Monday, January 12, 2009
God makes righteous apart from works
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 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 reckoned to him as righteousness." Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:
"Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin."
Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, "Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness." How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.
Comments: This is a proof-text to support the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. This is Paul at his rabbinic finest. Many passages of Paul’s letters try to “prove” certain points of theology with the writings of Hebrew scripture. For centuries, for millennia, Christians and Jews have tried to ‘prove’ the rightness of faith by using Scripture to justify what they believe. Ultimately, trying to ‘prove’ the existence of God by quoting Scripture is fruitless. The only thing we can do is find in Scripture underpinning for the relationship we have with the Divine.
Abraham understood God’s love and care for him long before he was circumcised. Abraham and the males of his family were circumcised as a sign of his faith. The circumcision did not give him faith. This is the same for sacraments. Baptism and Communion are signs of faith. And while they confer grace, they are done because the faith is already there. This is why I give Holy Communion to those who may not be baptized but have come to the altar rail as a sign of their faith. I would rather err on the side of generosity than damage the faith of one who comes wishing to know God’s grace in the sacrament. God can give grace to whomever God choses.