It was 500 years ago this day that Martin Luther hung his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church. How fascinating that the subject for today also gets right to the heart of salvation by faith.
In Romans 4:13, “promise” and “law” are contrasted. Paul is seeking to establish an Old Testament background for his teaching of righteousness by faith.
He finds an example in Abraham, whom all the Jews accepted as their ancestor. Acceptance or justification had come to Abraham quite apart from law. God made a promise to Abraham that he was to be “heir of the world.” Abraham believed this promise; that is, he accepted the role that it implied. As a result God accepted him and worked through him to save the world. This remains a powerful example of how grace was operating in the Old Testament, which is no doubt why Paul used it.
As we said in the beginning, it’s important to remember to whom Paul is writing. These Jewish believers were immersed in Old Testament law, and many had come to believe that their salvation rested on how well they kept the law, even though that was not what the Old Testament taught.
In seeking to remedy this misconception, Paul argues that Abraham, even prior to the law at Sinai, received the promises, not by works of the law (which would have been hard, since the law-the whole torah and ceremonial system-was not in place yet) but by faith.
If Paul is referring here to the moral law exclusively, which existed in principle even before Sinai, the point remains the same. Perhaps even more so! Seeking to receive God’s promises through the law, he says, makes faith void, even useless. Those are strong words, but his point is that faith saves, and the law condemns. He’s trying to teach about the futility of seeking salvation through the very thing that leads to condemnation. We all, Jew and Gentile, have violated the law, and, hence, we all need the same thing as Abraham did: the saving righteousness of Jesus credited to us by faith – the truth that ultimately led to the Protestant Reformation.
Source: Daily Sabbath School Lessons