He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Romans 4:20-22 (KJV)
The more I read the book of Romans, the more impressed I get. Because I spent several years studying Rabbinic writings and the Talmud, I’m very familiar with how Rabbis express themselves.
But two books in the New Testament stand out as thinking more brilliant than any Rabbinic writing. Hebrews and Romans. Paul is writing a very detailed explanation in Romans 3 and 4 – and it goes on for a couple more chapters – to explain the switch from “salvation by works” to “Salvation through faith”. It’s Paul’s contention that the Rabbis – who didn’t really make their appearance until the Maccabean kingdom – had their understanding completely wrong. This may shock some of you, but salvation was never through works. This is what Paul is explaining.
Salvation was by faith. Was Abraham saved by his works, or his Faith? Everyone’s muttering “Faith, faith” and thinking “works, but i’m not going to say it out loud…”. Yes, you could be saved by perfectly keeping all 613 commandments as listed in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Paul will state later that NOBODY could perfectly do that except Jesus Christ. And, when you explain in detail what a person would have to do to perfectly keep the Law, the usual protest you get is, “You’d have to be God to do that!”
Ta-da. You just got an A in Salvation 101 – the realization you cannot save yourself, and only God can save you. You now understand the main lesson of Romans. $15.95, please.
Now, someone who’s actually read the Bible may ask, “Well, what about all those sacrifices in the Bible? You know, cattle and sheep and birds and aardvarks and what have you?” Well, I think you’re confusing Noah’s Ark with Leviticus, but let’s combine the arguments of two books of the Bible. Let’s combine Hebrews and Romans.
For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. 5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: 6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Heb 10:1-6 (KJV)
Explain to me exactly how killing some bull and sprinkling the blood upon the altar, burning perfectly good beef, can take away my sins? I’ll take ANY explanation. Now, the mature Christian will start saying, “It’s a type…” Correct answer. Exactly. The blood and death of the bull is completely powerless. It served two things – it conditioned the person to look towards a future sacrifice – you can find that in Hebrews, by the way. You don’t even have to search, it says it in nice Biblical English! – And somehow, in ways we don’t understand – blood has something in it, its very nature, that blood perhaps calls to blood. The blood of the bull is charged by the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Or perhaps as a type, it calls God to bring to mind that He, before the foundation of the world, willingly offered His Son as the offering for our sins. I think this second view is the more biblical. I’ve heard both, but the second one seems to me more what Paul is explaining.
Let’s say a Christian sins. (“No!”) and it was back in those days. And you brought your offering. And it effected forgiveness because God recalls the sacrifice to Jesus which will happen in the Future. Don’t get weirded out because I’m using past tense and future tense in the same sentence. The Bible does it too. Remember, God stands outside of time. At least that’s how the Bible seems to portray it.
Now, as you can see, we got all caught up in the offerings. Hebrews explains the rationale that the offerings were made every day, and every year the person has to come back and offer the same sacrifices. With Jesus Christ, the offerings were made once and for all. Not just for one person, but for ALL people. All you had to do was accept it.
Now we come back to Romans 4, and you’ll see how it all fits together. Was Abraham saved before he sacrificed the lamb instead of Isaac? Yes. Was he saved before he was circumcised? To Jews, that’s a big question. The answer again is, yes. Abraham was saved because God spoke to Abraham and told him “Go to a land that I will bring you.” And Abraham walked from Iraq, near Mosul… all the way to Israel, down to Egypt, and back to Israel. In Israel, God showed Abraham all the land you see will belong to you. And Abraham believed. He had faith, and believed.
Abraham wanted a son, and didn’t have one. God promised, all this land you see, and all the land you just walked on, will belong to your descendents forever. And Abraham believed. Why? Because he knew God was able to fulfill what He promised.
In that moment – he was saved. When I confront you on the street, or wherever, and show you in the Bible that while we were yet sinners God commendeth his love toward us in that Christ died for us… and you believe that. I tell you Jesus saves. And you believe that. Are you saved then?
When you believe that Jesus WILL save you, that He not only has the power but WILL save you – you are indeed saved. Was that the same way Abraham was saved? Yes. Did Abraham keep kosher? Did he observe the Sabbath? Did he wear a prayer shawl, hang a mezuzah on his door frame, etc? All those other Jewish things? Jews say yes, I don’t know. I doubt it, now.
The issue is that Abraham was saved by believing that God will save him, and do all the things that God had promised. Job was saved by acknowledging that “I know my redeemer liveth, yet in my flesh will I see him.” He knew of the Resurrection of the dead, and believed that he, Job, would be saved.
Isn’t this the same way you’re saved? Believing in Jesus Christ? Believing He will save you? That He has the power, and WILL?
There you go. That’s the lesson of Romans.