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There is a surprising resistance to the message of “justification by faith.” Not infrequently I have been challenged by people who have said, “Do you mean to tell me that if a murderer–rapist repents and believes at the last minute before he dies he will be justified by God because of Christ, but a decent, honest, moral person who doesn’t believe will not be justified?”
I. The Lesson of Abraham, v.1
Reasons why Abraham was chosen as the example”
▸ Abraham lived about 2,000 years before Paul wrote this letter, demonstrating that the principle of salvation by faith rather than by works was not new in Judaism. Abraham was the first and foremost Hebrew patriarch. He lived 600 years before the Old Covenant was established through Moses. He therefore lived long before the law was given and obviously could not have been saved by obedience to it.
▸ Paul used Abraham simply because he was a human being. Until this point in Romans, Paul has been speaking primarily about theological truths in the abstract. In Abraham he gives a flesh and blood illustration of justification by faith.
▸ Possibly the most important reason that Paul used Abraham as the example of justification by faith was that, although rabbinical teaching and popular Jewish belief were contrary to Scripture as far as the basis of Abraham’s righteousness was concerned, they agreed that Abraham was the O.T. supreme example of a godly righteous man who is acceptable to the Lord.
A. “What shall we say” He is challenging what the Rabbis were saying about Abraham.
The majority of Jews in Paul’s day believed that Abraham was made right with God because of his own righteous character.
They believed God chose Abraham to be the father of His people Israel because Abraham was the most righteous man on earth during his time.
Like many cults today, they took certain scriptural passages and twisted or interpreted them out of context in order to support their preconceived ideas.
∙ Abraham was the prime example of a man who was justified by his works, as rabbinic literature eloquently testifies. The Mishnah’s third division Kiddushin (4.14) makes a specious interpretation of Genesis 26:5, wrongly concluding: “and we find that Abraham our father had performed the whole law before it was given, for it is written ‘Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.’ (Gen 26:5 ).
∙ The earlier Book of Jubilees (circa B.B. 100) similarly says, “For Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well-pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life.”
∙ So perfect was Abraham thought to be that another book, The Prayer of Manasses, concluded that Abraham never had need of repentance: “Thou, therefore, O Lord, that art the God of the righteous, hast not appointed repentance unto the righteous, unto Abraham. . . .”
∙ What claims! 1) Abraham performed the whole Law before it was written, 2) he was perfect in all his deeds, and 3) he had no need of repentance. Conclusion: Abraham was justified by his works and therefore is an example to follow. Case closed!
Not to Paul, “What saith the scriptures?”
By using Abraham as the supreme scriptural example of justification, or salvation, by faith alone, Paul was storming the very citadel of traditional Judaism.
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