Romans 4:1-5; 16-21
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) – in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
‘It depends on faith.’ That salvation should be so closely related to faith raises problems in the minds of many. Some feel that speaking of faith in this way lays too great an emphasis on our human response to God, making us, in effect, the agents of our own salvation. Others are concerned that it downplays the role of obedience to divine law. Some hold that it over intellectualises our religious experience and neglects matters of the heart. There is, however, no relation more firmly established in the New Testament than the one between faith and salvation.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. (1Cor1:21)
Salvation comes from God alone, but we are required to respond to the love he has demonstrated in Jesus. As Augustine succinctly put it: ‘He who made you without your cooperation will not save you without it.’
The story above about Abraham reminds us that faith has more to do with trusting God’s promises than in believing certain dogmas. Faith recognises that God is able to do what he has promised even when those promises lie beyond human possibilities.
This is why Paul argues that it is only faith that allows the promise of salvation to rest on grace. His concern is that humans might take credit for their status before God. The temptation is always to look to ourselves – our religious service, our faithfulness our integrity – as the basis of our salvation. It is only when we lose hope in ourselves that we can dare to hope in God.
Faith is then a relative term. It is the content of faith that gives it value. Faith is precious because it rests wholly on God’s gift of his Son and all that is offered in him.
All that I have achieved in this life,
My glories and my triumphs
I lay aside and consider as worthless trinkets
So that I may take hold of Christ
And be found in him with a righteousness
Not of my own
But rather one that comes from you alone.