Romans 3 – 4.
Faith is invariably expressed within the context of accepted truth, to do otherwise would be irrational. When Biblical narratives addressed the issue of ‘faith,’ it undeviatingly specified an object of faith; Christ is the perennial object of our faith. The degree of faith’s intensity is rarely referenced in the Bible since it a gift from God (Eph 2:8; c.f., Matt 17:20). In Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, he spoke of this unequivocal faith in Jesus due principally to His atoning death on the cross, as it turned God’s wrath and judgment away from man, thereby vindicating His justice over sin and declaring us justified in Christ. Subsequently, Jesus’ resurrection became the definitive and objective test of authentic faith in God (c.f., 1Cor 15:12-19). How did Paul explain Biblical faith?
To illustrate his point to Jewish and Gentile readers, Abraham’s faith was brought into sharp focus with a whole chapter devoted to it. If Abraham was justified by his good works that resulted from his observance of the Law during his life, then he had something to boast about. But in God’s eyes, Abraham’s implicit trust in Him was deemed righteous, not by his Law-keeping. Therefore, Abraham became acceptable to God irrespective of his genes, personality, inheritance, power, nor intelligence, because of the gracious gift of faith, so there is nothing humanly to boast about. Then Paul delved into the import of grace: a wage is earned by someone who had justifiably worked for it, but when one has done nothing to earn it and was paid, it is considered a favour. And it is on this basis of grace, while we were yet grovelling in our wickedness as sinners, that God pronounced us just and righteous when we put our trust in Him. Again, it is emphatic that we cannot earn God’s acceptance when Christ bore our sin. Hence, as believers, we are blessed when our lawless deeds have been forgiven, we are blessed when our sins have been covered, we are blessed when the Lord does not take our sin into account (Rom 4:7-8). God is not obliged to forgive us, but He chooses to do so through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The centrality of grace is the very being of God’s compassion and mercy to humankind.
Despite the Jewish view that Yahweh is principally their God, a close reading of Scripture clarifies this misconception (c.f., Gen 22:18; 1Kings 8:27; Ps 47:7; Rom 3;28-30). Paul then spelt out the universal application of salvation: Firstly, he questioned rhetorically, “Does the blessing of having one’s sins forgiven applies only to the circumcised, are non-Jews excluded from it?” Again, using Abraham’s faith, he propositioned that ‘the father of faith’ exercised his faith and was called righteous long before circumcision was promulgated. Therefore, Abraham’s children included everyone who had trusted God, whether they were circumcised or otherwise, being regarded by God as righteous through faith in Christ (Rom 4:9-12). Secondly, Abraham was deemed righteous long before the Law was given. Hence, Abraham’s subsequent observance of the Law was not what made him righteous before God (c.f., Gal 3:6-14). It is in this sense that Scripture acknowledged Abraham as the father of us all who believed (Rom 4:16). Do we then disregard the Law through faith? The Old Testament through its prophets and the Law anticipated the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Law is part-and-parcel of God’s salvation script – it cannot be ignored even to this day. The Law acts like a spotlight on our sin nature and declares that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). The whole Law was fulfilled in the only sinless Person, Christ, as He paid the ultimate price for our transgressions and was resurrected that we might be justified (where only a sinless person could pay such a price for sin); that we may be set free to obey Him as Abraham did (Rom 4:18-25). Thus, faith is required in living our life in Christlikeness (Heb 11:6). Coming to faith in Christ remains God’s initiative; our responsibility is to seek Him with all our heart and with all our soul and to obey Him implicitly when we put our trust in Him (Deut 4:29).