Summary: Abraham's' faith on trial
What does GOD have to say about you? Can you imagine what it must feel like to have GOD reference you by name -- as HIS friend? What would it take to be known as a personal friend of GOD? Abraham is said to be a friend of GOD in two different passages, one of those spoken by GOD. Isaiah 41:8 But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, The descendants of Abraham----My friend. The other is found in 2 Chronicles 20:7 Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham ---Your friend forever?
Romans 4:1-5 What then, shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
There is a natural resistance from world religions to the idea of “justification by faith.” Every “religion” has a works based agenda. My definition of “religion” excludes Christianity because I do not believe for a second that Jesus died on the cross to start another religion. Religions have people flying airplanes into buildings. Wars are fought over religions. Have you ever heard of someone shouting “In the name of Jesus”, then blowing up a crowded market? Jesus came so that we may have a personal relationship with HIM. Our salvation does not come by how many doors we knock on, or how many times we count beads on a necklace, or what foods we eat, or how many infidels we take down. Salvation only comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is complex only in its simplicity.
The argument that Paul, a first century Jewish scholar, expected from the Jewish converts is expressed in those 5 verses. 1st century Jews did not have a Batman or Captain America as a super-hero, but they did have a cultural champion & guardian; Abraham. Every Jew could trace his family lineage by tribe back to Abraham. He was a source of national & cultural pride.
Abraham was the core behind three world belief systems. Judaism & Christianity are two of those belief systems. The Jews viewed Abraham as the prime example of a man saved by his works. They believed that he was the perfect example of a faultless life. They believed that God had accepted and justified Abraham because Abraham earned it by his works and by the Law. We will see this was not the case.
If we break those verses we've read down into a more basic understanding, it would be something like this. -- How can Paul say that GOD will forgive a common non-Jewish person just for believing in Jesus, when the most wonderful of all Jewish people, Abraham, would not be accepted by GOD based on his works? Can you see what that would be hard for early Jews to stomach?
Now, lets rephrase it in a way that has meaning in our culture. How can we think that a convicted serial killer who repents & accepts Jesus as his savior at the last minute before he dies be justified by GOD, but a decent & moral non-Christian be found unrighteous? I bet if we were honest with ourselves, we have all questioned that at one point. I know I have a hard time with this idea. I believe it to be true,... but I still struggle with it. If you were a family member of one of the victims, it would be hard to accept. That is the same stinging reaction the Jews felt when they heard this.
Salvation by grace is rather hum-drum to modern society. Unfortunately, it is something I believe most people take for-granted. In Pauls time, this was cutting edge news, even heretical. Paul, in essence, calls Abraham to the witness stand. We can now examine the biblical evidence ourselves to see if or how Abraham was found righteous. Early Jews would have had the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible memorized. We get to spend some time flipping to the front of the Bible.
The first piece of evidence is found in Genesis 15:5-6. This chapter chronicles a conversation between God and Abram, as he was not yet known as Abraham. Then He (GOD) brought him( Abram ) outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be. And he(Abram) believed in the Lord, and He (GOD) accounted it to him for righteousness.”