Week 4, Day 3
READ: Romans 4
BACKGROUND: Romans 4 is a really awesome explanation of the way in which we are justified (set right & counted righteous) before God. Paul writes that it is not by birth (into the right family or nationality), by our own good works, or by participation in the right religious rituals. Instead, it is through faith! Through faith we are all spiritual heirs to Abraham who, in faith, received the promise of the Messiah. And that Messiah died and rose again so that we could have life – so that we could be justified by grace through faith.
1 – Many Jews held up Abraham as an example of justification through good works. Paul is deconstructing that argument.
3 – Referring to Genesis 15:6. Not a direct quote, but Paul notes that Abraham hadn’t done anything here. His faith was credited to him as righteousness.
6-8 – God forgives those who, in faith, repent. Quoting Psalm 32:1-2.
9 – Paul goes into a lengthy discussion of circumcision. This isn’t because he has an odd obsession with it or because he’s just talking to men. Circumcision was the covenant mark of the Israelite people. He is saying that this justification by faith is available to everyone, not just Jews. And his is further saying that being circumcised (being a Jew and going through the right rituals) does not save or justify.
13 – The Law and being a good person doesn’t save us. Because we all fall short of it.
15 – Knowing God’s law doesn’t make us perfect. It makes us even more aware of our sin.
18 – I love this verse! When human hope failed, Abraham hoped in God.
20 – When we try to earn salvation through works we attempt to manipulate God and force his hand. When we accept that we can’t earn it and it’s his free, gracious gift through faith it brings glory to God!
THINK: Have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re trying to run away from something but you just can’t move – the ones where for some reason, no matter how fast you try to go and how quickly you move your legs you’re just stuck and you feel terrified and unable to move? I don’t have them often, but I really hate it when I do. They’re horrible. It’s frustrating a to try really hard to make something happen and then ultimately fail at it. And this is true in our daily lives even more than it is in our dreams. Sometimes we work our tails off trying to accomplish something only to see our efforts fall short. And it’s painful. And discouraging, and disappointing, and even heartbreaking sometimes. Failure is inevitable in this life. Because of our limited capabilities as humans and the brokenness of our world we will all experience those situations from time to time.
Unfortunately, this is what Christianity – or religion in general – feels like to so many people. They check off all the right boxes and they go through all the rituals and they say the right words and they work and work and work and try the hardest that they can to be good people all in an effort to earn their way into heaven. They live in constant fear that they haven’t been good enough or done quite enough to be saved and they are motivated by the idea that somehow they can achieve enough in this life to compel God to save them. And what really breaks my heart about this is that it is not only unnecessary but also it flows out of a fundamental misunderstanding of who God is! So much of the superstition and the achievement and the self-righteousness and the empty religiosity of going through the motions of church flows out of the mistaken belief that somehow we want to be saved more than God wants to save us. And so faith becomes an exercise in trying really hard to run and putting in a ton of effort but going nowhere fast – because we’re sinful and we can’t earn our way to heaven. We need to understand that God wants us so much more than we want him and he reaches into our history as humans – and into each of our individual stories – to save and restore us.
Romans 4 liberates us from works-righteousness. It sets us free from the idea that we must – or even that we can – earn our way into heaven by being good enough or doing enough good things. It reminds us that God sent his son to die on a cross for our sins and rise again so that through his great sacrifice we could be justified and counted righteous. And salvation comes not from works, but by God’s grace through faith in that sacrifice!
ASK: Do I sometimes just go through the motions of faith & church because I’m trying to be good enough? Do I ever act self-righteously – as if I’m better than others and have room to boast – because of how good I am? How can I set others free from the idea that salvation is earned rather than freely accepted?