks be to God.
I remember when I was a little kid, we’d take four hour trips to Grandpa and Grandma Lantz’s house in Winona Lake, Indiana. On the way we three kids would play the alphabet game which was finding the letters of the alphabet in order off of billboards. It was a “silent” game in which you only talked when you hit the “z!” (After 65 years, I only recently discovered the reason for that rule!) Anyway, the sign on the side of the road that said “Get right with God” was a valuable find because of “igh.” In this passage, we read of “being right with God.” How foundational is that?
Every person you see today and every person in existence is not, nor ever has been, naturally “right with God.” Adam and Eve were initially “right with God.” Then came the problem that put us all in the “unright” stage. Paul’s words make it clear that it is not possible for us humans to put ourselves into a right position with God by any effort we make. That is why this passage is profound. Abraham was able to find himself in a right position with God, not by his own efforts, but by believing God’s effort on his behalf.
In looking at David’s words above, I’m wondering if you and I actually experience the joy of having our sins forgiven or do we just say the words and move on? Do we grasp the significance and abhorrence of our sin in God’s eyes? I confess, I find that too often my own sin isn’t that big of deal in my own eyes revealing the deadness of my spirit. Perhaps I’d be more joyful if I had a more realistic understanding of what God has done on my behalf and horrid my sin is. Something to think about.
The last part of this pericope has to do with the sign of God’s covenant with the Jewish people, circumcision. Part of the question at the time of the writing of Romans was, “Do Gentile believers have to be circumcised to become believers? I.e. Do they have to keep Jewish law?” Paul points out that Abraham believed God and was viewed as righteous by God even before he was circumcised. In other words, righteousness before God depends on faith alone. That faith is a gift as a result of God’s grace. There is nothing of human effort involved in this transaction. Let that sink in. Your relationship to God is the direct and sole result of God’s free gracious gift to you. As we reflect on our relationship to the Lord this Lenten season, don’t hurry past this singular, magnificent and eternal truth.
Music: “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” Kristin and Keith Getty
Prayer: O Lord, perfect, we beseech Thee, the faith of us who believe, and sow the good seed of faith in their hearts who as yet lack it; that we all may look steadfastly unto Thee, and run with patience the race that is set before us. Give us grace to show our faith by our works; teach us to walk by faith having respect unto the promises: which of Thy mercy make good to us in Thine own good time, O our most Gracious Lord God and Savior. Amen. ―Christina Rossetti, from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.70