“ 13 Clearly, God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith. 14 If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless. 15 For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it.” ~ Romans 4:13-15
For a young person, interpreting this passage can be downright difficult. For aspiring enlighteners of truth, the sight of students drubbing fingers over lips can be rather frustrating. So when handling nutrient-rich Scriptures, the best approach is often the bite-sized version. So in the spirit of activating mental light switches, I present to you an in-depth look into the epicenter of Romans 4. Let the illumination begin…
First off, let’s dissect v. 13:
Is Paul downgrading obedience to an optional act? Absolutely not. Contrarily, as we will further discuss in this note, he is declaring the sanctity between obedience and faith through the question of: What’s the point of one without the other?
In other words, obedience is futile without faith; conversely, if faith is eminent, but obedience lacks, faith is reduced to inactive hope.
The crux of the matter is aim and flow. If you aim for the right target, then what flows from that will be right as well. Ask yourself, “Are you more concerned with appearing righteous or are you aiming to be in a right relationship with God? Are you obeying for intimacy or image?”
If we apply the ‘aim and flow’ method, we discover that directing the heart to honor the Lord is key. Why? Because a sincere fear of God happens when man seeks a right relationship with Him and makes that his target; out of this, obedience will naturally flow.
Let’s look at this from another angle, while mixing in historical perspectives. If one is searching for glory, a good place is start is to glorify Jesus. Abraham understood this as the cornerstone to a healthy spiritual walk with God. Remember that at the time of Abraham, there was no law in place. So Abraham had to rely entirely on faith. As it increased with age and experience, so did His obedience. Despite some notable slipups, Abraham’s anchor and aim connected to a desire to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9).
During his day, only decades removed from the resurrection and ascension, Paul realized many believers still owned a law mentality. Instead of aiming for divine relationship, people settled for their own ideas of “righteous living” – doing good works, while forsaking fellowship with the Father.
Centuries earlier, the law had come through Moses, but Christians weren’t fully aware of this new age of grace that dawned after the cross. People still obeyed the law out of a fear of death and punishment, not out of a fear of God. Their idea of worship was referencing past constitutions, not relishing in everyday communion with God. In essence, obedience had developed into a flotation devise – the central way to preserve life. Paul knew his audience had to change. This is why he continuously promoted a message of faith and hope wherever he went.
Let’s step back now and process v. 14:
If the promise relied solely on obeying the law, then a relationship with the Lord wouldn’t make much sense. Why? Because the promise, which ensures eternal security and everlasting life for those who believe and accept Christ as Lord and Savior, could only hold those who weren’t fallen. So the heart of the promise has to be faith, because faith and a rightful relationship with God fuel each other. When these two are in sync, obedience will naturally flow. If one substitutes obedience for faith in the previous sentence, a stale philosophy can potentially arise. For the Bible is clear that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and the Christians of Paul’s day were great at separating the two. Obedience can produce faith, but a rightful relationship with the Lord always starts with faith.
The thorny verse comes in verse 15:
15"For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it.”
Shut the front door! What are you saying, Paul? People who obey the law will be punished, instead of rewarded?
Not so fast, young Padawan.
For one thing, there should be ‘no try’ (Yoda ‘for the win’ once again). Either you obey or you don’t. God doesn’t operate any system that awards points for trying. However, points (in the form of knowledge, blessing, favor, influence of spiritual gifts, discernment, etc.) are granted for those who abandon legalisms that emphasize “righteousness by works” and obey out of the flow of love and relationship.
Here’s another twist on the argument: God designed free will so love could have the foundation and footers necessary to bridge a relationship between His divinity and man’s iniquity. It is the Creator’s love that keeps us from being remote-control operated robots. To live like the typical Christian of Paul’s day is to accept a more robotic way of life. Beware the robot, my friends! They will spiritually kill you.
Well, that wraps up today’s word on the way. A bit lengthy, but I hope there are gold nuggets that can be taken out of this. I may come back to this and expound on certain points, but the main gist can be found by linking the bold phrases of this blog.
Peace and blessings to you all,