Recovering Paul's Message in Romans 4

by Barry Newton
Could it be that minds have been trained not to hear the apostolic voice? To grant Paul the opportunity of a fair hearing might require the drastic measure of a really corny joke.
“Commander, we need to use a surprise attack. I remember that in 1941 the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor which succeeded in decimating the American navy because they were caught unprepared.”
“What? Have you not noticed that we are infantry? I do not have any planes.”
Was the military subordinate suggesting to his commander that airplanes were needed for a surprise attack? Of course not. He was arguing for a surprise attack, not for the specific means of attacking the enemy.
How people handle Romans 4 would be equally laughable, if it were not so lamentable.
As Paul trotted out the example of Abraham believing God’s promise and being counted as righteous, Paul proved the principle that justification is by faith and not upon fulfilling the works of the Law.
Any response of faith while Abraham was uncircumcised, whether it entailed just believing or required action, would have sufficed to prove his point against the advocates of the Law.
Why is this so? Because for Paul, works involved more than merely doing something. When Paul denounced works he revealed the futility of trying to show oneself righteous by fulfilling the Law and thus earning justification.
Just as the military subordinate was not arguing that his commander should execute a surprise attack by using planes, neither was Paul arguing that we succeed in trusting in Jesus by only believing.
For Paul, when a person is immersed, he or she has begun to rely upon Jesus for salvation. Obeying the call to trust upon Jesus involves obeying from your heart the form of teaching which causes a person to be set free from their sins and to begin to serve righteousness (Romans 6:17,18). The context reveals that form of teaching is baptism. (Romans 6:3,4)
Accordingly, Paul sought to lead people to the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5).

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