The Faith of Abraham

In the Book of Genesis, God implemented His plan to redeem humanity by establishing His Covenant with Abraham, beginning with the summons for the Patriarch to leave his homeland and sojourn to the “land that I will show you.” Yahweh would produce a “great nation” from him, and the Covenant would bless all the “tribes of the Earth.” Moreover, from its start, the promise of territory was and remains central to the Abrahamic Covenant.

In his letter to the churches of Rome, the Apostle Paul presents Abraham as the great exemplar of faith for both Jewish and Gentile believers, the model for every man and woman who chooses to live “from faith,” and Abraham was and is the “Heir of the World.”

Earth globe - Photo by Gaël Gaborel - OrbisTerrae on Unsplash.
[Photo by Gaël Gaborel on Unsplash]

In God’s Kingdom, the original promise of land in Canaan finds its fulfillment in the coming resurrection and the New Creation. Thus, the Patriarch and all who live from the same faith will inherit the “world” or kosmos - (Romans 4:11-17, Genesis 17:4-5).

  • For not through the law does the promise belong to Abraham or to his seed, that he should be the HEIR OF THE WORLD, but through a righteousness from faith. For if they who are from the law are heirs, faith is made void and of no effect is the promise.”

In Genesis, God declared Abraham “right” and reckoned his faith as “righteousness” while he was yet in an uncircumcised state. Thus, he was justified by God apart from the “works of the Law,” namely, the Torah that was given centuries later.

Because of his faith in God’s promise, Abraham became the “father” of everyone who is “from faith,” circumcised or not. All who are from that faith are members of the “Seed of Abraham,” and therefore, heirs of the same covenant.

The Greek preposition used in the passage or ek means “FROM [ek] faith” and “FROM [ek] the works of the law,” NOT “by faith” or “by the works of the law.” The distinction is important since Paul is using the story of Abraham to echo his thematic statement from the start of the Letter – the “righteousness of God is being revealed FROM faith FOR faith” – (Romans 1:17).

Moreover, Paul’s reference to believers emulating the “FAITH OF ABRAHAM” is a verbal link to his explanation in Chapter 3 concerning how men are justified before God:

  • The righteousness of God through THE FAITH OF JESUS CHRIST, FOR all those who believe.”

It is not generic faith or the act of exercising faith itself that saves, but the source, content, and target of that faith. Sinners are justified on or “from” the faith or faithfulness of Jesus, and they respond accordingly by placing faith in him and what God accomplished in his death and resurrection.

It is Christ’s act of “obedience unto death” that justifies and saves. All any sinner can do is respond in faith - (Romans 3:22).

References in the passage in Chapter 4 to “promise” and “heir” point to future realities. For Abraham and his “seed,” the promised inheritance is now the entire “world” or kosmos. Paul has universalized the original promise of a small territory in Palestine to include the entire “world,” the Cosmos.

HEIR OF THE WORLD


This promise was to Abraham and “his seed,” the group that includes all those who walk in the same faith that he did, the “faith of Abraham.” The inheritance is through faith and grace; therefore, the “promise is firm to all the seed.” Yahweh appointed Abraham to be the “Father of many nations,” not just of Israel.

The references to Abraham as the “heir of the world” and the “father of all who believe” anticipate Paul’s detailed discussion of the believer’s future hope in Chapter 8 of the Letter. The disciple receives the “Spirit of adoption” whereby he addresses God as “Father,” and if he is the “child of God,” then he is also the “heir of God” and the “coheir” of Jesus who will participate in Christ’s “glory.”

Regardless of the sufferings of this present life, the “coheirs” of Christ will be “delivered from bondage and corruption” when they receive the “redemption of their bodies,” namely, the bodily resurrection of the righteous dead when Jesus arrives from Heaven – (Romans 8:15-23).

Abraham qualified for this future inheritance because he believed the promise of the same God who “RAISES THE DEAD AND CALLS THE THINGS THAT ARE NOT INTO BEING.” Paul applies this to the Patriarch’s belief that God would grant him “seed” as promised, namely Isaac, even though Sarah’s womb was “dead.”

Thus, Paul finds the fulfillment of the original promise of territory to Abraham and his biological descendants in the gathering of men and women from every nation to the Assembly as the Gospel is proclaimed to the nations. The Gospel is, in fact, part of the “blessing of Abraham” promised for the Gentiles, and its proclamation will culminate in the resurrection and the New Creation.

The Abrahamic Covenant finds its fulfillment in Jesus, the “Seed of Abraham,” and in the Good News of the Kingdom proclaimed by his followers to “the uttermost parts of the Earth.”



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