1 What then shall we say that Abraham, the forefather of us Jews, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to anyone who works, their wages are not credited to them as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to anyone who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
Ah, the good ol’ works verses faith debate. And Paul characteristically takes us back to the ancestors, and rightly so. Just as Paul wrote (and it makes sense after working through the Genesis reading from earlier this week), if ANYBODY has the right to be justified by works, it was Abraham. Obviously the main hang up for Paul is that righteousness isn’t really something that’s “credited” or “payed”, but rather freely given. I really like the way that the TNIV puts verse 5: to anyone who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly. After justification, do we become godly?
But even if works don’t get us a payment of righteousness, isn’t that they way Paul makes faith sound? Faith is still an action and it’s because of faith that righteousness is given. Is faith a work? Regardless, I think it’s important to note that action is still necessary, on both God’s part and on our part. I just wish that Paul hadn’t so clearly ruled out the role of works when it comes to faith, or written about the importance of the interplay between faith and works…but maybe he didn’t feel that way. Or was his reaction so strong because of what he was writing against? If Paul and the author of James got together today to discuss faith and works, what would they say?
Back to Abraham to close. What really goes on with Abraham’s works and faith? Are his works contingent on his faith? Or is it the other way around? Or is it both? I agree that Abraham’s faith was the key, but his actions were only living out that faith, right? We too often fail to think of the word faith as a verb requiring action. Perhaps that is our greatest lesson from Abraham: faith as a belief is great, but faith put into action is the point.