The earliest Christians followed a Jewish tradition of pausing to pray, preferably together, first thing in the morning, about mid morning, at noon, about mid afternoon, and in the evening. “Just a Note” posts are brief observations made from Scripture readings not related to a lectionary. If I have one to post, it normally appears about 9:00 in the morning, at “the hour of prayer.”
A friend recently mentioned a very sad situation to me. In his church congregation, a video had been shown speaking of forgiveness and good works. The video taught that we needed to love and forgive others and that as long as we did the best we could, God would certainly be pleased with it and we would be his children. This was a very sad story, because it placed the burden for salvation directly on us, rather than on God.
In Romans 4:9-12, Paul tells a very different story. Abraham pleased God. How did he do it? He did it by trusting God. Verse 9 tells us “faith was considered as righteousness in Abraham” (personal translation). Paul goes on to tell his readers that this happened before Abraham had obeyed God by being circumcised. He had not yet received the sign of God’s covenant when he was justified.
Salvation is not about what we do. It’s about what God does for us. Abraham was righteous before receiving the sign from God. God gave him a sign later.
Paul’s argument, then, says that Abraham is the father of all who believe, whether they are of the circumcision or not. Speaking to a Gentile audience, this would be a great comfort. They had been taught that salvation could depend on what they did or on whether or not they were part of the Jewish nation, obeying in the Law and marked by circumcision. Now the apostle declares them free from the Law.
What of the video my friend saw? It doesn’t teach Christianity. It is much closer to a pagan Greek understanding of salvation, in which you work, you pray, and you hope that the deities won’t notice that you are inadequate.
Jesus knows our failings. That’s why he died in our place. He calls us to trust him, as did Abraham. As we trust him, it is reckoned to us as righteousness.
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