Today’s Reading: Romans 4:1-12
Abraham lived about 2,000 years before Paul wrote this letter, demonstrating that the principle of salvation by faith rather than by works was not new in Judaism. Abraham was the first and foremost Hebrew patriarch. He lived 600 years before the Old Covenant was established through Moses. He therefore lived long before the law was given and obviously could not have been saved by obedience to it.
Paul used Abraham simply because he was a human being. Until this point in Romans, Paul has been speaking primarily about theological truths in the abstract. In Abraham he gives a flesh and blood illustration of justification by faith.
Possibly the most important reason that Paul used Abraham as the example of justification by faith was that, although rabbinical teaching and popular Jewish belief were contrary to Scripture as far as the basis of Abraham’s righteousness was concerned, they agreed that Abraham was the O.T. supreme example of a godly righteous man who is acceptable to the Lord.
“What shall we say” He is challenging what the Rabbis were saying about Abraham.
The majority of Jews in Paul’s day believed that Abraham was made right with God because of his own righteous character. They believed God chose Abraham to be the father of His people Israel because Abraham was the most righteous man on earth during his time.
By demonstrating that Abraham was not justified by works, the apostle demolished the foundation of rabbinical teaching—that man is made right with God by keeping the law, that is, on the basis of his own religious efforts and works. If Abraham was not and could not have been justified solely on the basis of his faith in God, then everyone else must be justified in the same way, since Abraham is the biblical standard of a righteous man.
Paul is able to show quite clearly from the Old Testament that Abraham’s acceptance with God came through his faith, not his works, although his works were exemplary. Far from being the cause of his acceptance with God, Abraham’s lifestyle was the result of his acceptance. God did not declare him righteous because he was so good, but rather Abraham lived a good life because God had freely justified him by faith.