Romans 4: Paul's Favorite Scripture

After a long hiatus, I'm resuming the blogging of Romans.

If ever Paul had a stump speech, Romans 4 was a big part of it. Paul's argument from Genesis 15:6 was evidently a favorite of his: it's used also in Galatians, and James reacts against it in his letter to the church.

This is prooftexting at its finest. Because the Hebrew Scriptures say that Abraham believed God's promise, and that that belief was accredited to him as righteousness, Paul argues that it is this faith that we must have in order to please God. How does that happen? Jesus was faithful and provided the place of safety - we believe God's promise that he will save us through Jesus and so enter the place of safety. Just like our father in faith, Abraham.

James and company react to this because Paul is easily misunderstood here. Faith without works is a dead faith. Abraham's faith led him into many obedient acts - leaving Mesopotamia, circumcision, sacrificing Isaac. So too will a follower of Christ do many things because of his faith, showing his faith to be a living one.

But Paul gets adamant with us. This may well be, but many times men get their own requirements for righteousness mixed up with God's commandments. Any way that they can legislate their own morality on others - whether commanding circumcision of Christians, or commanding new converts to divorce if one or the other has a marriage in the past, or even taking over school boards and getting creationism on the curriculum - they will do so in the name of Christ. Paul wants no part of this.

To reach forward, Paul is aiming for a particular statement: Welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. That is what basing salvation on belief in God's ability to save (within Jesus) is all about for him. Christians are redeemed from the punishment for their sins because of what God is going to do - not what they have done or are doing or will do. No one can boast before God.

So if you didn't save anybody from their sins, who in Hades are you to boss other people around? Let's leave God up on the judgment throne: God doesn't need our help sorting people out.

This is where I think Paul's gotten hold of something - something real. People who want to judge and condemn and legislate have something fundamentally wrong at heart. It's fear that drives you to do things like that, and fear is not part of what Paul is preaching. Fear isn't something to nurture - it's something to heal. Jesus feared the cross, but he mastered that fear and took it up. Paul feared the early church and persecuted it, but broke through that fear and took up the cause he'd persecuted.

Fear, then, is the enemy - fear of God for punishment. Fear of our cravings, fear that our cravings will never be satisfied, fear that others will get away with what we dare not attempt. Fear that it's all for nothing.

There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear. Paul is not after a power base, he's after love. That's where I can respect his efforts.