The Letter to the Romans can be a challenging read: Paul sought to expound the new faith to a mainly Jewish audience with centuries of tradition.
When Alexander the Great encountered the Gordian Knot – a legendary knot of extreme complexity – his unexpected solution was to slice the knot with his sword.
Lawyers use legal precedent to strengthen their arguments; preachers quote well-known theologians to support their sermons. In a similarly skilful move, the Jewish scholar Paul slices powerfully into this theological question by referencing two ‘big names’ – Abraham and David.
The question Paul is seeking to answer is: how does a person ‘get in’ to be a Christian.
By skilfully choosing Abraham and referring to a time in Abraham’s life before the covenant (of circumcision), Paul explains that God’s promise of salvation is for all (v.11).
One of the many things I find inspiring in the Hebrew Scriptures is the very long-term patience. What was it that Abraham believed of God? Abraham believed God’s promise to give him countless descendants. According to Genesis 12-17, the promise was 24 years in the making to the birth of Isaac.
Paul’s quote from David refers to Psalm 32:1-2 and extends his teaching that the forgiveness of sins is also for all (vv.7-8).
Paul adds that salvation and forgiveness are gracious gifts from God, “irrespective of works” (v.6).
As the Roman recipients of Paul’s letter worked through theological change which brought God’s love to all, 500 years ago, in the Reformation, Luther and others tore down barriers which separated folk from a straightforward understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness to all:
sola gratia; sola fide; sola scriptura – only by grace; only by faith; only though the Scriptures.