If there is a thesis statement embedded in the early chapters of Romans, it is chapter 5, verse 1: “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And Paul wants to demonstrate to us that this teaching is not something new he is suggesting, but is something as old as God’s dealings with man. For his example he chooses Abraham, because he is the first Jew.
“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. “
(Romans 4:13-25 ESV)
There was a large movement in early Christianity that said you had to first keep the Law and then add Jesus to that. Like modern Christians who make the mistake of interpreting Jesus through Paul, these early believers were interpreting Jesus (and everything else) through Moses. They had allowed themselves to become Mosaic believers – putting their faith and trust in Moses – rather than Yahwistic believers who put their faith and trust in God.
Paul himself testifies here that this thinking is in error. In setting up his case for justification by faith he says, “Look, even Abraham, who was the first to receive circumcision, didn’t trust in his circumcision. Quite the opposite! Without getting too graphic, when God told Abraham he was about to have a son, Abraham looked in the mirror at his nearly 100 year old body and laughed. In particular, if he had ever thought the line of faith was to be transmitted via this circumcision, there was no longer any reason to trust in the abilities of his flesh. It was way too late for that. And yet, something inside told this man that God had spoken truly. Whether the child would come through the normal means of conception or some miraculous way, Abraham couldn’t say. He just accepted that it would be so, and that gave Abraham an extraordinary peace with God.
Much later (Genesis 22), when God tested Abraham again by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac, that peace held fast and Abraham was able to say to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Abraham had peace with God because he did not trust in how things seemed to be. He trusted in the Logos – the God who had spoken to him. God had said Abraham would be father of a multitude and that multitude would come through Isaac. So even if God chose to kill Isaac on the mountain, Abraham had quiet assurance that both he and Isaac would return alive to the servants.
With one stroke of the pen Paul nullified circumcision as having any value in salvation and testified that the simple obedience of faith is of the greatest value.
Do you want to experience profound peace with God? Listen to the words of Jesus and obey his voice today! The great adventure of faith is that I have the opportunity today to look at situations as they are, realistically determine there is no possibility, given the facts, that I can do what God has told me to, and then to go out and do it! Faith is looking in the mirror and laughing, not at the impossibility I see before me, but at the very real probability of what God will do today with this wasted body.