Romans 4:1-5, Abraham, the Ungodly Patriarch

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.

//Over and over, throughout Jewish writings prior to Paul’s day, Abraham (the father of the Jews) is presented as a paragon of righteousness. Read Maccabees, read Sirach, read Jubilees. All of these will tell you that Abraham was pleasing to God because of his works; in particular, probably the act of nearly sacrificing his son.

But Paul turns this line of thought on its head. In no uncertain terms, Paul, in this letter to the Romans, claims Abraham was wicked, not righteous. Indeed, Paul’s entire argument regarding justification by faith rests on the assumption that Abraham was ungodly! Paul’s argument runs like this: If Abraham failed so miserably, but still found favor with God, what makes us think we can ever earn our place with God by our works?

Yet Paul did believe works were important! He’s one tough dude to figure out. Tomorrow, I’ll list a number of verses that Paul wrote, verses that demand good works so that we can be justified before God, and discuss how Paul makes sense of these two contradictory ideas.

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