Chapter # 4 Paragraph # 2 Study # 1
9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
1901 ASV Translation:
9 Is this blessing then pronounced upon the circumcision, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say, To Abraham his faith was reckoned for righteousness.
September 27, 2005
- I. Paul's Argument Regarding the Availability of the Principle of Faith-Righteousness.
- A. With the opening question of this paragraph, Paul directly addresses the issue of Israel's uniqueness before God.
- 1. At stake is the application of the Gospel to humanity.
- 2. The question is whether the righteousness which is by faith is available to anyone who believes.
- 3. If it can be established that such a righteousness is available to anyone who believes, one of the major roots of Jewish arrogance is highly compromised.
- a. The issue is the Jewish perception of their election.
- 1) The Jewish perception of their election was that of a special favoritism by God on the basis of special effort by the Jews.
- a) God, it was supposed, specially favored Israel by the giving of the Law.
- b) Israel, it was supposed, made special efforts through the keeping of the Law.
- 2) The problems that Paul has pointed out are...
- a) That the Law was not a "favor": its purpose was the revelation of the reality of the depravity of man which put everyone under a curse (Galatians 3:10).
- b) That Israel did not accomplish the special effort of obedience, but, rather, only produced an enormous self-righteousness that led to hypocrisy.
- 3) The problem with the Jewish perception of their election was that it was not in line with the reality of their election.
- a) God did choose Israel: election is real.
- b) But God's choice of Israel was a methodological step taken by God in light of a larger election: the election of believers.
- c) God's election of Israel was for the purpose of using Israel to open the doors of understanding for humanity in respect to the reality of man's bondage to Sin. This is the first step in the process of being justified by faith. No one comes to faith who has not first despaired of works.
- b. The Jewish view of special favor rooted in special effort leads automatically to pride, which destroys any hope of genuine righteousness.
- B. Paul's question is not designed to challenge the biblical concept of election.
- 1. The biblical concept of election is the concept of God's determination to accomplish His Plan.
- a. If The Plan is to be accomplished, it cannot be subject to the adversarial determinations of those who do not wish The Plan to succeed.
- b. Thus, The Plan is founded upon God's choices...
- 1) Not only the choice to create and establish The Plan, ...
- 2) But also all of the choices involved in bringing the details together that The Plan requires.
- 2. The biblical concept of election is the concept of God's preemptive choice in regard to the instrument(s) of His Plan.
- a. In order for The Plan to succeed, there must be a host of individual instruments whose actions push The Plan to its culmination.
- b. In order for the individual instruments to accomplish their God-ordained input into the progress of The Plan, they must be in the right place at the right time and act in ways that are useful to that progress.
- c. In order for the instruments to be in place and to act appropriately, there must be a Sovereign Overseer Who makes choices and implements them to this objective.
- 3. Thus, the biblical concept of election is not a concept of the establishment of a superiority that leads to pride and the destruction of relationships, but a concept of the establishment of a servanthood that springs from humility and leads to relational harmony.
- C. Paul's question is emphatic by reason of the absence of a "verb" in the sentence.
- 1. The verb-less question is assumed to be "Has this blessedness come...", or some equivalent. The words all point to whether the blessedness of a justified standing before God is "upon" Jews and Gentiles.
- 2. Thus, the issue is linguistically emphatic by the omission of a verb. The point is that the question is enormously important.
- a. Clearly the apostle had a deeply vested interest in making the proclamation of the Gospel of righteousness by faith something that both could and should be done with no "respect of persons" in terms of genealogical developments. His "calling" was to take the offer of "righteousness before God" to the nations.
- b. But just as clearly, the apostle had a deeply vested interest in setting up a massive barrier to the exercise of pride in the human heart. His method of doing that was to challenge every kind of "uniqueness" that was rooted in something other than the election of God. Therefore he was particularly aggressive in confronting any sense of election that had its roots in human choices and actions. Because the issues of circumcision and uncircumcision have their roots in human choices and actions, Paul saw it as essential to prove that the blessedness was not primarily linked to the circumcision issue.
- II. Paul's Foundation.
- A. Paul has established "faith reckoned for righteousness".
- B. Upon this foundation, he raises the question of the application of the principle.
- 1. This indicates that the doctrine of justification by faith has implicit implications in many directions.
- a. As a doctrine, it is an argument that man's activities are outside of the picture.
- b. Given the exclusion of man's activities, it is important to note what position Abraham's activities had in respect to justification.
- 1) This "position" is addressed by the raising of the question as to whether only those who were circumcised could obtain the blessedness of justification, or whether those who were uncircumcised could obtain it also.
- 2) The question is crucial in that the answer has to be consistent with the doctrine.
- a) If only the circumcised can obtain the blessedness, it is not truly based upon "faith", for the circumcision, as a limiter, is clearly the response of man.
- b) If the response of man in obedience is involved, righteousness is by works.
- 2. This also indicates that the entire idea of "faith" raises the question of whether it is legitimate to "announce" truth to just anyone -- for "faith" would necessarily include all who believed the announced truth.
- a. Paul's question is about the legitimacy of his own ministry of proclamation to non-Jews.
- b. But it is also a larger question about the availability of Truth to humanity.