(These are draft comments on Romans 4. Feel free to comment!)
The question may remain in some minds regarding the applicability of Abraham’s life to a Gentile of the first century or to anyone living in the 21st. Yet, Paul specifically describes these words of faith righteousness as written, not merely in testimony to Abraham, but as an example for those Roman Christians seeking God. The faith of Abraham is the type of faith necessary for those who hear the proclamation of the resurrected Jesus; one must believe God can give life to the dead!
What does this imply for those of us in the 21st century? Simply stated, faith righteousness means that we, you and I, recognize that God the Father who gave life to the dead and infertile body of Abraham as well as to the dead and buried body of Jesus our Lord is able to bring life to any situation in our existence in need of life. God is the only source of life in this world and he breathes life into our lifeless existence through this seeming mystery of faith. These lifeless moments occur within our daily existence: broken relationships, meaningless jobs, or dysfunctional family situations. But the question may be asked, if our faith is in God, what role does Jesus play in this faith righteousness?
Paul concludes Romans 4 and begins Romans 5 with a description of the critical role of Jesus that includes our transgressions, our justification and finally our new peace with God. This peace we have is covered in Chapter Five, our transgressions in Chapter Eight, so that leaves only the idea of our justification for discussion at this point. This idea of justification, or the verbal element of righteousness as with Abraham, is directly tied to the resurrection of Jesus. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is crucial to this faith righteousness, indeed it is the only ingredient that can bring it about. Just as law righteousness could not succeed according to Paul, law righteousness fails in our lifetime as well. Faith righteousness comes in our decision to trust the promise of God to bring his special type of life to our lifeless existence.
To use a different analogy entirely, in Jesus’ resurrection the first fruit of this righteous character of God, of this covenantal faithfulness, of this steadfast love or, as it is often translated in the Psalms, this lovingkindness blooms into visible sight. Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate expression of Paul’s main idea from Romans 1:16-17, “I am not ashamed of this good news, for it is the power of God for the preservation of everyone believing, Jewish first and then Greek. The righteous nature of God is revealed by faith to faith, as it is written, “The righteous one will live by faith.” Just as Abraham serves as the validating example that both Jew and Greek, circumcised and uncircumcised, have access to God through faith in the life giving power of God so, too, Jesus serves as the example that everyone subject to the death penalty of sin has access to the life giving power of God through this same type of faith.
Yet, this faith is not simply a mental tip of the hat to the existence of God. This faith is not merely the voicing of a specific phrase or prayer in response to another’s leading. The faith Paul describes is an all-encompassing recognition that reshapes and reforms our patterns of living in this world so that our physical existence is filled with the blessings of God’s provision because we trust God to provide them everywhere life is needed and a faith that provides us with the hope that this physical existence and its ensuing physical demise and death is not the sum total of all God ever intended for humanity. The faith Paul proclaims is a pattern of living allowing God the Father through the resurrection of Jesus the Son and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to systematically replace the dead cells of our existence with living, breathing cells that transform us into life proclaiming followers of Jesus.