Who Do You Trust? (Romans 4:13-16)
The reason that Abraham received the inheritance of being the father of many nations and the reason that his children also were beneficiaries of that promise was not because of who they were, but because of who they believed in. They believed in God and it was counted as righteousness. And this faith had nothing to do with what God wanted them to do—the law. The law were and are the standards of life for those that believe. They point to the covenant that exists. They are not the sign for the covenant. Something that we looked at before. Faith is what makes any command meaningful. Based on this inter-relationship between faith and law as exemplified in Abraham one can say that faith precedes law. Faith was the “means” by which any benefit of the promise of God was honored.
If it is about what we do then faith doesn’t matter and every person that does good would benefit from the covenant made to Abraham. But that isn’t the way that God has structured the relationship that we enjoy with Him . The kingdom is not established according to the works of men, but the work of Christ on the cross [Ephesians 2:4-7, cf., Romans 11:6; 2 Corinthians 5:18; 1John 2:2, 4:10]. The cross of Christ counteracts the effects of the law upon men. Paul tells us as much in verse 15 and 16.
For the law produces wrath; but where there is no law, there is no transgression. This is why the promise is by faith, so that it may be according to grace, to guarantee it to all the descendants—not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of Abraham’s faith. He is the father of us all [Rom 4:15-16, HCSB, emphasis mine]
The Ever-Present Law (Romans 4:15-16)
One way of looking at what Paul is saying is historically. “The Law” had not been given yet during Abraham’s life (the Law was given about 500 – 600 years after). Paul was not saying that there was no sin [1 John 1:8, 10]. What he is saying is that the special revelation of the Law given to Moses was not present, but because the general revelation of creation was all around them it still served as a sign post to God. Therefore, men were still without excuse (Rom 1:20).
I have often wondered why God took Abraham outside and showed him the stars [Genesis 15:5-6]? God was saying, “If I did this, don’t you think that I can give you an heir.” The heavens were God’s “proof” that nothing was outside of His reach or ability. The God that we are dealing with is not one to go back on His word. That which He says He will do will be done. Look at what the Psalmist says:
5He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. 6You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. 7At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight. 8The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them. 9You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth. 10You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; 11they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. 12Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. 13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. [Psalm 104:5-13, ESV]
Our God is not one to back down from any challenge or to be intimidated by any “difficult” circumstance.
One of the implications of the text that Paul addresses is a common philosophy of today — relativism. If there is no standard there can be no wrong. Paul was reminding the Roman readers that there was no such thing as individualistic understandings of reality. God, the ultimate reality, standardizes our experiences and provides a continuity and congruency to life. This is the idea of correspondence (there is a more technical definition of correspondence here).
In the mind of Paul we have to remove the Law from the picture if grace is to be seen in its purest form. (This doesn’t mean that the law is thrown out. The law just can’t serve as a lens for looking at or for understanding the path of or the journey to salvation). This shift will in turn liberate both direct (those of the law) and indirect (those not under the law) descendants of Abraham to receive the grace that God offers. That is why Abraham is called “the father of all who believe” and not “the father of those who obey” (even when obedience is implied as a result of faith).